Can I Metal Detect In National Parks?


In the United States, many old abandoned and destroyed cities were declared national parks. That is because no one lives there anymore and the remains are mostly destroyed or lost to the elements. However, people once lived there for decades or even centuries so those places have a rich history. That means such areas are potential archeological sites of great importance and you may find various hidden treasures there.

Unfortunately for metal detectorists and treasure hunters National Parks are completely off-limits. Federal law prohibits the possession and use of metal detectors on federal property.  Penalties can include prison time and possibly up to $10,000 in fines.

Not only is metal detecting illegal in National Parks, it is a felony, and the law also prohibits digging for artifacts, removing artifacts, or any historical objects, and relic hunting. This is why is it always critical to educate yourself before you go digging anywhere.  Always seek permission from the property owner before you dig. Make sure you dig only where it is legal, and DO NOT leave behind any holes.  Always fill your holes after you have dug.

Metal Detecting From a Legal Aspect

Disclaimer – I am NOT a lawyer, and I am certainly NOT your lawyer, please do your own research first before heading out to dig, follow the state and federal laws and be safe.

It is important to know the laws and regulations on this matter if you are planning to operate a metal detector. Every state has its own laws when it comes to metal detecting/relic hunting. Metal detecting might be allowed in some areas and forbidden in others. National Parks are clearly off-limits, but when it comes to state properties, 16 states do not allow recreational metal detecting, and 34 states require a permit. Laws do tend to change so always check with your local state before you head out digging.

If you dig where it is not allowed, you might end up having problems with the authorities. The National Park Service Archeology Program is a good place to start for each state when dealing with archeology sites. The federal law of the United States forbids metal detecting on their territories so you are not allowed to operate as an amateur archeologist there. TC-RC is also a good resource for the local state laws for each state. Their list is not complete, but they have plenty of good resources to get you started in the right direction. In some cases, you might be fined, however, prison penalties are also possible in most extreme situations so you should be careful.

On the other hand, you can freely metal detect in all state parks. There are usually no restrictions for such activities at those locations, but it is still recommended to check the regulations of a particular state in order to avoid any legal problems. However, I have now seen that some states are even restricting digging in local state parks. If the state does not have separate and unique laws, then it is probably abiding by federal law. That means you are probably not allowed to use a metal detector for digging there.

Some of the places might also have areas where recreational detecting is allowed and that ground might be marked with some kind of visualizations. That’s especially true if a large number of people have the interest to perform such activities on the locations. In that case, the authorities may mark the territory so the users can avoid legal problems by following the instructions. Some organizations under the federal government might allow recreational metal detecting in a limited quantity. It is usually performed in places where there is no clear evidence of any historical events.

The Forest Service, for example, allows recreational metal detecting as well as mineral samples in many National parks. The permission might include the entire territory of these places are just particular parts. That might depend on different individual circumstances. BLM Lands, under the management of the Federal Bureau of Land Management, are also generally allowed for metal detecting. You are only not allowed to perform such activities in historical locations. The property from those areas belongs to the country.

Metal detecting in state beaches is usually allowed, however, different restrictions and limitations may apply to that activity. You might be forced by the regulations to dig only particular areas and not the entire beach. However, particular regulations may differ from one location to another one, always check your local state laws. You can also metal detect in private land and properties only IF you have the appropriate permission from the owner to do so. Without that permission, it would be a completely illegal activity.

All in all, you can pretty easily conclude, the laws and regulations can be a bit confusing, and it means you have to check these for a particular area where you want to operate. Metal detecting in national parks is generally not allowed, however, some exceptions from this rule are still possible, and you should research all the details regarding the matter to avoid any potential legal troubles. One other good resource is a PDF by Lee Wiese from mdhtalk.org where he covers “Where is it Legal to Metal Detect?

Rich History For Metal Detecting

Our civilization has a pretty rich history with numerous important events. People have done many great things from their beginnings. In the past, there were very few basic things, while today, you have so many products that improve daily life. People have strived to make and invent various things throughout entire history. For example, different types of weapons served as a suitable defense against any potential attackers. With a right sword and shield, the warriors could defend themselves and their territory. These were usually made of steel and iron, however, silver, gold, and any other gems were often included. They often died in the battle or defending their home, and their weapons stayed on the ground. Silver and gold coins would also fall out from their bags too and it would be hard for others to find them in the grass, or sunken into the mud.

That’s one of the examples of why there are many archeological sites where it is possible to discover interesting things. History is full of such events and there are real hidden treasures in numerous locations all over the world. Unfortunately, people often do not know where to search because these items are generally below the Earth’s surface. They could walk right over it, but they will still not be aware that there is anything under their feet.

Equipment For Detection

Proper equipment is often the only requirement to start a search, and the experience you gain with such equipment can help you a lot. It is usually necessary to have a metal detector if you want to dig below the ground. Many of the items from the past were made of such materials and that device can help you to discover them. It is virtually impossible to do that just with your eyes, considering everything you want to find is below the surface. Some of the locations might have only a few hidden treasures, others might be full of it. That’s something no one knows for sure, and it is necessary to check first.

Various metal detectors can help you increase efficiency. With their support, you would be able to make various discoveries in a timely manner. Still, it is very good to know that there are many models on the market so it is important to choose carefully. Not all of these will provide the same results so you should learn more about the specifications, especially if you are new to this subject. That’s how you can avoid buying the wrong device that does not serve the purpose. Some of the detectors are excellent when it comes to finding small metal treasuries, such as ancient coins or jewelry, while other models are better at finding bigger items. Those might include different kinds of weaponry and work tools from the past.

