Jade is a rare stone that occurs naturally in Big Sur, California. For rock hounds, the search for pure jade in pacific ocean tide pools is a perfect adventure.
In this article, we’ll look at the famous Jade Cove Trail where you can find your own jade, and share our top 5 tips to make the most of your trip.
What is the Jade Cove Trail?
The information provided in this article by YesDirt.com is for informational purposes and is subject to change. Laws are updated. Accessibility guidelines and restrictions change. Be sure to confirm the land status and collection rules before you travel to an unfamiliar location or collect any material.
The Jade Cove Trail is a hiking trail in Big Sur, California that provides access to a public beach where you can search for jade.
In the past, some amazing stones were found here – including an entire boulder full of nephrite.
With millions and millions of tiny stones polished by the incessant surf, there is a constantly churning supply of stones to search through, and some of them are precious jade.
There is a free parking area on the west side of Highway 1, with access to the Jade Cove Trail.
Although the hike itself is a beautiful 1.5-mile-long loop, all of the rock hounding is done at Jade Cove beach, which is a short distance from the parking lot.
The nearest bathroom is at the trailhead to Sand Dollar Beach, about half a mile away. There is a $10 charge for parking in the lot there.
How to Identify Jade
What is commonly referred to as “Jade” is actually two distinct stones – jadeite and nephrite.
Nephrite is the classic Chinese jade. It is much more common and available, with less luster.
It is normally an opaque white color, but iron impurities give it an emerald hue. It is 6-6.5 on the Mohs hardness scale.
Jadeite is much rarer, harder, and more expensive. It is also white when pure, and chromium gives it a green color.
It is 6.5-7 on the Mohs hardness scale. It has a luster that nephrite doesn’t have and it is also about 20x more expensive.
In Jade Cove, you will find both varieties – jadeite and nephrite.
However, many other stones look similar. Without actually testing, you might not know whether you have a sample of pure California jade or a lookalike.
Onyx, banded agate, and serpentine can all masquerade as jade. When there are many inclusions, it can be really difficult to tell which is which.
One way to do a quick test on the beach is to scrape the stone with a knife.
Both Jadeite and nephrite are very hard, although jadeite is the harder of the two.
While serpentine will be scratched by the blade of a knife, both varieties of jade will be unscratched.
To know for sure whether you have jadeite or nephrite, you might need to do a specific gravity test. Jadeite is heavier.
Our Top Tips for Making The Best of your Jade Cove Trail Trip
Follow the Law
It is legal to go rock hounding on Jade Cove beach, but there are regulations in place to preserve the environment so that people will be able to continue enjoying it in the future.
It’s a good idea to do a quick search online before you visit to see what the latest rules are.
As of right now, it’s only legal to remove jade from below the mean tide line – the average water level over time.
It’s hard to know where that is exactly, especially when you’re not there every day.
In practice, you only want to search for jade and remove any jade that is well below the tide line, in pools of water at low tide.
If you do find any jade on the beach itself or above the tide pools, leave it alone. You could potentially incur a stiff fine for removing jade above the mean tide line.
The Jade Cove Trail is a medium-difficulty hike that is very accessible. Rockhounding on Jade Cove Beach is much more difficult and isn’t for anyone with mobility issues.
If you have a fear of heights or get anxious around the ocean, this might not be the place for you.
To get to Jade Cove Beach, you’ll need to descend a slope that is so steep there is a rope there to help you keep from falling, and help you pull yourself back up.
Remember – whatever you collect, you’ll need to carry back with you!
Once you get to the beach, you’ll get wet. The ocean in California can be cold, even in the summer.
You’ll want to wear a wetsuit to keep warm, and water shoes if you’re concerned about sharp rocks or sea urchins.
Don’t forget to bring enough water to stay hydrated and use water-resistant sunscreen.
Go When The Tide is Low
Arriving at the wrong time could ruin your entire trip, and make it illegal to take away anything you find.
At high tide, all of the jade you could potentially find is legally off-limits, and you’re unlikely to find much.
Go at low tide to find the best specimens in the tide pools.
Beware the Surf
Rockhounding Jade Cove beach can be dangerous. Big Sur is an area famous for its pounding surf, and Jade Cove Beach is anything but sheltered.
If you are searching through the tide pools, you’ll need to keep one eye open and fixed on the horizon.
Waves regularly come in and if you’re not careful, you could be caught off-guard and knocked down, injured, or even swept away.
There are no lifeguards to watch out for you here, so your safety is your responsibility.
Always go with a partner and stay close to each other so that if one of you gets into trouble, there is someone to help.
Enjoy the Experience
It’s easy to get too fixated on finding jade, even if that is the point of the trip.
There are so many other stones you can find here – quartz, agate, onyx, and more.
This is also a rich wildlife area where you’ll see sea birds, seals, fish, sand dollars, starfish, and abalone.
The experience overall is such a rich and enjoyable one that you’ll do yourself a disservice if you focus solely on bringing back the perfect piece of jade.
How to Make the Best of Your Trip to the Jade Cove Trail
The hiking in Big Sur and the views of the primal ocean are more than enough to justify visiting the Jade Cove Trail, but if you’re a determined rockhound, there is still plenty of jade out there to find.
The rugged California coast won’t make it easy. You’ll need to be ready to hike down a steep hill and navigate the surf zone to find what you’re looking for.
Both jadeite and nephrite can be found as black, green, or white stones with inclusions that have been polished by the pounding waves into smooth pebbles.
However, you might not know whether you have the real thing right away.
You can do a quick test with a knife to eliminate the possibility of serpentine or banded agate, but to know whether it is jadeite or nephrite you will need to see an expert to do a specific gravity test.
California Rockhounding Resources
If you like to have a physical book in hand (like when there’s no cell service), here’s a few popular options:
Rockhounding California: A Guide To The State’s Best Rockhounding Sites
Gem Trails of Southern California
Gem Trails of Northern California
Smithsonian Rocks and Minerals Identification Guide
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