“An interview with Jim Swinney; one of the world’s most successful electronic gold prospectors.”

Jim Swinney



About 20 years ago, I owned a Garrett metal detector. I used to suction dredge for gold, first using the metal detector to locate “hot spots.” At that time I never used a metal detector to search for gold nuggets.


Yes, I would find a hot spot using a Garrett, and then I’d take the dredge the following weekend and dredge out the location.


Yeah. That worked really well, but I got busy doing other things for a good many years and eventually sold my Garrett. Then I met Gordon Zahara here in Happy Camp. We started trading information. He wanted to know how to find jade. He taught me metal detecting and his technique. In exchange, I taught him how to mine jade!


Gordon is probably one of the most skilled detectorists I have ever seen. I don’t think there is anybody around that can beat him. He is the best, and I learned a lot from him.


I think it’s been about five or six years in this area.


I generally average about 20 ounces of gold in a season. But I only do it during my off-hours from a normal job. However, last season I topped that at 72 ounces! My biggest find was a 14-ounce nugget, and ALL 72 ounces were local, Siskiyou County Gold.


This area is virtually untapped when it comes to electronic prospecting for gold! The old-timers got 10 to 20 percent of the gold, but many old places around here have been completely forgotten. There are vast amounts of old mines, tailing piles and old hydraulic-mining areas that people do not realize are here. Thousands of them! Most people generally don’t know what they are looking for. They will buy a detector, take it out, work it once or twice; and that’s the end of it. They don’t find anything. Then they stick their detector in their clothes closet and forget that they own it. This is the worst thing they can do! There are thousands of places in Siskiyou County where you can metal detect for beautiful gold nuggets. There is no doubt in my mind that it is one of the best areas available today! The New 49’ers Prospecting Organization possess many, many miles of really good prospecting areas for metal detecting. Most of it has yet to be carefully looked over with modern electronic gear!


If you can hunt here, you can probably hunt anywhere. We have hot ground that is phenomenally hot. We also have ground that is not so hot. You have to pick your areas. If one detector does not work very well in a given area, try a different detector. All detectors work a little bit differently; even the same brands. Two (Whites) GoldMasters act a little differently. I don’t just use one detector. I use a number of machines that work for gold. I stick to a couple of brands that I know work on hot ground.


I use the White’s GoldMaster and the Fisher Gold Bug II. Those are the two that I predominately use. As I said, I haven’t used the Minelab very much. But I know others are doing very well with them.


I detect year-around, usually on the weekends. I do it right in the middle of winter; rain, snow, sleet or hale. My normal job is with the US Forest Service.


Ten or twelve years ago, but I’ve been coming to this area for about thirty years to hunt for jade.


Yes; keep your personal hopes up. It’s vital to approach gold prospecting with a positive attitude!

Also, look for the little pieces of gold. Find those little two and three-grain pieces. Those are your “bread and butter” pieces. If you can find the little pieces, you are not going to miss the big ones! Look for the “ochre-colored (bright red dirt) pockets.”


The ochre pockets, which are rich, deep-red, mineralized dirt-mainly, iron pyrite pockets. In this country, the natural gold targets you are going to find with a metal detector are often mixed-in with iron pyrites. These pockets can contain 20-40% gold! Ochre pockets are superb! If you find one nugget, like the 14-ounce one we pulled out; don’t just pull that one nugget out! Carefully remove it without disturbing too much of the ground. Literally three feet around that one nugget there will be twice as much weight in smaller disseminated gold. Don’t walk off with just that one nugget! Take the ground around it with you!

Most people won’t be looking for the red (ochre) dirt. They think it is iron. They will bypass it with their detectors because it is not easy to detect in. If there is gold there, their detectors will pick it up anyway. This ochre-colored dirt is what the Indians used for war-paint.


Yes, learn to identify hot rocks in every detecting area. After a while, you will be hunting 20 feet ahead of yourself. You’ll know what rocks are hot for your detector and you can kick them aside. You won’t have to run your detector over them; because you will already know they are hot. You’ll be able to identify them. That’s one “trick” I use quite a bit to save time.

Mineralized ground is where your gold is. Most people try to find an area they can hunt comfortably. They bypass highly mineralized spots, not realizing that’s where the gold is!

When old-timers hydraulically sluiced the ground; they moved it. Look for old races, older mines and boom tailing dumps. Don’t go in tunnels. There’s too much slippage; they’re unsafe! They’re not shored up-Stay Out! Detect the dumps and tailing piles. Find out where there are hand-cobbled piles. If they hand -cobbled every piece and didn’t see any gold, they threw it down unless it was really heavy. If they couldn’t see the gold, nine times out of ten they just chucked it! Most of the ore out of the high-grade mines was hand cobbled; each piece was examined. Find these areas. Then find a comfortable spot with a little pile of rocks. That’s where they sat and looked at them. Almost every old mine will have one.


