Jade is one of the most highly sought-after stones, known mainly from the rich green variety but occurring in many colors. California has a reputation for some amazing jade, it just has to be found by the intrepid rockhound.
If you’re looking for where to find Jade in California, you’re in luck. Let’s dig in and I’ll show you five great places that you can go for a chance of a real treasure.
Where To Find Jade In California
1. Big Sur
Big Sur is home to something unique: the only known underwater deposit of nephrite jade. It comes in a wide variety of different sizes, and it was previously mined commercially by divers.
Occasionally, boulders pulled from the seafloor show up on the local market. They’re a forgotten treasure of a different age. As such, they command high prices. It’s easy to see why: some of the jade pulled from the coast is among the finest nephrite in the world.
For the collector, it’s still possible to find different varieties of jade along the coast. Most of it will be found in the cobbles along the beach, along with agates and a few other collectible minerals.
The rules are a bit shifty, with different locations allowing or disallowing collection. It changes over time as well. Your best bet is to check in with a ranger station and see where you can go rockhounding.
Don’t get tempted to go where you’re not supposed to. Unlike many collection sites in the US, Big Sur’s beaches are closely watched for those who are going to break the rules.
You’ll note most of the locations on this list are either in or near Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. There’s a lot of opportunity for rockhounds seeking jade in the area, whether your choice is diving, riverbeds, or going through beach cobbles.
2. Jade Cove
Jade Cove is a bit south of Big Sur, but it’s another great spot to find jade. Many people actually dive off the coast here, risking the cold Pacific water in order to find different varieties of jade beneath the surface.
If you’re a diver, this is the spot to check out. A heavy vein of nephrite jade runs out from the coast here, and the bits that break off aren’t always small. People have reported finding huge stones out there, and even retrieving them.
The rules are pretty simple: if you can carry it back to the surf you’re good to go. There are weight limits on the lift bags you’re allowed to use, and you can’t use anything but hand tools to pry up loose stones.
The beach is also a promising place to find some jade, but if you’re already in the area then you may want to continue to head north and find the beaches at Big Sur proper.
3. Willow Creek in Monterey County
You don’t always have to hit the beach to find jade in California. If you’re more of the riverbed type, you can follow the bed of Willow Creek in Monterey County. More specifically, you need to hit the 1 through Pfeiffer State Forest, until you hit Willow Creek Road.
Or one of the other campsites nearby.
There are a lot of trails here that intersect with the creek. You’re going to want to take a look in the cobbles, among them you can find different varieties of jade in addition to the usual agates and jaspers found in almost every California creek, river, and stream.
Experienced riverbed diggers will have a good time here. For newbies, it’s a great place to learn as well, since there’s a wide variety of different stones that can be identified in the field.
4. Storm Jade Mine
Of course, you can always head into the desert to find jade as well. The Storm Jade Mine is located in Joshua Tree National Park.
You can take Pinto Basin Road off the 10, and follow it to Black Eagle Mine Road, which eventually cuts just North of the mine. The roads are rough, and you may need a truck or SUV just to get to that point.
From there, the most practical way to get out is to just follow the trail. Out in the desert the jade tends to blend in with the rocks, but it’s out there for those who are willing to look.
This area is quite remote, so make sure that you have food, water, and emergency supplies if you’ve decided to hunt in the area. For those unaccustomed to desert rockhounding… bring twice the water you think you’ll need.
Trust me on that one. The desert doesn’t make concessions for those who aren’t prepared.
5. Butte County
Butte County has quite a bit of the stone known as Pulga Jade. It’s closer to californite, which is another form of serpentine. We’ll talk about the differences in California Jade in a moment, what we’re here for is jade.
And this is where Pulga Jade is found. While most of it has been mined out, there are still find out in the creeks, rivers, and around the old mine that are waiting to be found.
Our research was unable to give us a single good spot in the county, but a quick look at an aerial map will show you that there’s a lot of public lands to scour in the area. Go through the usual suspects: old mines and riverbeds.
Pulga Jade, the main variety in Butte County, is an opaque, olive-green stone that takes one heck of a polish. It’s getting rarer these days, and it can be worth an adventure just to bring home a sample of this unique stone.
A Word About California Jade
Jade actually refers to two different stones. The one that comes to mind for most people is “Imperial” jade, which is a saturated green with a lot of transparency. This type of jade is also called jadeite.
The jade found in California is nephrite jade, which has a slightly different composition. While it’s not a cheap stone, it’s not quite at the gem prices that you’ll find for jadeite. Nephrite is the sort of jade that is used most often in carvings, including the ancient Chinese carvings that many people associate with the stone.
While good nephrite jade is found in California, the majority of these stones are lower on the quality spectrum. The majority of good-quality stones at the surface level have been collected in a lot of areas.
The other thing to keep in mind is that California’s jade comes in a wide variety of colors. Reds, yellows, and white are some of the variations. You also have “California Jade” or californite, which is a green variation of vesuvianite and sometimes found in the same places.
Oh, and there’s a ton of serpentine in many of the areas jade can be found.
My point is this: finding jade in California and identifying it is more complex than it seems at first.
Of course, for most of us, that’s just part of the adventure. Just make sure to do your homework before you start bragging about your new find.