Virginia State Seal Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Metal Detecting and Permits

Ground shadow of a person metal detecting.Do I need a permit to metal detect in Virginia?

DHR commonly receives calls and emails asking about permits for metal detecting in Virginia. Contrary to what some websites for hobby detectorists have posted, there is no general permitting process for metal detecting in Virginia. However, be aware of the following:

Metal Detecting on Land:

  • Private Property: Like any other activity, if you wish to metal detect on private property, you must have permission of the property owner. Metal detecting on private property without the owner’s permission has the potential to lead to charges of trespass and theft. (See toward bottom of this page for more information about trespassing and the law.)
  • Public property, both state and federal, is generally not open to metal detecting and removal of artifacts. There are a few exceptions. Some state parks allow metal detecting in defined beach areas; those parks require that you apply for a permit directly from them. Here is the information from the Virginia State Parks website: Metal detectors may be used only on designated manmade beaches and only with a DCR [Department of Conservation and Recreation] special use permit. Such a permit may be obtained from the park’s manager. See State Parks Rules and Regulations.Some counties allow metal detecting on manmade beaches or around sports fields. Contact the parks and recreation departments for the county you are considering to learn if and where metal detecting is allowed.

Underwater Exploration or Recovery Permits:

  • Underwater bottomlands in Virginia’s rivers, Chesapeake Bay, and Atlantic coastal zone are state property and do require permits for the removal of artifacts.
  • Pursuant to § 10.1-2214 Code of Virginia, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission has the authority to permit underwater archaeological investigations on historic resources on bottomlands owned by the Commonwealth. DHR is consulted prior to the issuance of the permits and is charged with determining which properties are historic. Contact VMRC for more information.

DHR does not encourage metal detecting and removal of materials from archaeological sites, whether on land or underwater. You can learn more about why we take that position at this DHR webpage. You can also learn about how metal detecting can assist archaeologists on some archaeological sites by viewing this video.

Trespassing Under Virginia Laws

DHR is not positioned to offer legal advice regarding trespassing. The Code of Virginia includes several laws that make trespassing a crime. For that reason, DHR recommends that visitors to this page consult a lawyer for legal advice as well as the following sections of the Code of Virginia:
  • Virginia Code 18.2-119 states that it’s unlawful to enter or remain on a person’s land after seeing a notice that prohibits trespassing. You can commit such a crime by violating a protective order against intrusion or staying on the property after the owner asks you to leave.
  • Other relevant laws from the Virginia Code include 18.2-121, 18.2-23, and 18.2-120.

Updated: July 8, 2021