River of Gold

Free outdoor museum exhibits of mining equipment and the Mount Vernon Dredge. 

Gold Panning  Gold Dredge

The River of Gold Mining exhibit and gold panning experience is a tribute to the gold rush days in Alder Gulch. It is located at 1559 MT Hwy 287 between Virginia City and Nevada City. Look for the big mining dredge on the west side of the road.

Find unique gifts and rock sand panning supplies at the gift shop. 

Hours and Rates

MinerOPEN May 25, 2024 - Sept 2, 2024 - 
10 AM - 5 PM  (5 PM is the last panning tutorial of the day)
$10 Per Person (includes vial for your gold and garnet treasures)

Check out our Packages and Specials

Call 406.843.5247 for more information.


Mining Exhibit History

In July 1863, hard rock gold was discovered nearly eight miles above Virginia City and the town of Summit soon grew. By fall of 1863, an estimated 10,000 people were living in Alder Gulch and the towns of Junction, Adobetown, Nevada City, Central City, Virginia City, Highland, Pine Grove, and Summit formed a nearly continuous settlement eleven miles long.   

Through the later 1860's placer claims were consolidated and hydraulicking began to replace shaft and drift placer operations. A complex and expensive system of dams and ditches brought water from the mountains to hydraulic mines near Nevada City. High up Alder Gulch, several lucrative hard rock mines operated stamp mills. Four Chilean mills brought at tremendous labor over the Bozeman trail operated at Union City. But the hard rock gold was richest near the surface, and ore values lessened as the shafts deepened. After the territorial capital moved to Helena in 1875, Virginia City slowly lost population. Hydraulic mining and several large hard rock mines continued to operate into the early 1890's.  

In 1897, The Conrey Placer Mining Co. began using the new placer mining technology of dredging. Four huge dredges were eventually built and the installation of high voltage power lines, brought in to power the dredges, made electrical history in Alder Gulch. Dredging continued into the 1930;s. At the beginning of World War II, however, gold was declared a "nonessential mineral", and dynamiting was discontinued.

While a few small placer and hard rock operations continue even today, Virginia City's economy has depended upon tourism since the beginning of the Bovey's restoration efforts in the 1940's.   The area near Virginia and Nevada Cities in Alder Gulch held the richest placer gold deposits in Montana, and some say richer than anywhere else on Earth. According to research done in the 1920's, over one hundred million dollars worth of gold had been removed from the gulch. At todays prices, Alder Gulch has yielded something closer to two and a half billion dollars worth of gold!

Mount Vernon Dredge