The super scenic Central Coast of California is home to numerous waterfalls, but this one on the Big Sur coast is, by far, the most well-known.
Since I camped out and slept on the cliff featured above, I thought I ought to create a post about it.
Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park is where the most photographed waterfall is located. The creek falls off of a cliff into a secluded cove, on a sandy beach just a few feet from the Pacific Ocean.
After visiting this place more than once, I knew I had to keep coming back. I even found this waterfall photo used as graphic marketing for Mexican Riveria cruises, by Costco.
But it’s not located in Mexico, nor Baja.
McWay is Big Sur!
One sunny autumn day, I called my camping pals to join me on our pre-planned camping trip to the majestic Big Sur coastline. Not just any camping spot or campground, but the two rare, hike-in campsites – located above McWay Falls. The camp reservations had been made months in advance and I was eager to leave the smog basin of L.A.
One by one, all my friends backed out of their commitment to camp that weekend. Too busy at work, a wedding or other plans interfered, home improvements, or the typical lame excuses that city folks always use not to travel locally.
…only 2 camp sites exist here, perched on a forested cliff, overlooking a private sandy cove w/ a gorgeous waterfall
I thoroughly explained to them the spectacular scenery, the unique location, the advanced reservations and fees, and the carpooling options. But not one person could go, so I went anyway.
All alone; which may have been the start of me craving to camp solo (way back in 1995).
The California State Park system has named these as environmental camps, where you must haul your gear – a half mile, on foot, in order to reach these special campsites. Picnic tables and campfire rings are provided, along w/ one vault toilet. Although a real bathroom w/ flush toilets is within walking distance, over at the main paved parking lot.
The picturesque sandy cove is off limits to all = campers, hikers and climbers. New fencing and signs warn visitors not to enter the small beach cove area. Sheer, steep cliffs w/ erosion are unstable and dangerous; and you may have a citation awaiting you, on your climb back up.
Accessing the cliff edges or private cove is dangerous and difficult, and totally off limits. If you wanna die trying, that’s up to you.
Reservations are needed to camp at this location. Contact California State Parks for booking this spot.
The ocean sounds of crashing waves on rocks is very, very loud. located just below (100 feet) the ideal camp sites. Bring ear plugs for sleeping.
Leave food and cooking to the tailgate. Parking in the paved, forested parking lot, and not transporting food, ice chest and cookware back and forth is the lazy way. Since I was camping alone and the parking lot was secluded and full of vegetation, I decided to try minimal food at camp. Worked well for me.
Blackberry bushes are abundant around parking lot.
Danger looms around this State Park entrance, as Coast Highway 1 drivers tend to speed by at 55 mph, on a big shady curve. Be very careful crossing the road at this location and listen for traffic before you walk.
TRAILS & DAY VISITORS:
Swarms of tourists stop at this location, just to walk out, photograph and view this waterfall. Many pay top dollar (day use) to park and then stay less than an hour. The tunnel trail goes past a pelton wheel and then underneath the highway – skirting along the north shore of the cove. The State Park gate closes at sunset, so very few people will be found roaming around after sundown.
Just hiking around this park, plus the back and forth to camp and car will feel like you’ve walked many miles. There is a redwood canyon and creek hike located in the inland portion of the State Park. Mountain peaks here reach to about 3000′ elevation.
AUG 2020 UPDATE: WILDFIRES burning most of this State Park and Limekiln State Park. Not sure how the cove looks now, or if it was affected, but expect the hills to be black, up above the highway.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
52801 CA State Route 1, Big Sur, CA 93920
If there is a single most popular image of Big Sur, it is probably of the 80 foot falls seen from this trail as McWay Creek cascades onto the sandy shore. hikinginbigsur.com/hikes_mcwayfalls.html
Even though I spent the warm weekend alone, camping on a waterfall cliff and hiking redwoods forests, I enjoyed myself and the seclusion. I did meet 2 surfers traveling in a vintage VW bus and they joined me for my tailgate dinner one evening. On the last night, the weather turned windy and a storm came in, so the next morning I was happy to leave. So, for all the camping pals that backed out at the last minute, this 2020 post is for you.