Can You Metal Detect on Public Footpaths?

History and money enthusiasts have started to pick up the long-time hobby of metal detecting. What seems simple of just picking up a detector and going is not. Knowing where to go without getting in trouble is key, especially if you are on public property. 

Metal detecting on public footpaths is not a no-brainer concept. While you can metal detect there, it can become tricky due to unknown lines of private and public property. What may seem public may also be open to the public but government-owned, meaning state and federal regulations one must abide by.                                           

Don’t let this deter you from picking up the great hobby that offers many more benefits than just trying to find some extra cash. Below, we’ll go over the basic rules and regulations to follow if you are going to metal detect on public footpaths. 

Potential Issues with Metal Detecting on Public Footpaths

So what are the issues that one may come across when adventuring on the public footpaths with a metal detector? Well, while you may not be bothered some of the time, taking the risk is not worth it when you may face legal troubles and large fines for doing something you shouldn’t. 

Some areas like national parks will be more patrolled and regulated than others. In comparison to a random trail in a small town, you may not be bothered at all. 

Common problems that a metal detector will face:

  • Private Property Lines

          Knowing where your line starts and ends. 

  • Local, State, and Federal Guidelines  

          Understanding the different regulations throughout different towns, states, and the country. 

  • Animal Protection

          Disturbing protected Animals is a major offense. Know what to look out for. 

Problems When Crossing into Private Property

You may start on public property, but that may not be where you end up. Even if you were on your private property, do you know exactly where that line ends and crosses over into your neighbors? Going into private property without permission violates many laws. 

Trespassing in itself is an issue, let alone digging on someone’s property, and lastly, possibly taking something that is not yours. In other words, you are stealing. Most metal detecting is encouraged to be done on private property because most public landscapes have already been searched by other detectors, or the government has already taken any goods into holding. 

Make sure you find out where those lines are from public property to private are, and if you do want to go on private property, make sure to get permission. Written permission is the best as it offers proof in case, there is a debacle about what permission was given. 

Local, State, and Federal Laws

The scale of justice on top of open books.

Local:

For starters, consider what is ethical. It is highly disrespectful to metal detect at religious sites and cemetery grounds. Some local towns may have laws banning it, and some may not. Nevertheless, people would be highly disappointed if you were digging up their loved one’s graves.

Any local government website will disclose which areas that are open to the public allow metal detecting. For example, a park on a school ground is open to the public. But you cannot dig up school grounds as it is town property. 

Counties:

County to county offer different laws and regulations as some counties may have more areas deemed appropriate for metal detecting, whereas some counties may not want their private beaches to be torn up verse state beaches that generally deem it OK.

State:

State parks offer massive amounts of land to be explored and walked on. However, while many states differ on where you can and cannot metal detect, there are some common ideas that generally remain off-limits. 

State parks and beaches typically get the OK. Any historical site, however, is not. When a state park becomes a historical site such as the ones in Concord and Lexington, Massachusetts, where parts of the American Revolution took place, this becomes more complicated and must be thoroughly researched online at state official websites. 

Federal:

This varies between national park. Some sites simply do not allow any metal detecting because of the same historical reasoning. While others offer certain areas up for grabs, such as the Hoosier National Forest Park. And lastly, some of the other parks don’t have many regulations at all, which may include desert areas.

Animal Protection


With things like climate change and hunting increasing our endangered species list, local, state, and federal parks are doing all they can to protect both endangered and stable species. In many state beaches alone, turtles, birds, and other animals lay their eggs and create nests and protected areas not to be disturbed. 

Like many people, those metal detecting may not realize these areas, and it would be highly unethical to destruct any of these areas, so most governments enact laws that do have consequences if you were to disrupt these places, especially if they are endangered. 

Where You Can Go and How to Do it With Permission


While it sounds like there is a lot of restrictions, there actually aren’t too many. Only a few “public” places restrict any kind of access besides the common sense places mentioned above, like burial grounds and historical sites. 

Below is a table of the most common examples of places you can metal detect in the U.S. and what things you may need to look out for if you decide to pursue that area. 

Again keep in mind private property doesn’t mean no. Private property just requires you to ask permission (preferably written) to explore what is not yours. 

Place

How To

Look Out For

Beaches

  • Beaches are great open areas that are typically approved for metal detecting.

  • Because the sand is moved around a lot anyways naturally and by beach goers, it is approved for metal detecting.

  • Do not confuse state beaches with private beaches.

  • State beaches are federally and state-funded beaches whereas private may be owned by a person, family, business, etc. Be sure to know as private beaches are private property.

National Everything


Some national forests, parks, beaches, etc. allow for metal detecting in either all or specific areas.  

  • Anything national has its own guidelines so it’s ultra-important to follow those specific regulations. 

  • National Monuments are ALWAYS off-limits.

Your Own Backyard

  • For beginners, most people have never really explored their area if they have one. The bigger the better.

  • If you are friendly with neighbors chances are they might not care if you explore their backyards also. 

  • Know the property lines so you don’t end up somewhere that is not yours.

  • If your neighbor does give permission make sure if you do something to re-ask before digging anything up. 

Final Thoughts

While you can generally metal detect on a public footpath, it is important to note that there can be quite a few regulations and laws that determine where exactly you can and cannot metal detect. 

Just going for it without any knowledge would be a huge mistake for a hobby that seems at a glance relatively easy. Major fines and possibly even jail time can occur if you are negligent to historical sites or national monuments. 

The best place to start is your property while you learn the do’s and do not’s of metal detecting. After that, go for your local areas, and as the hobby increases, go deeper into state and federal places. 

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