The Idaho Department of Lands’ Minerals Program manages the state endowment lands mineral estate, which covers approximately three million acres. The program also manages the Idaho public trust lands mineral estate. The public trust lands consist of the beds of Idaho's navigable rivers and lakes. In addition, the program administers several regulatory programs covering dredge and placer mining, surface mining and abandoned mine lands.
A State Mineral Lease allows you to mine and remove minerals from state endowment land. Leases cover up to 640 acres on lands, or one river mile on navigable streams. To hold a mineral lease you must obtain a bond and pay an annual rental of $1.00 per acre per year with a minimum of $160.00 per year. There is also a $25.00 application fee. Royalties must be paid to the state for any minerals removed. Leases on navigable streams require a prepaid royalty. Application forms are available at Idaho Department of Lands offices and their website.
Panning for gold and recreational suction dredging may require a Recreational Mining Permit issued by the Idaho Department of Water Resources. In addition to this permit, panners and dredgers must be careful about obtaining the landowner’s permission. Once you have identified your area of interest, review county records in the county assessor's office or other maps to determine ownership. Navigable rivers and streams are under the control of the State of Idaho, and many are open for casual exploration if no one has filed an exploration location or mineral lease on that portion of the river and a Recreational Mining Permit is obtained from IDWR. A number of navigable rivers have been withdrawn from mineral entry. For additional information concerning these withdrawals check with the Idaho Department of Lands.
If you want to prospect in a small river or stream, be sure to check the ownership of the property. If the creek is on privately owned land you may be able to obtain permission from the landowner. If the creek is within public land administered by the US Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, check with those agencies for any mining claims which may have been filed and for current regulations. If the creek is on state endowment land, an exploration location or a lease is required for any recreational activity because these lands are managed for the benefit of public schools and other endowment beneficiaries. Contact the Idaho Department of Lands for information on exploration locations and mineral leases on state lands.
A State Exploration Location gives you the exclusive right to explore and prospect for gold and other minerals on state endowment lands not already under location or lease. Exploration locations may also be filed on the beds of navigable rivers and streams between the ordinary high water marks. An exploration location covers 20 acres or one-half of a surveyed government lot. Exploration locations are valid for a two-year period beginning on the first of the month following the date of filing. There is no limit to the number of exploration locations you may file and you will have a preferential right to a mineral lease when the exploration location expires. If you do find commercial quantities of minerals on your exploration location, you must obtain a mineral lease from the state before removing the minerals. Exploration location forms are available at the Department of Lands office in Boise as well as all area offices statewide. Fees: Lands $100.00 per location; Navigable Streams $250.00 per location
Maps showing land status (federal, state, private) can be purchased from the Idaho State Office of the Bureau of Land Management. These maps also show roads, major trails and other useful features.