There are metal detectors with a wider range, like the Nokta Makro Deephunter so you can cover larger areas in a shorter time frame. Some also have a deeper range than others so you can manage to catch items far below the ground’s surface. Others can notice just the artifacts near the surface so it is very useful to know your detector. It is the best way to avoid any mistakes and confusion.

A lightweight metal detector, like the Garrett Ace 200 is easier to use because you might be forced by the situation to spend hours per day searching for hidden treasures. That’s definitely a lot of work and it takes a lot of energy. A heavier detector can put serious pressure on your hands and arms while swinging it all day. You will then spend more time and energy to achieve the same results as with the lightweight version.

It is also necessary to pay attention to weather conditions. Local parks and beaches are located in different areas of the country and one place might have a different climate than another one. Also, you might want to dig during different seasons so you have to be properly prepared for different situations. For example, a lot of rain can fall in spring and you would be unable to dig during those days if your metal detector does not have water protection. That feature is definitely important, however, not all detectors are waterproof. That is why I choose the Garrett AT Pro, because it is perfect for any weather, although there are many other detectors that will work in all weather conditions as well.

Also, some of the areas you want to explore might be covered with water so you would have no chance to check the ground with a basic detector. There are many ghost towns in the United States that have been submerged for one reason or another. Massachusetts has many ghost towns that have been submerged. Water protection is necessary for successful searching in such cases. You would then have a clear chance to check the banks, shores, and beaches in the area where the water is not too deep for the searching of this kind. Or if you are like DALLMYD you can use a Minelab Excalibur II and certainly scuba dive in rivers and lakes for lost treasures.

You will also need an appropriate bag, a good pinpointer, and a small shovel for digging. Every item pulled from the ground needs to be stored in a safe place until you return home. Also, you WILL find a large amount of trash while digging. Old pull tabs fall into the same range (tone) as gold/diamond rings, so while you are digging for what you think is a gold ring, you are more than likely going to dig up some old soda can pull tabs from the 60s & 70s.

Meet the man building the world’s biggest—and probably only—reference collection of pull tabs.

If you are going to get into this hobby or you are already a seasoned digger, DO NOT just throw the trash back into or onto the ground.  Bring with you a separate bag for trash and take it out with you, or dispose of it into a nearby trash can. We are not here to give metal detectorists a bad name by leaving open holes and trash all over.  It’s already bad enough that people have left their trash all over for us to dig up while looking for actual treasure, we do not need to add to the mess.

Other Popular Places For Metal Detecting

You may find yourself going to some different areas in order to avoid the law and to be able to legally detect. Some people choose local parks, picnic areas, schoolyards, carnival sites, and many other similar places. State regulations generally allow you to operate in such places so you should expect no legal problems for the activities of that kind. The rewards, however, might not be so significant, however, it is definitely a suitable activity for beginners. They can learn how to use a metal detector properly in those locations, and they might find different lost coins and pieces of jewelry, for example.

Again, as I keep stressing, make sure to check with your local and state laws before you head out. Also when it comes to local state parks, many towns will require you to use the probe method.

How to use a Garrett Brass Probe for detecting coin in parks.

When you master the basic skills, your efficiency will increase so you would then become capable of starting more serious explorations of this type. Many also go to various river banks to perform such activities. You can only imagine what people have lost at those locations throughout the centuries. The real hidden treasure is about to be discovered and you can be the first to do so. It is just necessary to have appropriate equipment as well as good skills for this kind of action.

In some rivers, it is also possible to find small pieces of gold in this way and that’s definitely an interesting experience. There are also some uncommon places where you can detect metal too. These might include Civil War battlefields, abandoned hotels, saloons, and houses, old city dumps, local landmarks, and many other places. Some of those localities may hide higher or fewer rewards.

Civil War battlefields, for example, are often forgotten by everyone, however, the grounds of those places might hide very interesting and important discoveries. It is usually composed of different types of weaponry and additional parts. Coins and pieces of old jewelry might be found as well. If a battle was a serious one, it was usually followed by a lot of casualties. The soldiers had different kinds of items including weapons, coins, rings, and chains. AquaChigger is my favorite YouTuber for someone that is always on the hunt for Civil War artifacts.

Those products often stayed on the ground together with their bodies, and they are waiting to be found. The old houses, hotels, and salons might also hide different rewards, but it mostly depends on a particular situation. Some places might be better for searching than others so it is necessary to check the history of all potential locations in order to save time and energy.

Metal Detecting Code of Conduct

The Metal Detecting Code of Conduct is also an important factor of such activities, and there are some guidelines you have to follow. The ground might hide many things, some might be of precious value, others, however, might be very dangerous. The war areas might hide unexploded bombs, lethal ammunition, or any other high-risk item. It is necessary to be prepared for such discoveries too, and you have to report these to the authorities as soon as you discover them.

It is also important to pay attention to the surrounding area. You should not disturb animals nor harm nature while performing metal detecting. Do not make a mess and leave trash on locations you have visited. Some people dig a large number of holes during such activities, however, they forget to fill them back so the ground’s surface ends up destroyed after them. You should not definitely behave in such a way, and that’s how you can help your environment.

Both KellyCo and Minelab have great pages that go into more detail on the code of conduct for anyone wanting to get into this hobby. 

KellyCo Metal Detectors’ Treasure Hunters Code of Ethics

Minelab’s Code of Ethics

Jason Smith

I am a former Marine who works as a Software Engineer. I have five US States left to visit. My sarcasm is legendary as is my knowledge of movie quotes. I can name the song or artist of just about any 80s or 90s song. I like whiskey, wine, coffee, soaking in hot springs or my hot tub. I enjoy getting out hiking, and taking pictures, along with metal detecting & magnet fishing from time to time. I do enjoy the occasional gaming by breaking out the original NES or SNES. I do spend a lot of time building other websites, (about 30 some in total).

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