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Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

McWay Falls

0.5 to 0.75 miles each

For most visitors, "Big Sur" is synonymous with popular Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Often overlooked is a smaller slice of Big Sur located ten miles south—Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It’s a shame to overlook it. A redwood grove, dramatic coastal vistas, and the only major California waterfall to tumble into the Pacific are some of the park’s attractions.

The park is a tribute to hardy pioneer Julia Pfeiffer Burns, remembered for her deep love of the Big Sur backcountry. Her father, Michael Pfeiffer, started a ranch in the Santa Lucia Mountains in 1869. In 1915, Julia Pfeiffer married John Burns, and the two ran a cattle ranch while living at their home located south of the present park.

You can easily sample the coastal charms of four-square mile Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park by following the short Waterfall and Partington Cove trails. The park’s coastal trails are great “leg-stretcher” jaunts to break up the coastal drive. In winter, the paths provide fine observation points from which to sight migrating California gray whales.

Directions to trailhead:
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park straddles Highway 1, about 36 miles south of Carmel and some 10 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Turn inland into the park and proceed to the day use lot.

The hike:
From the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park lot, take the signed trail toward Overlook Trail. Along McWay Creek you’ll spot some eucalyptus, quite a botanical contrast to the redwoods growing up-creek. (During spring, ceanothus and dogwood splash color along the trail.) The path leads through a tunnel under Coast Highway One, veers right, and emerges to offer the walker grand panoramas of the Big Sur coast.

You’ll soon reach the overlook, where you can observe slender but dramatic McWay Falls tumbling a hundred feet from the granite cliffs into McWay Cove. From the overlook you can also see the former site of the Waterfall House.  There is no beach access from this part of the park.

© 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