Yep; you can do that, too. There aren’t many left here in Siskiyou County. There are a few, but not many. The older Geological Surveys, especially the circa 1945 issues, can give you an idea of where some of the older mines exist. Talk to the old-timers-the old folks. They are a wealth of information! Go to a rest home to find them if you have to. I’m serious! The more information you get regarding your areas, the better off you are. Those old folks; they really know the area. Their minds are as sharp as tacks, nine times out of ten, even though their bodies aren’t. They remember things, and are a wealth of information.


Yes, I use a Tupperware plastic cup for finding the nuggets. I use a small hand rake (teeth on one side, flat on the other) and a couple of small shovels. Primarily, you just need hand tools. Once you scrape the ground to find your nuggets, you also must have a plastic cup. Your detector is so hot, it picks the salts and metals from your hands.


No; I don’t wear any jewelry. I don’t even wear a belt buckle. I wear tennis shoes to avoid metal eyelets. Don’t carry keys in your pocket. Definitely, don’t wear steel-toed boots! Occasionally, you’ll forget and leave a ring on, and you’ll register false targets for a while, but you won’t find anything. Suddenly, you’ll look on your finger…OOPS! I’ve done that.

If you are walking up a steep hill, swinging your detector with your belt buckle on, you might pick up your belt buckle! On steeper slopes, you can even start picking up your keys –and even the gold fillings in your teeth! It’s those little things that can throw you completely off course. Can you imagine; the signals you are receiving might just be caused by the fillings in your teeth!


I don’t know about that. I do know one thing, however: One of the areas where I go to detect, we do find some good, visible gold. You can pry it out with a pocket knife, but it will not register on any detector. I have tried four different brands of detectors, but there was something in the rock that literally “nullified” the signal. It is undetectable!


No. I don’t have a clue what it is. I have found two deposits like this, so far. It’s amazing! You know that your detector will pick up two small grains of gold, but you are looking at a large rock loaded with gold and your detector won’t pick it up. I suspect it might be a graphite-like substance, but I really don’t know.

So, if the rock feels heavy, I would suggest that you take it home and break it open, just like the old-timers did. Sometimes detectors won’t pick gold up when it is associated with certain types of mineral. This is true for all brands.


Yep, if it feels heavy, take it home. Gold is heavy. It’s amazing! You find a small clunker and drop it in your hand. It feels like a small fishing weight

We also have silver in this area. Sometimes you can pick up native silver on your detector. A lot of the time, you’ll have a mixture of silver and tellurium with the gold. This makes a beautiful specimen. It is gorgeous! You can literally pour a bar of silver out of it.


Yes. I took her to the beach the other day and she found her first target! She found a truck-a little toy truck. She was very excited.

If both you and your partner like to mine, go ahead and get two detectors. Sooner or later you will need them both. If you run two detectors side-by-side, use two detectors such as the GoldMaster V-SAT. The GoldMaster V-SAT has two different frequencies. You can change the frequency, and then work side-by-side. Otherwise, you have to stay about 20-feet away from each other, maybe even farther. This is one reason I use different detectors. In the past, they didn’t make detectors with changeable frequencies. Now they do.

The iron indicator on the GoldMaster 2V-SAT probably can’t be beat. If you have iron shale that is close to the surface, don’t believe any of your iron indicators. Dig every target. If that nugget is lying on iron shale, you will read iron, and you will not register the target.


Anywhere, there are old diggings! That’s what I look for …old diggings.


Yes. As I said, I talk to the old-timers wherever I can find them. Go to the libraries, historical societies and newspaper offices. Research old books! Some of your older libraries have a wealth of information, even diaries. I once found a diary of a Jesuit Priest written during the gold rush days. He came to this country from Trinidad. I had this diary for a good many years. I have almost memorized it!

You definitely have to do research. That metal detector doesn’t find the gold. You find it! So, if you are in an area that is highly mineralized, your chances are much better than if you are in an area that is not. Those old-timers were pretty smart. They found a great many of the gold areas.

The old-timers worked from the creek bottoms upward, at the time of the discovery of the Classic Hill Mine. While panning for gold in Indian Creek here in Happy Camp, miners found that deposit by a method called “loaming.” The largest nugget found at the Classic Hill Mine was 65 pounds…not troy weight…65 pounds! Makes you wonder what went through the grizzly and ended up in their tailings!

