Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur has a word famous waterfall named McWay Falls, which tumbles off a coastal bluff straight into the Pacific Ocean in a display of unique natural beauty. The park has a second waterfall too, just inland from McWay Falls, with the more generic name of Canyon Falls. This lovely little waterfall can’t rival McWay for postcard beauty, but the 0.9-mile round trip hike to the waterfall is quite pleasant, passing through an enchanting grove of ancient redwoods.
Start from the top of the first parking area inside Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park where Canyon Trail descends immediately into a grove of redwoods. Keep an eye on the trail below you, where slices of redwood trunks are embedded into the trail like oversized stepping stones. If you have time to count the rings, you’ll see that the redwoods had quite a long life before they ended up underfoot. After just less than a tenth of a mile, Canyon Trail passes through a picnic area where a few picnic tables and grills are spread out along McWay Creek. This is a lovely place to stop for a meal before or after you hike.
Continue up the trail, which runs along the north side of McWay Creek. If you look to your left, you’ll spot the ruins of an old cabin. Tall ancient redwoods line the canyon bottom, casting grand shadows across the trail. The patches of sunlight that reach the forest floor illuminate a verdant collection of ferns, redwood sorrel, and pacific starflower.
At 0.15 miles from the start, take the footbridge to the right to the other side of the stream. In another tenth of a mile, you will come to a trail junction, the only junction on this hike. Ewoldsen Trail breaks off to the right, venturing farther up the canyon (as of May 2014, part of this trail is closed due to wildfire damage). Stay to the left to continue toward Canyon Falls.
Canyon Trail rises just above the south side of the stream and ventures up the canyon through more redwoods. As the waterfall comes into view, hop back to the north side of McWay Creek and proceed up to the base of Canyon Falls where a white band pours through a chute in a granite wall. The Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park website measures Canyon Falls at sixty feet tall, but the three-tier website doesn’t look to be more than thirty feet from top to bottom. A tall redwood tree stands to the right of the waterfall and the roots cling to the rock wall like wooden toes. Green moss coats the rock behind the waterfall and there are maidenhair ferns running down the rock wall just a few feet from the waterfall. It’s a charming little waterfall.
An unofficial footpath seems to continue above the waterfall, but it is probably best to turn around here. It is 0.45 miles back to the trailhead, descending 225 feet. Dogs and bikes are not allowed on this trail. There is a $10 vehicle fee to enter Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park. Alternatively, you may park for free along Highway One and walk a short distance into the park. No permit is required to hike Canyon Trail to Canyon Falls, so get out and enjoy!
Bad News: As of April 2017, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is closed until further notice and completely inaccessible due to storm impacts along Highway 1. A replacement for the damaged Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge will not permit traffic along Highway 1 until at least fall of 2017.
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, or pull into the park to reach the proper trailhead. Drive down the park road and make the first left into the parking area (before the road curves to the right over a bridge across McWay Creek). Canyon Trail starts from the top of the parking area.
Trailhead address: Highway 1, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, CA 93920
Trailhead coordinates: 36.16014, -121.668523 (36° 09′ 36.50″N 121° 40′ 06.68″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Central Coast trails and campgrounds.
|McWay Falls |
This 0.6-mile hike looks out on a stunning Big Sur waterfall that pours 80 feet right on to the beach.
|Partington 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.
|Pfeiffer Beach |
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.
|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.
|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 short hike visits a fine 120-foot waterfall near the start of Salmon Creek Trail.
|Buckeye 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 |
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.
|Limekiln State Park Campground |
This 29-site 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.
|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.