Hiking in the Pfeiffer Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Parks

Hiking in the Pfeiffer Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Parks

United States
United States

When Is the Best Time

The Big Sur coastline along the Pacific Coast Highway 1 is otherworldly, just beautiful. We camped at Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground and went hiking for a couple of days. Of course, most stunning are the Mc Way Falls, just ten miles south. Both State Parks are in proximity and perfect for a weekend escape.

Hiking through the Big Sur River Gorge

If visiting the Big Sur for hiking in the summer, I recommend an early start in the morning to beat the midday heat. The pro you may spot some wildlife like a grey fox or skunk, which are nocturnal and raccoons.

Weather

Big Sur River Gorge
The Big Sur River Gorge is excellent to take a refreshing bath in the summer.

It’s a moderate cool coastal climate with moist air. The average temperature is between 50 to 65°F year-round. Most precipitation occurs from October to April with up to 50 inches/ 1270 mm. Fog happens between May and October, usually from the evening until late morning. If it’s hot in the backcountry, the fog might stay until the afternoon. It provides moisture for the redwoods along the coast in the dry summer months.

Camping Big Sur

Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground

If you like camping right among the amazing redwood trees, book the tent or RV site in advance at least three months before and for the summer holidays, even six months. Within the park are several campgrounds offering 189 tent and RV sites for $ 35-50 each night which includes the State Park fee of 10 $. Laundry, hot showers $1, and flushing toilets are available in such a beautiful location.

A campsite in Pfeiffer Big Sur
Huge campsites with privacy and fire pit.

From mid-June until September are two group campsites available which can accommodate up to 35 people. Reservations can be made six months in advance on the first day of the month. The campground is extremely popular even in the winter due to the mild climate and the excellent location. campground reservation  

Bird Steller's Jay, a blue bird in the tree

Many beautiful Steller’s Jays are around the campground used to humans and waiting to grab food.

Best Accommodations at Big Sur

  • There are cosy little cabins and a campground, just close to the Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground. The Riverside Campground and Cabins offers well-equipped cottages with a kitchenette and bathroom, and some share the facilities with the campground. It's beautifully located under redwood trees and an excellent alternative if the Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground is already fully booked,
  • My luxury top tip is the Ventana Big Sur - An Alila Resort situated in breathtaking scenery. The food at the on-site restaurant is incredible, and you can forget about everything except your time. Don't come here in a rush. You will love this excellent place and regret it if you stay here just for one night, but it is for adults only.
  • Excellently located at the park entrance is the Big Sur Lodge. The rooms are heated up with a cosy fireplace. The on-site restaurant offers tasty meals. Start your hike directly from the lodge and afterwards enjoy the outdoor pool during your stay.

Best Months to Visit

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec

Location and Tips

California, HW1
United States
United States

Pfeiffer Big Sur offers great camping opportunities, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns more demanding hiking trails.

Hiking Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Mc Way Falls
The 80 feet/24 m high Mc Way Falls

The highlight of the park is for sure the stunning Mc Way Falls. The water cascades down onto the white sand beach and the emerald-green sea. Cars are lining here on both sides although there is a car park just a 5 minutes walk. You can't miss the falls it is usually always busy. There was a steep trail down to the falls but it is closed off. Maybe better to enjoy the falls from the lookout instead of this wonderful place getting messed up.

Hiking Trails Julia Pfeiffer Burns

  • Mc Way Falls; Lookout Trail Short 0,5 miles hike forth and back to the 80 feet high Mc Way Falls which plunge to the white sand beach at low tide.
  • Canyon Falls Mc Way Creek - Short 0,5 miles roundtrip to another waterfall. The end of this trail is the trailhead for Ewoldson.
  • EwoldsenTrail - It is a difficult steep loop trail of 5 miles but worth the effort. The views from the top and to the coast are spectacular.
  • Parrington Cove Trail - An easy short walk on a wide trail starting at Cabrillo Hwy. This trails forks leading to a rocky beach and the other to a tunnel and viewpoint.
  • Tarn Bark Trail - A moderate 6.4 miles roundtrip leading zigzagging through the forest.

Some of these trails are closed due to fire damage and flooding, updated mid-March 2022 Check trail closure first: Julia Pfeiffer Burns

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer Falls in the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Pfeiffer Falls

The park is named after the first European settlers, Michael and Barbara Pfeiffer, who built a house in 1869. The most giant redwood in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is the Colonial Tree, 31 feet circumference. The redwoods inside the park are 800 up to 1200 years old, and these redwoods are close to the Big Sur Lodge in the Proboscis Grove.

