Metal Detecting in North Dakota: Laws, Clubs, Where to Detect

Metal Detecting in North Dakota: Everything you need to know!

North Dakota is a scenic state with a long history. The Dakota Nation inhabited the territory first, and the Lewis and Clark expedition passed through the state twice. Traders, hunters, and trappers set up in North Dakota after coming from the Pacific coast in the early 1800s. 

North Dakota is not known for gold prospecting, but some smaller gold has been found int eh state. Most of this is found by panning but could be found with a sensitive metal detector. As with all states, ensure you follow all the laws and regulations pertaining to metal detecting while metal detecting in North Dakota. 

Metal Detecting Laws in North Dakota

As with all states, certain federal level laws pertain to metal detecting. The National Historic Preservation Act and Archaeological Resources Protection Act both apply to finding items on public or state lands in North Dakota. Under these laws, no item over 100 years old may be removed from the soil. You also may not metal detect in any area deemed historically or culturally important. Any item found that you think may be historically or culturally important should be turned over to the proper authorities. 

Always make sure you're aware of the metal detecting laws in North Dakota

North Dakota has a long Native American history. All Native American artifacts found should be turned over to the proper authorities. It is against the law to take these items. One of the major issues the state has faced is the destruction of Native burial grounds. The authorities now watch these sites very closely so save yourself the hassle and avoid them altogether. It is the safest option for you, and it pays respect to the Native American tribes. 

If you plan to metal detect in North Dakota on private lands, you do not have to follow these laws. Always ensure you receive written permission from landowners before you metal detect. This helps keep you safe. If you do find items on private property, you are free to do with them what you like. You can donate them to a museum, sell them, or keep them for your collection. If you do find Native American artifacts on private lands, consider donating them back to the Tribe from which they came so they can add them to their own historical collections. 

Every city and county can institute their own rules and regulations for metal detecting in their jurisdiction. As a rule, most national parks, national monuments, and some state parks are off limits to metal detectorists. You will need to contact the parks you wish to detect and ask what the rules are. Some have posted signs and others you will need to call the park supervisor or park ranger and ask. Some areas even require permits before you can metal detect. It is your responsibility as a metal detectorist to know the laws and find out where you can and cannot metal detect.

In the city of Bismarck, North Dakota, metal detecting is allowed on some city property if certain guidelines are followed. You must never disturb any park facility, natural features, or any archaeological or historical resource. No item of historical or archeological importance may be removed from park property and should be reported to the park personnel immediately. 

Digging implements are limited to ice picks, probes, and screwdrivers that do not exceed 2 inches in width, and sand scoops for sandy areas. All trash found while metal detecting should be properly disposed of. Lastly, all metal detectorists should conduct themselves thoughtfully and courteously with consideration for others enjoying the city’s recreational spaces. 

Some Bismack city properties do not allow metal detecting at all. These include:

  • General Sibley Park and Campground
  • East Sibley Park
  • Eagles Park
  • Chief Looking’s Village
  • Bismarck Municipal Ballpark
  • All athletic fields
  • Tom O’Leary Golf Course
  • Pebble Creek Golf Course
  • Fore Seasons Center
  • Riverwood Golf Course

Other areas in North Dakota are completely off limits to metal detectorists. This typically to protect the historical and archaeological resources, or to protect natural resources. For example, the Clausen Springs Recreation Area, which is a wildlife management area and multiple use recreation area, does not allow metal detecting at all. There are even stores in Fargo and Moorhead that will rent metal detectors to anyone who wants to detect at an hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly rate. This is a great option if you are not sure you want to purchase a machine prior to metal detecting in North Dakota. 

Metal Detecting Finds in North Dakota

Some of the best metal detecting finds in North Dakota are coins. Detectorists have found a 1942 Walking Liberty half dollar, a silver Roosevelt dime, several silver Mercury dimes, a 1930 Buffalo nickel, and several wheat pennies.

