A great way to explore the dramatic waterfront on the Big Sur coast is to take a hike down the action-packed Partington Cove Trail. Partington Cove is part of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park begins from Highway One, just north of McWay Falls.
The 1.5-mile hike to Partington Cove begins at the top of a gated fire road on the west side of Highway One and descends toward the coast to a junction at an information kiosk 0.3 miles and 200 feet below. To the left, a short 0.1-mile spur goes to a shady area along Partington Creek. To the right of the kiosk, a single-track continues for a couple hundred feet to another junction.
The main trail turns left across a bridge to Partington Cove, while a footpath heads straight to an isolated beach. Definitely visit both destinations.
The trail to the cove crosses the creek, turns right, and reaches a tunnel carved through a wall of rock. Walk through this 60-foot tunnel to the long cove on the other side. The tunnel was constructed in the 1880s for John Partington, who transported oak from the Tanbark forests in the mountains above to ships moored in the eponymous cove.
Beyond the tunnel, follow the trail along the right side of the cove to Partington Point. Enjoy the view up and down the coast before hiking back 0.2 miles to the junction.
The path to the beach is a quick 0.15 miles through high brush and blackberry bushes. The path ends at a beach of boulders and sand in a small cove where the waters of Partington Creek spill out over the rocks and join the sea. There are no sweeping coastal views, but this is a nice spot to relax and look out at the big blue.
All that is left to do is hike back up to Highway One, after a very enjoyable multi-faceted coastal excursion. Just across the road is the less visited Tanbark Trail, which accesses mountain forests upstream. A bridge a quarter mile from the highway forms the top of a quick loop, or you may venture farther up the trail in to the Santa Lucia Mountains. No fee or permit is required to visit Partington Cove, so get out and enjoy.
Bad News: As of December 2017, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is open, but a closure on Highway One to the south means that Partington Cove Trail can only be accessed from the north.
To get to the trailhead: The top of the trail is located on the inside of a bend in Highway One, 6 miles south of Nepenthe Restaurant in Big Sur, and 2 miles north of the entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (across from McWay Falls). From Ragged Point, drive 39.3 miles north and park along the highway at the trailhead (62.1 miles north of Cambria).
Trailhead address: Highway 1, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, CA 93920
Trailhead coordinates: 36.1770, -121.6937 (36° 10′ 37.2″N 121° 41′ 37.3″W)
|McWay Falls |
This 0.6-mile hike looks out on a stunning Big Sur waterfall that pours 80 feet right on to the beach.
|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.
|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.
|Bluff Trail in Montaña de Oro State Park |
This hike of around three miles tours tide pools, beaches, and impressive cliffs along a picturesque coastline.
|Point Buchon Trail |
This 1 1/3 to 6.8-mile hike explores the beautiful coastline south of Montaña de Oro State Park.
|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.