Any trip to Big Sur in Central California is never complete without a stop in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and check out the famed Mcway Falls. The waterfall is, with a lack of better words, magnificent; dropping some 80 feet onto a pristine azure beach in an enchanting cove. It’s a brief 0.6-mile round trip hike if you could call it that, towards a viewpoint of the waterfall, which can be reached directly from Highway 1 or out of parking places within Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park.
This state park is named after Julia Pfeiffer Burns who was a well-respected pioneer woman in the Big Sur country. The park stretches from the coastline along 3,000-foot ridges between Carmel and San Simeon. A panoramic view of the sea and miles of rocky bluffs and coastline can be found from the higher elevations along the trails just east of Highway 1. Ideally, you would simply park along Highway 1 at no cost and avoid the parking fee and start down the trail but the fee is minuscule enough and it helps with the upkeep of the park.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
If you do decide to go into Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and pay an entrance fee, all you have to do is follow the trail and go past the tunnel and McWay Falls is just beyond. To get to Overlook Trail from the park parking lot, take the signed trail at the interior of the curve in the street between the upper and lower parking locations. Walk down the broad dirt trail and via a tunnel beneath Highway 1 and then make a right after the tunnel.
If you park across Highway 1, just find the road on the west side of the highway just south of the park entrance. You will see a fenced trail. You can see that the fence has been trounced over by people taking a shortcut. Don’t bother. Just walk inside the park and go straight little ways and right before the information booth is the trail towards the overlook. Walk down the trail and make your way past the tunnel and right into the McWay Falls trail.
McWay Falls Cove
At the end of this brief and gradual trail, you will reach the viewpoint with a wooden fence and above it is the ruins of a house built on the stage north of the falls. The home was built around 1940 and later the land it’s built on was donated to California State Parks. Right below you are the famed waterfall and a pristine cove in which the water from the falls drops to.
The trail ends abruptly on what looks like a stage with another view along the coast that’s equally impressive, albeit blocked by tree lines. The view beyond overlooks another cove with pristine waters and steep drops. There’s a bench where you can rest and take in the views. If you come during spring you will see wildflowers blanket the crags and cliffs along the coast. You might want to check this place out during a full moon, or during the dead of summer; the Milky Way is sometimes visible on a clear night.
The park is 37 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1, and 12 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur.
Directions To McWay Falls
McWay Falls is an easy drive going south on the Big Sur Coast
The waterfall is a winding drive 93 miles north of Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo and just 11 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
Trail status: Severe storm harm in March of 2019 caused Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to shut until further notice! Go to the Mcway Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP site for additional details about the park and path closure. During the closure, McWay Falls could be seen from a pullout north of the park entrance on Highway 1 near mile marker 36.2.