It can take quite a bit of time to do research properly. Recently, I ran into two brothers, both in their 80’s. They were trying to find a certain cabin between the Oregon and California border. The cabin was still standing. Their grandfather built the cabin. I knew of its whereabouts. I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was a camp. Their grandfather mined gold there. Somewhere around that cabin is a mine. It hasn’t been examined in a hundred years. It is in a good-producing area, an area I haven’t looked in before. This is the type of thing that really gets me going!


A lot of our gold here is covered in manganese and consequently appears black. We also have gold which is copper-colored. This is due to a copper coating. I even know a couple of guys that worked all summer on Indian Creek above the West Branch campground. They found a quart-jar full of “green stuff.” They chucked it in the river! They just threw it away!

About 50% of our local jade also contains visible gold. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is white or green jade. The founder of Kraft Food Products (cheese) made his initial fortune by selling Happy Camp jade from the Chan Jade Mine to buyers from around the world. Some of the jade was so clear that it was used in stained-glass windows!


Learn about geology. Look for volcanic activity. In fact, distances of seven, eleven and twenty-one miles from major volcanic activity produced mineralized zones. These correspond to the classical geological ore models of hyper-thermal, meso-thermal, and hypo-thermal zones respectively. Look for dolomite. It acts like a filter. Most people think gold comes from quartz. This is true in some geological areas. But a lot of the time, particularly in our area, you will find gold in the calcite. I can honestly say that every place I have found gold, calcite is also present. Some of the highest-grade jade on earth, both nephrite and jadeite, comes from the Happy Camp area! Very few people know this.

Morgan's GoldPROPERTIES LOCATED NEAR HAPPY CAMP, CALIFORNIA: We now have access to 60 miles of gold properties near our Happy Camp facility. Approximately half of this region’s property is located on the Klamath, Salmon and Scott Rivers (in northern California near the Oregon border). About half is on the creek and tributaries to these rivers, not far from the small, but friendly, full-service town of Happy Camp.


Siskiyou County, where our Happy Camp headquarters is located, is one of the highest gold-producing counties in California’s golden history. However, because this area is several hundred miles away from the famous, but congested, Mother Lode area or any large cities, it has not been heavily worked by modern gold mining activity. The opportunity for successful prospecting is excellent.

During the past twenty summer mining seasons, literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold-value has been recovered by small-scale gold prospectors (mostly New 49’er members) from the Happy Camp vicinity. New gold strikes are being made on a continuous basis. Because of our abundant property reserves, the surface has barely been scratched. Most of these available mineral properties have yet to be seriously tested or mined by our members, and we are adding more proven mining properties on a routine basis. Our policy provides for growth: It is better to have more than enough mining properties and have them set aside for the future of our members!

Getting to Happy Camp is a bit of a drive for some people, but we feel it is far better for members to spend a few extra hours on the road to get to a proven gold-producing area, rather than to spend an entire vacation prospecting somewhere else and not recover any gold!


OTHER FACILITIES IN HAPPY CAMP: Happy Camp has a grocery store, gas station (card operated), several motels and RV parks, a bank, a post office, a liquor store, several restaurants, an automotive repair shop, a fully-stocked prospecting store, an auto parts store, a medical clinic, dentist, physician, and generally has everything you will need.

Since the business community benefits greatly from income provided by members of The New 49’ers, and since our membership consists of people who are pleasant to be associated with, we are generally well accepted and supported. We have a cooperative relationship with local law enforcement, and New 49’er members are active in the Chamber of Commerce, and all or most other local church and civic organizations.


Happy Camp Post Office on Davis Road

Community: 1,000
Area of Influence: 6,000
Elevation: 1,100 feet
Rainfall: 55″ Avg.
Winter Temp: 40o Avg.
Summer Temp: 90o Avg.
(Temps are approximate)Town Facilities
Fire Protection: Volunteer
Dentist: One
Churches: 7
Physicians: 1 full-time
Medical: 1 Clinic
Libraries: One
Optometrists: One visiting
Veterinarians: One visiting
Motels: 3
Lodges: One
Restaurants/Fast Food: 3
Ambulances: (2) Volunteer
Pharmacy: One
Grocery Stores: 1


  • Elementary/Middle: One
  • Senior High: One
  • College of Siskiyous at
    Weed (90 mi.)
  • Humboldt State Univ. Located in Arcata (140 mi)
  • Community Computer Learning
    Center – Free

Unincorporated: Governed by Siskiyou County regulations

Special County Districts:

H.C. Fire District
H.C. Cemetery District
H.C. Sewer District
H.C. Water/Recreation Dist.


