Mining Claims

According to the BLM, a mining claim is “a parcel of land for which the claimant has asserted a right of possession and the right to develop and extract a discovered, valuable, mineral deposit. This right does not include exclusive surface rights.” Click here to read more about mining claims at the BLM.

Types of Mining Claims

As of January 1st, 2020, there were over 562,183 active mining claims distributed among the the following states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Mining claims are of four different types – Lode, Placer, Millsite, and Tunnel, with the following breakdown for the overall number of claims and percentages of each type.

  • Lode claims – 481,484
  • Placer claims – 65,240
  • Millsite claims – 14,877
  • Tunnel site claims – 206
Types of mining claims
Mining Claim Types by Percentage. Tunnel sites are only 0.4 percent of the total and are excluded from this chart

The claims analysis on this page will focus on Lode and Placer claim types.

Distribution of Active Mining Claims

The 560,000+ mining claims active at the start of 2020 are distributed across twelve western states in the following totals:

  • Arizona 64,466 (Lode 54,017 – Placer 5,699)
  • California 31,129 (Lode 14,565 – Placer 14,007)
  • Colorado 16,585 (Lode 13,150 – Placer 2,584)
  • Idaho 35,449 (Lode 31,934 – Placer 3,078)
  • Montana 20,750 (Lode 15,860 – Placer 3,143)
  • Nevada 297,063 (Lode 273,697 – Placer 19,576)
  • New Mexico 12,941 (Lode 11,793 – Placer 994)
  • Oregon 9,699 (Lode 6,115 – Placer 3,527)
  • South Dakota 5,962 (Lode 5,186 – Placer 705)
  • Utah 27,970 (Lode 22,078 – Placer 5,389)
  • Washington 2,843 (Lode 2,474 – Placer 364)
  • Wyoming 37,301 (Lode 30,601 – Placer 6,163)
Mining claims by state
Mining claim percentages by state. Washington only contains 0.5% of total claims and is excluded from this chart

Gaining Insights from Claim Data

While it is usually not possible to ascertain exactly what commodity is being mined at a specific claim location, often times it can be deduced with some accuracy by looking at additional data on the claim location.

A large number of claims, especially placer claims, are for the purpose of gold mining. Where these gold claims are located can be inferred by their proximity to historical gold mines. The WMH Gold Explorer displays both placer claim data by PLSS section and the locations of historical gold mines together.

Placer claims located among gold mines in historical gold districts are almost certainly gold mining claims. Looking at these things together allows us to make an important conclusion – this is where modern prospectors and miners are finding gold.

WMH Gold Explorer
The WMH Gold Explorer displays PLSS section center points for sections that contain active placer mining claims

In some areas placer claims are for industrial surface mining operations for commodities like gypsum, bentonite, lithium, and potash. These can be easily identified on the map as clusters of red dots or large concentrations of claims that are not near significant gold mining areas.

WMH Gold Explorer
This very dense group of placer claims in Esmeralda County, Nevada are located in an area with large industrial lithium mining operations (data visualized with the WMH Gold Explorer)

Nevada, Utah, and northern Wyoming are areas where large concentrations of non-gold claims occur.

Analysis of Claim Distribution and Density

Western Mining History has created several tools for both locating mining claims on the ground, and analyzing mining claim density to gain insights as to areas with potential for gold discovery.

The WMH Gold Explorer

If you are looking for areas that have good gold potential for placer mining or metal detecting, the best indicator as to where the good ground is comes from the professionals that know where the gold is. Where these pros operate can be determined by looking at where active placer claims are located.

The WMH Gold Explorer is designed to display both active placer claims by PLSS section along with historical gold mines, providing valuable insight as to where modern placer mining is occurring and where gold may still be discovered by individuals and small-scale miners. Click here to read more about the WMH Gold Explorer

Researching Mining Claims

Active claim records are stored in a BLM application called the Mineral & Land Record System (MLRS), formerly known as the LR2000. This application is notoriously slow and difficult to use.

The active mining claim information included in the WMH Gold Maps and Mining Claims Research Tools for Google Earth Pro allow you to discover where claims are located on maps, and then enter the MTRS location info directly into LR2000 to see the latest claims info.

For details on how to do claims research, see the article Researching Mining Claims with the BLM MLRS

Information on the WMH Mining Claim Research Tools can be found here.