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Gold panning at Lake Anna State Park

Nearly a century and a half before the North Anna River was dammed to form today’s Lake Anna, prospectors panning in Spotsylvania County’s Pigeon Run struck gold. So began a 60-year rush for the precious metal and the establishment of the Goodwin Gold Mine, the remains of which now lie within the boundaries of Lake Anna State Park.

The gold rush may be a thing of the past, but you can still tour the remains of the mine and learn about the various methods of searching for gold through regular programs offered by the park’s staff. You can even grab handfuls of dirt and rocks from Pigeon Run and pan for the shiny orange-ish specks that can still be found amid the clay and quartz. These programs are appropriate for all ages.

During the summer months, Lake Anna State Park offers “Stampmill Sam’s Gold Adventure,” its premier gold-themed event, two to three times a week (check the online events calendar here). This 2-hour program includes a van ride to the former site of the Goodwin Gold Mine, an explanation of the various methods used to mine the region’s gold and gold panning on Pigeon Run. The program costs $2 per person or $6 per family and is very popular, so pre-registration at the park’s Visitor Center (540/854-5503, open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.) is recommended.

If you have a tighter schedule, or younger children with shorter attention spans, park staff offer gold panning at the Visitor Center on many summer afternoons (most programming runs Mining sluice at Lake Anna State Park Visitor CenterThursdays through Sundays). After a brief talk about the history of gold in the area, participants can use provided pans to sift through dirt brought from Pigeon Run on the banks of Old Pond, which lies behind the Visitor Center. This program is free of charge.

For an added level of hands-on fun, the Visitor Center gift shop offers for sale bags of sand and pebbles that have gemstones and other treasures hidden within. Visitors can use the mining sluice on the deck behind the gift shop to learn how miners would use mesh boxes of varying levels of fineness to separate the precious metal from the dirt.

Lake Anna State Park beach

Any of these adventures can make up part of a truly enjoyable day or overnight visit to Lake Anna State Park. The park offers a number of other programs, including canoes, kayaks, nature walks and campfire talks. A “Roving Ranger” periodically brings a reptile or other animal from the collection in the Visitor Center out to the park’s beach, allowing bathing-suit-clad kids to take a break from water play to learn a little something about nature. Inside the Visitor Center, kids can play games that teach them about the various ways animals leave their mark on the landscape, and can watch a presentation on the basics of camping. This is a wonderful place to introduce young children in particular to the joys of the great outdoors (A playground by the beach is another fun attraction.). Older kids and adults will also have plenty to do, from water sports to hiking to overnight camping.

The park's network of trails offers many more ways to explore, with distances appropriate for even the smallest walkers. Both tent camping and cabins are available for overnight stays.

A trip out to Lake Anna State Park will take you down roads that display the rural beauty of Spotsylvania County. Farmhouses, wildflowers and Black Angus cattle set against green fields dominate the scenery along Courthouse and Lawyers roads. While you’re in the area, be sure to drop by Lake Anna Winery for a tasting and tour of the vineyard, or consider a stay at Stevenson Ridge, a historical property steeped in natural and architectural beauty.

The days of striking it rich at the Goodwin Gold Mine are probably in the past, but Lake Anna State Park still has plenty of treasures to offer the summer adventurer.