Electric: Pacific Power & Electric,
Portland, Oregon Rates: Basic $5+6.529c KWH
Gas: Propane available
Water: Happy Camp Community Services Dist.
Residential Rates: $25 month without meter
(Commercial have meters)
Sanitation: Happy Camp Sanitary District –
Rates: $10 month (basic)
Disposal: Happy Camp Disposal available
Happy Camp Refuse Site Rates: $1 per 33 gal. canFinancial Institutions
Commercial Banks: One

Newspaper: (3)

  • Yreka Daily News (daily)
  • Ft Jones Pioneer Press (wkly)
  • Klamath River News (weekly)

Cable TV: Premiere Cable, 17 channels, including HBO
Rates: Basic $21 HBO $9.95
Telephone: Siskiyou Tel. Co.
Private line basic approx. $16

Stage to/from Yreka, twice weekly Rates:
$5 round trip (Greyhound in Yreka)
Air: Happy Camp Airport, non-lighted runway

Driver/Vehicle License
California Dept. of Motor Vehicles, Yreka –
CA Driver License fee: $15
Vehicle registration varies

Campground/RV Parks
Private: 4 w/full hookups
Federal: 3 with water (fee)
Federal: numerous dispersed recreation sites
(limited to two-week stay)

USFS District Office in Happy Camp

Happy Camp is located in Siskiyou County.
For more information on what other things you can do
in the Happy Camp area, check out our County website:
Visitor Information in Siskiyou County


by Marcie Stumpf/Foley

Happy Camp is the type of town where you know you would really like to live. Why? Because Happy Camp has a multitude of faces, and brings you back to a rural American lifestyle.

Happy Camp is a small, rural town. Small enough so that neighbors know one another, where one encounters familiar faces at the post office or the market. It is a town where citizens voluntarily staff our fire department, ambulance crews, are working together to develop our city park, and govern our medical clinic.

Happy Camp, while rural, is a commercial center for a 65-mile corridor of the Klamath River. Accessible by highway and air, it has stores, schooling, medical facilities, and basic commodity needs of residents.

Happy Camp is scenic. Nestled on the banks of the mighty Klamath River, a major river of the west coast, it is in a pristine setting that offers a variety of wildlife and natural beauty not found elsewhere. The Klamath River is a designated “Wild and Scenic” river, and the Klamath River Highway a designated “scenic” route.

Happy Camp is a forest town, situated in the midst of the Klamath National Forest, where most of the surrounding mountainous land is U.S. Forest Service lands, while the river valley lands are predominately privately owned. This unique forest provides mixed conifer stands with mixed hardwoods and complex plant and animal life.

Happy Camp is also a river town. From its origin above Klamath Falls, Oregon, the Klamath River has cut a tremendous gorge through the Siskiyou mountains to create the Klamath River Canyon. A widening, where the river makes a turn to the south on its way to the sea, provides the setting for Happy Camp, on the site of gold discoveries, and before that, a village of the Karuk Indian Tribe.

Happy Camp is also a retirement town. An entire segment of the community population has chosen it as home for their senior years. Often, our most active citizens. Having fled urban areas, they seek to preserve small town qualities, but, having grown accustomed to urban conveniences and amenities, seek responsible planning and zoning, cultural opportunities, and good public services.

Happy Camp is a town for young people. It provides schooling for a large rural area, yet offers small class sizes and opportunities for students that cannot be found in large city schools. While Happy Camp has suffered an overall decline in population in recent years due to timber cutbacks, it is just beginning a growth period as it is discovered by families seeking a safer, rural lifestyle.

Happy Camp is a recreational paradise! From quiet activities such as animal/nature watching, picnicking, rock hounding; to river and water sports, horseback riding, golfing, hiking, biking, rafting, gold panning, and snowmobiling, cross-country skiing at the Sno-Park in winter, there’s a never-ending abundance of recreational activities to satisfy all appetites. Read on to find out all about it!

Above all, Happy Camp is a friendly town. Fellow residents smile and wave, whether they know you or not, and people care about each other. All you have to do is visit to be convinced. Make your plans now to visit so you can find the greatest secret on the west coast. It’s a small community called Happy Camp!



Happy Camp’s location provides for a unique climate that is invigorating and refreshing, and conducive to a relaxing, but active lifestyle. It is far enough north to enjoy four distinct seasons, of a Mediterranean type.

