Because gold is heavier than most sediments in a stream, it and other heavy minerals including pyrite, magnetite, ilmenite, chromite and garnet can be collected in a gold pan when the right panning techniques are used. Gold can come in many shapes: small lumps or nuggets, wires, feather-shaped crystals, or flat flecks. Pieces can range in size from almost microscopic "colors" up to fist-sized nuggets, but your chances of finding the latter are pretty remote. Gold panners are optimistic though, and you never know what the next pan will produce.
Fools gold, or iron pyrite, does not really look like gold on closer inspection. It is sometimes tarnished and because it occurs as crystals, changes shades as it’s rotated in the sun, while gold is always gold colored and soft. Gold-colored flecks that either float on the water or are so lightweight they easily wash out of the pan are probably pieces or "books" of mica, a transparent mineral that was once used in the doors of stoves so the fire could be seen. Mica has a tendency to break apart into flat sheets. It comes in several colors and is sometimes mistaken for gold by inexperienced panners.
PANNING ON STATE LANDS
In Oregon, areas below the vegetation line on navigable rivers and streams and ocean beaches belong to the State of Oregon and are therefore open for recreational gold panning.
PANNING ON FEDERAL LANDS
Streams and rivers in northeast and southwest Oregon and in the Western Cascades have been successfully panned for gold. Existing mining claims on Federal land are not open for gold panning unless permission has been granted by the claim owner. Gold panning is permitted on nearly all waterways running through campgrounds on Bureau of Land Management and USDA Forest Service lands. Maps showing locations of campgrounds may be obtained from local BLM and USFS offices.
Four areas have been set aside on Federal land for recreational gold panning:
Area 1. Quartzville Recreational Corridor:
Located in the Western Cascades, Salem District, Bureau of Land Management.
Area 2. Butte Falls Recreational Area:
Located in southwestern Oregon, Medford District, Bureau of Land Management.
Area 3. Applegate Ranger District:
Located in southwestern Oregon, Rogue River National Forest, Applegate Ranger District. (four fee sites where there is a charge of a dollar a day for panning in areas adjacent to campgrounds)
Area 4. Wallowa-Whitman National Forest:
Located in northeastern Oregon. Areas set aside for recreational gold mining are:
a. Eagle Forks Campground, 9 miles northwest of Richland, Pine Ranger District, Halfway, OR.
b. McCully Forks Campground, on McCully Forks Creek just west of Sumpter; Deer Creek Campground, on Deer Creek north of Phillips Lake; Powder River Recreational Area, on the Powder River just below Mason Dam, all located in the Baker Ranger District, Baker City, OR.
c. Antlers Guard Station, on the Burnt River, Unity Ranger District,Unity, OR.