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 farther. 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.
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).
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.
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 farther, 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 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!
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 view the trail and get directions:
This 0.9-mile hike heads inland up McWay Creek past a picnic area in a redwood grove to a lovely little waterfall.
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.
|Hare 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.
This short walk reaches an absolutely stunning beach that’s a classic feature of the Big Sur landscape.
|Big Sur River Gorge|
This half-mile off-trail hike ventures up the Big Sur River on a water-wading boulder-hopping adventure to a crystal clear pool that’s a gorgeous Big Sur swimming hole.
|Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View|
This 2.4-mile hike is like two hikes in one, reaching a waterfall in a canyon of redwoods and a vista point overlooking the Big Sur River Valley.
|Nature Trail – River Path Loop|
This easy 0.55-mile loop explores woodlands along the Big Sur River and a redwood grove that includes the unique and impressive Proboscis Tree. The loop can be combined with the trail to Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View for a 3-mile trek.
|Ridge Trail – Panorama Trail – Bluff Trail Loop|
This 8.7-mile loop in Andrew Molera State Park crosses a coastal ridge, bluff, and beach that are packed with amazing Big Sur views.
|Pacific 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 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 and Plaskett Rock Point|
This 1.5-mile hike along an ocean bluff visits a prominent peninsula and a small cove.
|Salmon Creek Falls|
This 0.6-mile hike visits a fine 120-foot waterfall near the start of Salmon Creek 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.
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.
|More Central Coast Hikes|
Explore other destinations along the California coast between Ventura and Monterey, including trails in Los Padres National Forest.
|Tangerine 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 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.
This short 0.65-mile hike visits an 80-foot tall fern-lined waterfall.
|Sturtevant 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 in the San Gabriel Mountains|
This 4.8-mile round trip hike leaves from an active rock quarry and progresses up a beautiful canyon to a mesmerizing multi-tiered waterfall.
|Escondido 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 in Sequoia National Park|
This gradual 3.4-mile hike visits the base of the tallest waterfall in Sequoia National Park.
|Lower 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 in Death Valley|
This 2-mile hike visits a refreshing year-round waterfall on the western edge of Death Valley.
|Pfieffer Big Sur State Park Campground|
This large campground in the heart of Big Sur is spread out through oak and redwood groves along the Big Sur River.
|Andrew Molera State Park Trail Camp|
This trail camp is easy to reach (just a short walk in) with campsites in a meadow along the Big Sur River near Molera Beach.
|Limekiln 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 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 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.
A map of the overlook trail courtesy of California State Parks