Land use conflicts are becoming increasingly apparent from local to global scales. Surface gold mining is an extreme source of such a conflict, but mining impacts on local livelihoods often remain unclear. Our goal here was to assess land cover change due to gold surface mining in Western Ghana, one of the world’s leading gold mining regions, and to study how these changes affected land use systems. We used Landsat satellite images from 1986-2002 to map land cover change and field interviews with farmers to understand the livelihood implications of mining-related land cover change. Our results showed that surface mining resulted in deforestation (58%), a substantial loss of farmland (45%) within mining concessions, and widespread spill-over effects as relocated farmers expand farmland into forests. This points to rapidly eroding livelihood foundations, suggesting that the environmental and social costs of Ghana’s gold boom may be much higher than previously thought.