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

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 or from parking areas withing Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park.

McWay Falls Overlook Trail can be accessed two different ways. 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 smaller Canyon Falls.

To get to Overlook Trail from the park parking lot, 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. A lovely beach graces 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 (A big fine is charged to anyone who gets 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 Falls California
A closer look at McWay Falls

McWay Falls is so shockingly 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, seek out a short path venturing south of the falls. Take this trail to rewarding views south down the coast. Additionally, two miles to the north 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: 36.1587, -121.67054 (36° 09′ 31.3″N 121° 40′ 13.94″W)

Trail Map
View Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in a larger map
Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.

You may also view a regional map of surrounding Central Coast trails and campgrounds.


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These photos were taken in May of 2010 and 2014. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Canyon Trail Big Sur Canyon 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 Hike 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.
Limekiln Trail Limekiln Falls Hare Creek hike 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.
Pfeiffer Beach Pfeiffer Beach
This short walk reaches an absolutely stunning beach that's a classic feature of the Big Sur landscape.
Big Sur River Gorge 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 Valley View 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.
Pfeiffer Big Sur Nature Trail Loop 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.
Andrew Molera SP Loop Hike 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 Big Sur hike 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 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 Big Sur Hike 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 Big Sur Hike Salmon Creek Falls
This short hike visits a fine 120-foot waterfall near the start of Salmon Creek Trail.
Buckeye Trail hike 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 hike 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.
Big Sur Hiking More 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 Hike 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 Hike 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.
Nojoqui Falls Nojoqui Falls
This short 0.65-mile hike visits an 80-foot tall fern-lined waterfall.
Sturtevant Falls Hike Sturtevant Falls in the San Gabriel Mountains
This 3.3-mile hike visits a 60-foot waterfall and a lush cottage-lined canyon.
Fish Canyon Falls Hike 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 Hike 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 Hike Tokopah Falls in Sequoia National Park
This 4.2-mile hike reaches the base of the tallest waterfall in Sequoia National Park.
Lower Yosemite Fall Trail 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 Hike Darwin Falls in Death Valley
This 2-mile hike visits a refreshing year-round waterfall on the western edge of Death Valley.
Nearby Campgrounds
Pfieffer Big Sur State Park Campground 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 Campground 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 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 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 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.
Park Map
McWay Falls Map and Directions
A map of the overlook trail courtesy of California State Parks

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13 Comments on McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

  1. Charles wrote:

    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 wrote:

    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.

    • hikespeak wrote:

      Enjoy your trip. The address is 65100 Cabrillo Highway (Highway One), Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, CA 93920

      There are several other great trail on Highway One, including the nearby trail to Partington Cove, which you can find on this list of hikes in the Big Sur area.

  3. sarah wrote:

    Are there campgrounds close to McWay Falls?

    • hikespeak wrote:

      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. […] 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 […]

  5. alexandra wrote:

    the fine is roughly $400/person. and completely worth it.

  6. Georgie wrote:

    My boyfriend received a parking ticket there but lost the ticket. Is there someone we can contact?

  7. Veronica wrote:

    Is the hwy 1 open?? Going from L.A

  8. Marcy wrote:

    I just seen a video of a hiker on TikTok going to the waterfall some people were asking him if it was illegal and he said yes and someone else responded monkey see monkey do, hopefully people don’t try doing the same ?