The Black Hills are best known for the gold mined out in the 1800’s (and still today), so a major “to-do” on my Black Hills Bucket List was to pan for gold, and pan for gold we did! We decided to try our luck panning for gold at the Big Thunder Gold Mine in Keystone. While it is a tourist trap (as they all are), we also knew that panning for gold on someone else’s claim could get you shot! Ok, well maybe not shot (it isn’t the wild west anymore) but could land you in a lot of legal trouble.
Big Thunder Gold Mine offers two types of panning experiences; on site and off site (aka claim panning). Due to time constraints and all the items on our bucket list, we opted for the on-site experience. However, when we go back we will do the off-site panning expedition.
On-Site Panning – You begin by receiving a hands-on lesson learning the proper technique of panning using the mineral-rich sand and gravel from the Black Hills streams. Your teacher is super knowledgeable and is more than willing to answer any and all questions you have before sending you on your way to try it yourself. I should also mention, he makes it look super easy. After your lesson, you head down the steps to the trough (I have no idea what the technical term is) and you start panning. Any gold you find, you get to keep. We all found gold flakes as well as tiny gems. There is no time constraint, you can keep panning for as long as you like (unless of course, it is closing time).
Claim Planning – This is what I really want to try. They take you out to their actual claim site on a stream that has been producing gold (many have found gold nuggets) for decades. It is only 4 miles down the road, but you will be in the wilderness area so you should keep that in mind. You can choose either half-day or a full-day. From their website: “Our claim panning tours include a lot of different methods for finding Black Hills gold. During the tour, you’ll do some digging into the earth and classify different rocks. You’ll also do some sluicing and gold panning directly in the creek.”
Our Thoughts on Big Thunder Gold Mine
We all loved it (even the teenagers). I am really glad we chose this mine to pan for gold. The staff was very helpful and I love the fact that they also offer a real-life gold panning experience. They do not rush you, you can keep panning for as long as you like (unless of course, they are getting ready to close). The cost to pan is very reasonable as well! It was just overall a great experience AND it kept our teenager’s busy, even if our daughter decided she wanted to do it her own way!
Information & Getting There
Address: 604 Blair St, Keystone, SD 57751
Phone #: 605-666-4847
April 1st – May 26th
9am – 5pm
May 27th – August 31st
8am – 8pm (Last tour at 7pm)
September 1st – October 31st
9am – 6pm (Last tour at 5pm)
November 1st – March 5th