Springtime is intermittently rainy, with moderate temperatures, and beautiful, brilliant skies. Brilliant wild redbud trees are an early treat. Wildflowers carpet the area, and roads are lined with wild roses, Spanish broom, lilacs, sweetpeas, chicory, California poppies, Queen Anne’s Lace, dogwood, wild fruit trees, and many other blooms in turn, creating an ever-changing display of color. In the canyon below the community, full hillsides of wild lilacs in a wide range of color create a heady perfume for travelers. Wild roses line the banks of Indian Creek Road and the open fields north of town. More exotic blooms are evident as you venture into the mountains in any direction, with many native species that are unique to the Siskiyou Mountains.

Summertime brings warm days and cool nights for sleeping comfort. Days are long, with full dark not coming until about 9:30 p.m. at their longest. Temperatures range from the 80’s to high 90’s (with low humidity levels) during the day, and nighttime temperatures most often in the 40’s to 50’s. Rainfall is very light during summer months, usually just a light shower or two each month–just enough to settle dust and keep things green. Breezes are light and cool, and the wildflower parade continues throughout most of the summer, especially along the creeks, which are slightly higher in elevation. Gardening season is long enough to provide for a full vegetable garden, with prolific yields in most crops the norm. Blessed with an abundant supply of water in most years, Happy Camp has never had to ration water. Deer are seen grazing all along the river (even in town). Elk can often be seen near Sulphur Springs, and the Happy Camp bears can be glimpsed crossing the highway or the river, once in a while. August brings blackberry picking time, and the berries are abundant and tasty here. The high water table brings large, juicy berries in every sunny spot along the highway and river. Wild grapes and fruit trees (apple, plum, and pear) are in also found in abundance, laden with sweet, juicy bounty.

Fall brings a crispness to the morning air as days shorten, while daytime temperatures still range into the upper 60’s and low 70’s. Nighttime temperatures drop into the 30’s as winter approaches. The wildflower display is over, and it is time for the trees to put on their magnificent display of fall color. The drive up the Klamath River Highway brings a new picture postcard into view at each turn of the road with colors ranging from brilliant yellow to deep magenta and purple, and small wisps of cloud hug the mountainsides, clinging to the deep green of the pine, fir and cedar. Fall rains become intermittent and more frequent as the season progresses.

Winter usually brings a few light snowfalls that don’t last long. Enough snow to look really pretty, but not enough so that you get tired of it! A drive up the creek roads will find more, and the higher mountain tops surrounding the community often have a mantle of snow. Most years, even if there’s no snow in town you can drive just a few miles up Indian Creek to cut your own Christmas Tree in the snow. Rainfall has averaged 55 inches per year in the last ten years, with most of it coming in the fall and winter months, so rainfall is fairly frequent, keeping temperatures milder than further inland. Daytime temperatures are often in the 40’s to 50’s, with nighttime temperatures varying from the teens and 20’s in clear weather to 30’s and 40’s in rainy weather.


Long the home of the Karuk Indian Tribe, white trappers first descended the Klamath River canyon in search of beaver, and then gold. Originally settled as a gold mining town, numerous families in the area trace their roots back to those days of the 1860’s, and Karuk families trace theirs back even further. When gold mining on a commercial scale waned in the early years of this century, the local economy turned to its most plentiful resource, timber. The economy leaned heavily on timber until the decline of this last decade, with the lone remaining mill closing in October, 1994. An increase in tourism has been seen during the last decade, remarkable since the area is relatively unknown.


While the decline in the timber industry struck a blow to the local economy of Happy Camp, residents have been pulling together to combat the effects. Tourism is on the increase, with bicyclists, small-scale gold miners, fishermen, river rafters and hunters furnishing the majority of business at this time. A large tourism marketing project for northern California tourism will include Happy Camp interests, and is already underway, in addition to the efforts of residents groups. Economic guidelines furnished by the county put the per capita income at $26,000 in 1990, the latest records available.

Other projects are now underway to bring diversity and stability to the local economy. Projects have been funded to explore diversified wood products manufacturing and the location of a government youth camp in the area is well underway. And, not stopping there, continued efforts are underway to bring more funding, more light industry, more cottage industry to the community. The Happy Camp area is already a haven for artists and artisans in many fields.

The Karuk Indian Tribe now has a business development center, funded by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to help small businesses increase their potential, and allow new ones to form with a large opportunity for success. A Community Development Corporation has been formed by the Karuk Tribe and is working to aid in the formation of new businesses. Funding has also been received, and work begun, on a Community Computer Center, to further education development at the high school level through college courses, and to aid businesses, families, groups and residents of all ages.

Property values in the area, while lower than most of the state, are already on the increase, and will continue to grow with the community. While it will probably always remain a rural community, Happy Camp is on the rise, as its residents rally to provide themselves and newcomers with a community they can be proud of, in a pristine setting.

