McWay Falls Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Big Sur Hike beach waterfall trail

The overlook trail for McWay Falls is a must-stop for anyone taking the scenic drive up Highway One along the Big Sur Coast. The waterfall is stunning, dropping some 80 feet onto a pristine beach in an enchanting cove. It is a short 0.6-mile round trip hike to a viewpoint for McWay Falls, which can be reached directly from Highway One of from parking areas withing Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park.

There are two ways to access the McWay Falls Overlook Trail. Option one is to simply park along Highway One for free and start down the trail. You may also pull into Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and pay an entrance fee to walk a bit further. This is a good option if you plan to spend more time in the park, hiking Canyon Trail for example, which travels inland up McWay Creek past a picnic area to the smalller Canyon Falls. To get to Overlook Trail from the park parking lost, take the signed trail at the inside of the curve in the road between the upper and lower parking areas. Walk down the wide dirt trail and through a tunnel beneath Highway One. Turn right here, joining the trail on the west side of the highway. If you park along Highway One, simply find the trail on the west side of the highway just south of the park entrance. Walk down the trail past the tunnel and continue to views of McWay Falls.

McWay WaterFall Trail
The trail to see McWay Falls

The trail follows cliffs around a cove to a point that faces McWay Falls. There is a lovely beach in the cove below the trail, but visitors are not allowed to access to this area where the waterfall lands on the beach, so the entire cove remains natural and beautiful (there’s a big fine if you are caught down there).

McWay WaterFall
McWay Falls

At the end of the short gradual trail, you will reach the best views of the falls and the stone foundation of a house built on the point north of the falls. The house was built in 1940 and later the land was donated to California State Parks. What a view the residents must have had!

The park has setup several informative panels in this area. One panel shows photos of McWay Falls prior to a massive 1983 landslide that occurred just north of here. The landslide dropped lots dirt into the ocean that flowed south and collected here, creating the beach in the cove by McWay Falls seen today. Prior to this, the waterfall dropped directly into the ocean. Over time, the beach may disappear again.

McWay WaterFall
A closer look at McWay Falls

McWay Falls is so surprisingly beautiful that you will just want to linger at the end of the trail and watch it fall. When you are done scoping out the falls, simply walk back the way you came. For those who want to hike further, there is also a short path venturing south of the falls. If you are interested in hiking a bit father, take this trail and you will be rewarded with nice views down the coast. Additionally, two miles to the north there is is the 1.5-mile Partington Cove Trail, which visits a small beach and a tunnel-accessed cove. Dogs and bikes are not allowed. If you park along Highway One, no fee or permit is requires to visit McWay Falls, so get out and enjoy!

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Looking south from Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

To get to the trailhead: From Ragged Point, drive 37.2 miles north on Highway One to the well marked Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (60 miles north of Cambria). The park is 8.1 miles south of Nepenthe Restaurant in Big Sur. Park beneath the sycamores alongside Highway One and locate the trailhead on the west side of the road.

Trailhead address: Highway 1, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, CA 93920
Trailhead coordinates: 36.158819, -121.67054 (36° 09′ 31.74″N 121° 40′ 13.94″W)

Use the map below to create your own directions:

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Photos

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These photos were taken in May of 2010 and 2014. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Canyon Trail Big SurCanyon Falls
This 0.9-mile hike heads inland up McWay Creek past a picnic area in a redwood grove to a lovely little waterfall.
Partridge Cove Big Sur HikePartington Cove
This 1.5 mile hike visits a cove and a secluded beach along the scenic Big Sur coast. The cove is accessed through a tunnel.
Limekiln Trail Limekiln Falls Hare Creek hikeHare Creek Trail, Limekiln Trail, and Falls Trail
This 2.65-mile hike in Limekiln State Park explores a trio of trails along lovely streams in redwood-lined canyons, reaching Limekiln Falls and historic lime kilns.
Pfeiffer BeachPfeiffer Beach
This short walk reaches an absolutely stunning beach that’s a classic feature of the Big Sur landscape.
Pacific Valley Big Sur hikePacific Valley Bluff Trail
This short out and back hike extends from Highway One to an ocean bluff with fantastic views of the Big Sur Coast.
Sand Dollar BeachSand Dollar Beach
This short hike to Big Sur’s longest beach passes two scenic overlooks on the way to the sand for a hike of 0.5 miles (or more) round trip.
Jade Cove Big Sur HikeJade Cove and Plaskett Rock Point
This 1.5-mile hike along an ocean bluff visits a prominent peninsula and a small cove.
Salmon Creek Falls Big Sur HikeSalmon Creek Falls
This 0.6-mile hike visits a fine 120-foot waterfall near the start of Salmon Creek Trail.
Buckeye Trail hikeBuckeye Trail
This hike of 6.5 miles or more reaches incredibly ocean vistas and trail camps in the Silver Peak Wilderness. Connect Cruickshank Trail and Buckeye Trail for an excellent shuttle hike of 8.25 miles or more.
Cruickshank Trail hikeCruickshank Trail
This hike into Silver Peak Wilderness starts with bold ocean views and crosses redwood groves to reach Upper Cruickshank Camp at a junction with Buckeye Trail, 5 miles round trip from Highway One.
McWay Falls Big Sur HikeMore Central Coast Hikes
Explore other destinations along the California coast between Ventura and Monterey, including trails in Los Padres National Forest.
Similar Trails
Tangerine Falls HikeTangerine Falls in the Los Padres National Forest
This 2.5-mile hike visits a beautiful waterfall on the edge of Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara.
Rose Valley Falls HikeRose Valley Falls in the Los Padres National Forest
This 1-mile round trip trail leads to the lower tier of a lovely two-tier 300-foot waterfall.
Nojoqui FallsNojoqui Falls
This short 0.65-mile hike visits an 80-foot tall fern-lined waterfall.
Sturtevant Falls HikeSturtevant Falls in the San Gabriel Mountains
This 3.25-mile hike visits a 60-foot waterfall and a lush cottage-lined canyon.
Fish Canyon Falls HikeFish Canyon Falls in the San Gabriel Mountains
This 4-mile hike starts at a rock quarry with restricted access and ends up at a multi-tiered 80-foot waterfall.
Escondido Falls HikeEscondido Falls in the Santa Monica Mountains
This 3.8-mile out and back hike visits a 200 foot waterfall that is split into two tiers. The upper tier is 150 feet tall and stunning after a rainstorm.
Tokopah Falls HikeTokopah Falls in Sequoia National Park
This gradual 3.4-mile hike visits the base of the tallest waterfall in Sequoia National Park.
Lower Yosemite Fall TrailLower Yosemite Fall in Yosemite National Park
This electrifying 1.2-mile hike delivers visitors to the base of the tallest waterfall in North America.
Darwin Falls HikeDarwin Falls in Death Valley
This 2-mile hike visits a refreshing year-round waterfall on the western edge of Death Valley.
Nearby Campgrounds
Limekiln State Park CampgroundLimekiln State Park Campground
This small Big Sur campground at the bottom of Limekiln Canyon has sites along a creek through a redwood grove and near the ocean, with access to trails up Limekiln Canyon.
Kirk Creek CampgroundKirk Creek Campground
This outstanding 33-site campground in Los Padres National Forest has enormous ocean views from a bluff along the Big Sur coast.
Plaskett Creek CampgroundPlaskett Creek Campground
This 45-site campground in Los Padres National Forest is positioned across Highway One from Sand Dollar Beach and Plaskett Rock Point on the coast of Big Sur.
Park Map

McWay Falls Map and Directions
A map of the overlook trail courtesy of California State Parks

7 Comments on McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

  1. Charles says:

    Mcway Falls is wonderful! I visited Julia Pfieffer State Park with my wife, and spend time there. We walked along the walkway, and we’re lucky enough to saw sunset from there. Seeing waterfall, sea, waves, rocks, trees, flowers, wow they’re come together in one place. It’s one of beautiful places in the world. I want to explore the place again.

  2. enzo bonacina says:

    My wife and i will go to California the next mounth of July.We’ll travel the Hwy 1 from S. Francisco to Los Angeles. We want visit Mcway Falls. Could you send us the address where we can stop our car?
    There are other interesting places to see?
    I’m sorry for my English is not good. Thank you very much,

    Enzo Bonacina.

  3. sarah says:

    Are there campgrounds close to McWay Falls?

    • hikespeak says:

      Hi – There are two “Environmental Campsites” in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (more info) located near McWay Falls, but they seem to be constantly booked. You will have better luck looking for a camp site in Limekiln State Park or in the surrounding national forest.

  4. […] John and Julia Burns, thank you for keeping this little piece of heaven intact. Above is the iconic McWay Cove and the McWay Falls. There used to be a house around here that was torn down when the owners died as they have […]

  5. […] in Big Sur went to see McWay Falls which I highly recommend seeing.  I mean a waterfall that falls into the sand, can that be more […]

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