Learning the wheat penny value or worth of your unearthed coins can be extremely rewarding.

Detectorists have also found relics, jewelry, Native American artifacts, other old coins, and more modern items. North Dakota is also home to many rare earth elements, especially in western North Dakota. Elements including terbium oxide and scandium have been found and these are valuable elements. 

On top of the finds listed, there are many lost treasures reportedly scattered throughout the state. In April of 1897, a flood came through Belmont, North Dakota. Several businesses were along the Red River at the time, and the flood washed their safes into the river. These safes were never recovered and thought to be buried under the sands of the river. 

A group of Montana gold miners were attacked by a Native tribe on their way from North Dakota to Montana. The miners are said to have buried almost $100,000 in gold nuggets near the Missouri River near Fort Clark. They returned to claim their treasure later and could not find their dig site. 

A Union Army paymaster during the Civil War had his payroll stolen which consisted of a large gold coin cache. Thieves buried the cache near Sunset Butte 10 miles northwest of Amidon, North Dakota. The payroll coins were never recovered and reportedly still lie where they were buried.

In 1893, a bank was robbed near Belcourt, North Dakota and thieves took nearly $100,000 in gold coins and gold bullion to the foothills Turtle Mountain. You will need to seek permission from the Turtle Mountain Reservation prior to searching for this treasure as the Reservation sits on the spot where the gold is reportedly buried. 

Where to Go Metal Detecting in North Dakota

North Dakota’s rivers are a great place to metal detect. Rivers are a great place to find lost treasures. In North Dakota, try searching the Little Missouri, James, Souris, maple, Cannonball, and Sheyenne rivers. Other good places to metal detect are Lake Sakakawea, Frontier Village, Devil’s Lake, and Fort Dilts.

Make sure you have the proper permissions to detect all these locations.  Areas where old forts are, outlaw trails, and ghost towns are good places to metal detect in North Dakota. Some ghost towns to check are:

  • Tagus
  • Carbury
  • Wheelock
  • Verendrye
  • Temvik
  • Arena
  • Bartlett
  • Hartland

Many ghost towns are privately, or state owned so again, make sure you have all the necessary permissions before metal detecting ghost towns in North Dakota.

Any area that sees a lot of visitors, like lakes, streams, parks, and event locations, will have a great opportunity to find more modern items dropped by recreators. I like to search the forests and lake areas for dropped items. These areas see a lot of foot traffic and that means a lot of dropped treasures to find!

Metal Detecting Clubs in North Dakota

All states have metal detecting clubs. North Dakota is no exception. Only one club is listed in North Dakota, called the Minnkota Artifact Recovery Group. Meetings are held the 3rd Friday of each month at the Bronco Bar in Chaffee, North Dakota. They hold an annual spring hunt open to all metal detectorists, and a fall hunt that is only for members. Their meetings consist of finds competitions, raffles, and door prizes.

Joining a metal detecting club has many benefits. Many members have been detecting for decades and have a wealth of knowledge. They can help you choose metal detectors and equipment, identify finds, understand the laws and rules, and teach you etiquette for metal detecting. If you are unsure, try going on one of their detecting hunts that are open to everyone. This will give you a good idea of how the club operates and how they interact with one another.


North Dakota is a scenic state with plenty of metal detecting opportunities. You can find Native American artifacts, early settler’s artifacts, and more modern items throughout the state. You may even find some precious metals or elements in North Dakota’s soils. 

These can be worth quite a bit, too! Make sure you follow all federal, state, and local laws and guidelines for metal detecting. You can land yourself in quite a bit of trouble if you detect outside the law. North Dakota also has Native American reservations, and these areas are completely off limits to detectorists unless you receive special permissions form the Tribal Council. 

You can find yourself in a lot of trouble if you detect outside the law. This can include confiscation of your finds, confiscation of your metal detectors, fines, and even jail time. Follow all the rules for a safe and successful metal detecting trip! Do your research to make sure you have the best time metal detecting in North Dakota!