The cost of living in Happy Camp is still low, even for Siskiyou County, and is a consideration.


For such a small population, the well-rounded business community of the area is a great asset. Area businesses include a well-stocked grocery store, card-lock gas station that you must have a credit card to operate, or a credit account in town; a tire store, an auto parts store an auto/body paint shop, an auto repairgarage, a hardware store, a laundromat, a pharmacy, a mercantile offering a wide variety of goods, two restaurants, a hamburger stand, a video store, a liquor/sporting goods/arcade, a pizza place, an office supply store, a used furniture store, used book/clothing store, several beauty shops, varied guide services, motels/resorts/cabins, several RV Parks with full hookups, one lounge, a pet groomer, a gift/collectibles/antique store, a real estate agent, a car wash, a book publisher, a magazine publisher, a computer software business, two rock shops, a small-scale mining organization, a winery, a screen-printing business, horse/horseback riding and training, and numerous small cottage industries such as handcrafts, cake decorating, quilting and upholstering, gold nugget jewelry, Indian and/or silver and gemstone jewelry, weaving, mushroom growing, yard services, rafting services, woodcutting, and housecleaning.

Happy Camp Area Recreational Opportunities


One of our greatest natural resources is the Klamath River, which offers an abundance of recreational opportunities all by itself. The river flows through the southern edge of Happy Camp in a westerly, then southerly direction, entering a narrower canyon beyond the western edge of town. Due to small human population in the area, the river abounds in wildlife. California Black Bear, mountain lion, Pacific Fisher, elk, blacktail deer, otter, raccoons, skunks, fox, coyote, and steelhead and salmon fish are among those most often seen. Blue heron, ducks, geese, owls, hawks, osprey, and eagles are just some of the many birds frequently seen in and around the river.

People utilize the river for recreation in many ways. Anglers count it among the great steelhead and salmon fishing rivers of the west. It is fished from shore and from drift boats. In 1994, salmon numbers were up dramatically from the previous few years, indicating that the salmon will continue to increase, perhaps due to new safety measures.

Rafting and kayaking parties of a few hours up to several days are numerous during the days of summer months, as they traverse placid areas mixed with rapids rated high enough to challenge the most daring. Rafters come from all areas of the United States to meet the challenge of the river, yet novices can have an exciting, but perfectly safe outing of several days duration. Rapids of all classes are found on this section of the Klamath. Guide books and guide services are locally available for information and trips.

Small-scale gold miners of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels are often seen during spring and summer, as the river gives up just a small portion of her rich bounty of gold each season. Many are retired or semi-retired people seeking a rewarding pastime that is physically active. Others are families looking for an activity they can all participate in and enjoy in the great outdoors that is healthy, active, and fun! Up to $300,000 per year in placer gold is sold in the area, and gold prospectors come from as far away as Germany and Sweden in an attempt to wrest the golden treasure from these waters.


Indian Creek flows into the Klamath River in Happy Camp, and as it rushes down from its headwaters in the Siskiyou Mountains to the north, it provides a beautiful setting for camping, fishing, rockhounding and gold prospecting. Indian Creek’s south fork has a rich deposit of a local “jadeite”, or jade-type rock known worldwide as “Happy Camp Jade” that is much prized by rockhounds and jewelers. While the mine is privately owned, pieces of jade in many shades from palest green to almost black are commonly found in Indian Creek, and in the Klamath River. Especially prized are pieces with veins of gold running through. Garnets are also abundant in the pebbles of Indian Creek and the river. Numerous U.S. Forest Service River Accesses on Indian Creek afford lovely, quiet picnic areas, where wildlife, birdlife, and abundant wildflowers abound in spring and summer months. Twelve miles north of Happy Camp, West Branch Indian Creek Campground (a U.S. Forest Service facility) provides a lovely, quiet camping area on the west branch.


Elk Creek flows into the Klamath River from the south, about 1/2 mile west of town. This creek furnishes drinking water for the community, and abundant fish life for anglers. Somewhat more difficult to access, as the canyon is steeper, Elk Creek offers its own unique opportunities for recreation. At its confluence with the Klamath, and just below 5-mile bridge are swimming holes frequented in summer, where the water is always cool (you’ll need to check that you’re not on private property, however). Cool and shady during summer months, Elk Creek Campground, a private campground, is just a little way up the road from town and has all facilities for campers. Sulphur Springs Campground, a U.S. Forest Service Day Use area 13 miles up Elk Creek road provides a most serene and beautiful setting for picnicking, with barbecues and tables. Rock-lined walks, in use for many, many years, lead you along the banks of the creek to wander under the trees. Sulphur Springs itself offers a warm, healing, sulphurous bath at the edge of Elk Creek, any time of year. Just above the campground is a lovely waterfall and grotto for swimming. This area was in use by the Karuk Indians, long before being settled by any white man. Just two miles above the campground the road is closed to motor vehicles, and this area, a former elk preserve is now rich in elk.