Hiking Trails Pfeiffer Big Sur

Valley View Hike in the Pfeiffer Big Sur

There are several hiking trails and short walks. Pfeiffer Big Sur does not offer day hikes; however, the redwoods and the campground location are stellar.

  • The gorge is accessible for 0,5 miles only due to massive damage and rockfall from the powerful storms with almost 100 inches of rainfall in 2016. Nevertheless, walk until it is forbidden to enter and swim in the rock pools in summer. The water temps are in the low 60’s F/15°C
  • The longest hiking trail is the circular Buzzard’s Roost, a rugged 2 hours hike 5 miles/ 8 km long.
  • Valley View Hike combined with the Pfeiffer Falls. The trail is around 2.2 miles / 3 km long. It’s a gentle descent through old-grown redwoods until the vegetation changes into oak woodlands and grass. The Pfeiffer Falls are 60 feet/ 18 meters high. The Pfeiffer Falls are a nice short hike close to the campground, perfect for families with children. 

The highway and State Parks at Big Sur were not accessible in 2017, hit by the powerful storms that flooded the Big Sur Coast with nearly 100 inches/2540 mm of rain. The closure was until mid-June 2019. Before you go, always check the conditions first: State Park Trail Info

Facts About the Redwoods

A group of huge redwoods

These awe-inspiring trees can withstand storms, floods, fires, drought and even termites due to their red pigment, a chemical component called tannin. Although their roots grow only 6-10 feet / 1,80–3 meters deep they are resistant to a storm. The reason for it the roots are almost as wide as the tree is tall. Due to their thick protective bark of up to 12 inches /30 cm, they usually survive in a big forest fire. Million years ago the coast redwoods were in Asia, Europe, and Greenland, but due to substantially weather changes, 4 % remain on a 30-miles wide coastal strip only. Fog can add up to 10 inches of rain each summer, sufficient for the redwoods, but the coastal fog has decreased by 30 %. The coast redwood; Sequoia sempervirens are endemic to the US; they grow only along the coast from Central California to Southern Oregon. 

Attention Poison Oak

Poison Oak which causes skin irritation

Poison oak is found throughout the park, often a groundcover. The oily substance on the leaves, stems, and roots is irritating to the skin, which gets itchy for days. I got in contact with them, and a cortisone cream was helpful.

Mc Way Falls pictures by Jenni

Nearby Places
The Endless Beach at Andrew Molera State Park
7 km
The Endless Beach at Andrew Molera State Park
The beach is absolutely stunning, full of driftwood and a huge playground for…
Garrapata State Park - The Jewel on HW 1
25 km
Garrapata State Park - The Jewel on HW 1
The breathtaking Garrapata State Park is located along the famous HW 1.…
Explore Point Lobos in Carmel - Hikes and Highlights
32 km
Explore Point Lobos in Carmel - Hikes and Highlights
Point Lobos is a jewel among the State Parks for the whole family with four…
Natural Bridges State Beach and Park
81 km
Natural Bridges State Beach and Park
Natural Bridges is a gem of a state beach and park. Definitely worth visiting…
Big Basin Redwoods State Park - All You Need to Know
110 km
Big Basin Redwoods State Park - All You Need to Know
Big Basin is California’s oldest State Park, established in 1902. It was…
3 Hiking Trails in Muir Woods National Monument
196 km
3 Hiking Trails in Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods National Monument is a must-visit destination if you are in the area…
3 Hikes to Alamere Falls in Point Reyes + 7 Tips
207 km
3 Hikes to Alamere Falls in Point Reyes + 7 Tips
The Point Reyes National Seashore and Peninsula were protected in 1962 and…
Yosemite Waterfalls and Hikes
256 km
Yosemite Waterfalls and Hikes
End of summer the waterfall is a trickle only, and the park is completely…
Channel Islands National Park
336 km
Channel Islands National Park
These are exceptional islands, isolated over thousands of years and part of the…
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in the Death Valley - 7 Must-Know Tips
420 km
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in the Death Valley - 7 Must-Know Tips
At Mesquite, Flat Sand Dunes is no trail to follow; just explore this beautiful…
Created by
Micha Herber-Bleich
Micha Herber-Bleich
I am always open, curious about new…