One of the main rules of metal detecting is to obtain the property owner’s permission prior to metal detecting. This is not only to keep you safe, but it keeps all detectorists safe from additional regulations and rules added due to trespassing. The first thing to do is to locate the owner of the property. 

You can head to your local County Assessor’s office to find the property owner or conduct a Google search. OnX Maps also shows property owner information with premium membership. It is always best to ask the property owner face-to-face for their permission to metal detect. Ask them for written permission to hunt. 

Be mindful of the time of day, as not all people are early birds or night owls. Leave all your gear in your vehicle while asking the owner for permission. If they say no, you cannot do much more. But, if they say yes, you will have an exciting new area to explore devoid of the current regulations that apply to public, state, and federally owned lands. 

The benefits of metal detecting are vast! First, it will get you outside more and you will be getting exercise. Most of us are guilty of spending too much time indoors and not getting enough exercise. You will get away from TV and other electronic devices that occupy so much of our time. You can also metal detect with friends and family. 

I like to take my metal detectors when my family goes camping. The kids have their own cheaper models, so they have a great time searching the campsites for lost treasures. They typically only find bottle caps and new coins, but it is a great time for them! It is enjoyable for the whole family. 

You may also come across a once in a lifetime find. While not as common as finding trash or more modern dropped items, some detectorists have found substantial finds including coin hoards, gold nuggets, and ancient relics. You can even help people find their lost items. Many detectorists will use their equipment to help members of their communities with lost items. 

North Dakota is very cold in the winter and very warm in the summer. Your best bet would be to metal detect during the spring and fall months. Summer is typically the busiest time for tourism and local recreational activities. If you hunt in the fall, you can find all the items dropped over the summer by recreators.

You will also encounter smaller crowds during the fall and spring months. Springtime is a great season to metal detect because the snowfall is melting or melted, and spring rains can uncover items that were previously buried more deeply. Any location where people gather during the year you will have a good chance of finding dropped coins, jewelry, and other items. 

This is really a matter of choice. Metal detecting pinpointers are small, handheld metal detectors that help you narrow down a target location. Many full-sized metal detectors feature a pinpoint button that helps you know approximately where your target is. 

When you start to dig your hole, you can use a pinpointer to see if the target is still inside the hole or if you have gotten it out in the plug. This is helpful because you can dig smaller holes. You would need a larger hole if your target was deep to fit your metal detector inside. 

A handheld pinpointer makes it easier to find the exact location of your target. It is not, however, a completely necessary item. You can do without it, if you choose. I did not use a pinpointer for the first year or so that I metal detected. Now that I have one, I cannot imagine going without it. 

Very carefully. Depending upon the item you have recovered, you may not want to clean it at all. Any item that has historical or archaeological importance should never be cleaned, unless it is being done by a professional. Relics can be easily damaged by cleaning. Old coins and jewelry can also be damaged if improperly cleaned. There are several ways to clean metal detecting coins and jewelry and other notable finds.

Mild acids – Soak the metal object in an undiluted solution of white vinegar or cola to remove blackened areas. This method can be damaging to some metals.

Baking soda – For silver, clean the item with a baking soda covered toothbrush to remove blackened or tarnished areas. 

Ammonia/White Vinegar – Soak gold or silver overnight to bring back shine.

Olive Oil – Soak finds in olive oil. This is the safest way to clean valuable coins. The oil is gentle and does not affect the patina. It can take a long time for olive oil to clean items.

Wax – Experts use Renaissance Micro Crystalline Wax to treat cleaned coins. 

No matter which method you choose, ensure it is safe for the type of metal you are trying to clean. You can damage items irreparably very easily, especially if they have been in the ground or underwater for a long time and have tender surfaces. Be sure to take any items you are unsure of to a professional to have them cleaned properly. These professionals will know the best way to clean the item without damage. 

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