Located north of Happy Camp in the Siskiyou mountains, Kelly Lake provides trout fishing for residents and vacationers, alike.


The idea for this trail was conceived in the 1930’s, and it is now a horseback and hiking trail that extends from Mexico to Canada. Crossing the Klamath River at Seiad Valley, just 18 miles east of Happy Camp, the trail can be accessed and hiked north to the Oregon border and beyond, or south to Castle Crags, below Mount Shasta.


Happy Camp has an active Archery Club to provide enthusiasts with sport, and novices with instruction. During deer and bear hunting seasons, the archery hunting seasons are just as enthusiastically greeted by residents as the rifle hunting seasons. A very popular hunting area, local mountains provide excellent hunting for all species, in season.


Upriver from Happy Camp about 45 miles, in the small community of Klamath River, the Eagle’s Nest Golf Course borders the river, and provides a 9-hole golf course for the golf enthusiast, open year-round.


Are at their best in the Happy Camp area. In addition to the Pacific Crest Trail, many other nearby hiking trails, of various degrees of difficulty, are available to hikers. Books outlining these trails, and Forest Service maps, are available locally. In town, the “Happy Camp Trail,” that begins on the far side of the Klamath River bridge, affords an easy hike to spectacular views of the town, the river, and the surrounding mountains.


Are available for horseback or llama pack trips into the Marble Mountain Wilderness, or other mountain areas. They are also available for drift boat fishing and rafting, offering a variety of trips to a wide selection of areas on the Klamath River.


The Siskiyou Mountains carry large deposits of gold, and in addition to the Klamath River, Indian Creek, Elk Creek, and Thompson Creek all have gold deposits, as do many other creeks flowing
into the Klamath River. Most of the creeks, however, have deep bedrock, and do not carry as much gold in the overburden as does the Klamath River. What this means to the casual, or novice gold panner is that one is more likely to find gold while panning on the river than on the creeks. Gold is generally easier to locate in this area than in most other areas of California, due to the easy access, the size of the river–which maintains shallow gold that is easy for the smallest-scale or beginning prospector to find, and, due to the remoteness of the area, it has not been worked nearly as heavily as other areas of the state. Many locations in this area are under legal claim, however, and it’s important not to pan on someone’s claim. Information on open areas, or where casual panning can be done is available in Happy Camp from The New 49’ers’. They can also provide instruction, if needed. Workshops are held during late spring and summer months.




In the Happy Camp area is on the increase in recent years with the development of mountain bikes, and with the formation of clubs which are looking for biking challenges. Often seen on the Klamath River Highway in summer months, the road offers challenges to the bikers, and the continuing development of biking trails will accommodate these increasing numbers.


Are also to be found in the area. Just 25 miles north of the town on Indian Creek Road, the “Sno-Park” offers opportunities for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Downhill skiing is available at Mt. Ashland, to the north on I-5 just into Oregon, and at Mount Shasta, both popular ski resort areas. At the present time, the Sno-Park is not directly accessible by auto in the winter months. The road is not cleared on this side of the mountain.


Are available within the confines of the community. Gail Zink Memorial Park, next to the Happy Camp Elementary School, is maintained by the Happy Camp Community Services District (HCCSD), and offers a beautiful grassy area, tables and barbecues. The Happy Camp Community Park, just down the hill, also under the auspices of HCCSD, now offers a lovely setting for group outings. Situated at the river’s edge, it includes ponds, shade trees, restrooms, a new park pavilion for dances and concerts, and grassy reas. Playground equipment is in the development stage. Development of a new “mini-park” in Happy Camp’s “Old Town” is underway.

While Happy Camp cannot offer crowds, streetlights, long waiting lines, or a large populace, its setting among magnificent natural resources and the unhurried pace of life are just compensation for those who choose to live here. Here the air is sweeter; a unique microclimate allows residents to grow more varieties of plants than can be found most anywhere else; the natural beauty and serenity of the area are unmatched in the hurried pace of life that rushes past across the mountains in every direction, leaving this community to provide a unique opportunity to raise a family, live out your “golden years,” or have a unique vacation in “God’s country,” almost untouched by the rest of the world.


