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Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Valley View Trail to Pfeiffer Falls Overlook and Valley Overlook

From Big Sur Lodge to Pfeiffer Falls via Valley View,
is 3 miles round trip with 200-foot elevation gain

For most visitors, “Big Sur” means Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The state park—and its brief but popular trail system—is dominated by the Big Sur River, which meanders through redwood groves on its way to the Pacific Ocean, five miles away.

John Pfeiffer, for whom the park was named, homesteaded 160 acres of mountainous terrain between Sycamore Canyon and the Big Sur River. In 1884, he moved into a cabin perched above the Big Sur River Gorge. (You can see the reconstructed “Homestead Cabin,” which is located on the park’s Gorge Trail.) John Pfeiffer sold and donated some of his ranchland to the state in the 1930s, and it became the nucleus of the state park.

This walk, which follows the Valley View Trail, is suitable for the whole family. The trail visits Pfeiffer Falls and offers a good introduction to the delights of this state park. The hike, though steep in sections, rewards you with an excellent view of Pfeiffer Falls and the redwoods located in the creeks canyons.

Directions to trailhead: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is located off Highway 1, some 26 miles south of Carmel and two miles south of the hamlet of Big Sur. Beyond the entry booth, turn left at the stop sign, then veer right (uphill). Very soon, you’ll find some day use parking. A much larger parking area is located near the store and restaurant at the bottom of the hill.

The hike: From the signed trailhead, follow the trail to Pfeiffer Falls. Very shortly, on your left, you’ll spot a trail heading left to Valley View.  Cross the bridge at the creek and continue up the hill.  You will come to an intersection.  To the left takes you to the Valley Overlook.  To the right, the trail continues to Pfeiffer Falls.

You will be crossing two small bridges and then you will ascend steps that take you to a boulder-lined viewing area below the falls.  The original platform above destroyed by the 2008 Basin Complex fire.  On the return trip, backtrack to the intersection. Going left takes you back to the trailhead, straight ahead and you and follow the trail along a minor ridge to a lookout. The Pacific Ocean pounding the Point Sur headlands and the Big Sur River Valley are part of the view.  Backtrack along Valley View Trail to return to the trailhead.

The Pfeiffer Falls Trail and sections of the Oak Grove Trail, damaged in the 2008 Basin Complex Fire remain closed at this time.  Check with the Entrance Station for the latest conditions.

Open currently:

Valley View Trail
Pine Ridge Trail through park property up to USFS land
Oak Grove to Mt. Manuel (USFS property)
Nature Trail (open but not ADA compliant)

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at