Happy Camp
Small-scale Gold Prospecting
Capital of the World

by Marcie Stumpf/Foley

Mining has played a major role in Happy Camp, California ever since its establishment in 1851. Local people tell of families who earned a living during the lean years of the depression by mining and, as recently as 1986, an active local major gold mine, the Noranda mine, closed after producing hundreds of thousands of ounces of gold. In the last few years, small-scale gold prospecting has increased in the area, as people travel from all over the world to seek Happy Camp’s rich gold deposits.

Today, Happy Camp is just about the same size as it always was, and is just about as rural as you can get in the state of California. It has the distinction of being too far away from anywhere to be able to commute, and local industry is extremely limited.

Happy Camp is very near the Oregon border, nestled in the heart of the Klamath River Canyon, on Highway 96. It is approximately 74 miles west of Yreka and Interstate 5, and is approximately 138 miles northeast of the town of Eureka on the coast. To the north are the peaks of the Siskiyou Mountains, with Grants Pass, Oregon about 70 miles distant, and to the south lie the peaks of the Marble Mountain Wilderness and the Trinity Mountains.

For those interested in small-scale gold prospecting and mining, this secluded setting is perfect. Not as close or accessible as mining areas in the Mother Lode, this area has not been as heavily worked. It is also an area where gold deposits are laid down in flood times in the many gravel bars, in layers—sometimes in a layer only a foot, or 18 inches below the surface of the material. Many of these gold deposits are very accessible, and have proven to be quite rewarding for people working with gold pans, sluices and motorized sluicing gear. These types of mining, besides dredging, are done all along the Klamath River from I-5 to many miles below the town of Happy Camp.

Dredging is accomplished with all sizes of dredges, up to eight inches. Although the Klamath is a fairly large river, there are many sections which have shallow bedrock areas, suitable for working with very small dredges. Another feature that dredgers particularly like is the fact that below the confluence with the Scott River, located about 45 miles upriver from Happy Camp, dredging is open all year long.

Many of the tributary streams in this area are gold bearing. Most have some gold dredging activity. They generally contain beautiful nugget gold, but most require boulder-moving equipment, and the gold deposits are usually contained in scattered pockets.

One of the newer methods of mining that is enjoying recent success in this area is electronic prospecting; or hunting for gold nuggets with a metal detector. Recent advances made in nugget detectors, which allow them to function more efficiently in heavily mineralized soil, have opened up an entirely new dimension for exploration.

Mining is not the only activity for vacationers in this area, and many families come here to enjoy an all-around vacation. River rafting is very popular, and there are several companies who provide trips lasting anywhere from a few hours, to several days, including gourmet cooking, and excellent experienced guides. Pack trips into the neighboring wilderness area are offered, and can provide an unforgettable experience for anyone seeking the natural beauty and serenity of the high mountain areas.

The Klamath River is a well-known area for its fishing, and fishermen are common all along the river. You can fish on your own for steelhead and salmon, or take advantage of professional guides who provide drift boat trips, and can even furnish all necessary equipment. Trout fishing is popular in the nearby streams and lakes, with Kelly Lake providing some of the best sport.

Happy Camp has stores that can provide almost all necessities. There are several motels, and both private and U.S. Forest Service campgrounds, all of whom provide comfortable and reasonably priced lodgings. You won’t find a McDonald’s, but there is a hamburger stand, and a pizza place. In addition, there are two restaurants, both providing good home-style cooking.

Happy Camp is not a glitzy, tourist trap town by any means. There are people here who actually make a living by mining for gold.

For those interested in rockhounding, Happy Camp is world famous for its jade, and has an actual working Jade mine. It is also known for the local deposits of gem-grade rhodonite. Garnets, platinum, and pyrites are also often panned-out, along with gold. Round, smooth jade pieces are commonly found along the riverbanks in the shallows, in a very wide variety of colors. Large sapphires have also been found locally, and the old-timers even found some diamonds!

As you can see, the area has much to offer, so whether planning your vacation or just a short outing, this is definitely an area you may want to try. The people are friendly, the gold is great, and the fun and relaxation offers something for the whole family.



GETTING TO HAPPY CAMP: Happy Camp is located about 65 miles to the west of Interstate 5 on Hwy 96 in northern California. We are about 40 miles from the Oregon border.

Our headquarters is located at 27 Davis Road, next to the Post Office in Happy Camp. Upon arrival, our office staff will register you and help you with any information or assistance you need.

If you arrive here when we are not open and you plan to camp in one of our campgrounds, it is recommended that you spend the first night or two in Curly Jack Campground, a USFS campground located just west of town. This is located on our K-22 claim.

Be sure to get a campfire permit from the local USFS office, located right in town, before you have any campfire. Campfire permits are required anywhere in the national forest.