Point Lobos

Rocky Ridge
Soberanes Canyon
Whale Peak
Garrapata Bird Notes

Andrew Molera State Park

East Molera
River Loop
Molera Bird Notes

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer Falls
Valley View
Oak Grove
Manuel Peak
Buzzard’s Roost
Pfeiffer Big Sur Trail Map

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Trails Map
Partington Cove
Tan Bark
McWay Falls
Canyon Falls

Big Sur Lodge at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Trail narratives by Jack Ellwanger and Margie Whitnah
Point Lobos State Reserve
2 miles South of Rio Road
$8 Park entrance fee per car
Free to Guests of Big Sur Lodge 
Click here for Point Lobos Print Version

Point Lobos is the product of complex geology. Blocks of earth from three miles deep, and parts of the Sierra Nevada mountains and some Pacific islands off southern Mexico collided here. The sparkling granite cliffs that came from deep beneath the sea, emerged as molten lava and cooled very slowly. Here the unique geology cleanses the sea. A great progression of change is evident in the meadows and coves throughout Point Lobos.

This is another world, and it seems that each step brings a hiker to yet another visual wonder.

In the more than 750 acres of Point Lobos State Reserve, there are 14 trails covering 6 miles.

The hikes along the coast are stunningly beautiful…along ledges through ancient cypress overlooking storybook coves…

unto headlands lavished in rare flora and staged with great birds.

The hikes inland into meadows and forests are more subtle and yet filled with intense nature.

An excellent trail map and description is available at the Ranger Station at the entrance to the Reserve. There’s a fee for vehicles – but no fee to bicycle or to walk in.

Cars cannot enter if 110 are already in the reserve, but more will be let in as those earlier cars leave. That situation can often happen early when the weather is nice.

Point Lobos State Reserve opens at 9:00 am and closes at sunset. Bring binoculars and a camera. Whatever number of rolls of film or digital memory cards that you plan to bring, you should at least double that number, as there are far more photography opportunities than you can imagine.

China Beach

North Shore Trail
Along the Carmel Bay, starting at Whaler’s Cove, this trail quickly ascends to great views of isolated beaches filled with steller seals (Lobos marinos – the name given to the sea lions by the Spanish). On this very gratifying 1.5-mile hike, you’ll see tantalizing sights of offshore rock islands, ancient trees, nesting sea birds. Note: Be sure to visit the Whaling Museum at Whaler’s Cove – it includes a lot of movie memorabilia from films made here.

Sea Lion Point Trail
A half-mile trail to incredible ocean views and a good look at the reserve’s plant communities and geology. Wheelchair accessible.

Bird Island Trail
A 3.5-mile loop trail to sea otters and birds. It includes a loop trail down to Gibson Beach and back.  

South Shore Trail
3 mile easy loop trail
crosses a rocky area to a bluff where you can see Bird Island. It passes two idyllic, sandy beaches accessed by wooden stairs.

Bring binoculars. Watching the life on Bird Island can be enthralling.

Cypress Grove Trail
1 mile easy loop trail
On this trail, you can hike to the Allan Memorial Grove. This magnificent grove of Monterey Cypress — one of only two natural groves remaining in the world — is a tribute to the Allan family which worked diligently to buy lots of the proposed subdivision so the grove could be saved.


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Click here for Garrapata print version

Garrapata State Park has a wonderfully scenic stretch of coastal area that lures Big Sur travelers to stop and visit. Garrapata is only 7 miles south of Carmel Valley Road and 14 miles north of Andrew Molera State Park. Many visitors take time to linger a bit, enjoying the classic Big Sur shoreline here with its rugged rocks, waves surging and crashing, kelp beds undulating, sea lions barking, gray whales

migrating, seabirds diving and wildflowers thriving. However, many fewer visitors know about, nor take the time to hike, the marvelously rewarding trails of Garrapata State Park. There are two longer inland trails on the east side of Highway One and also an easy, 2-mile loop trail along the coastal bluffs.

Whale Peak

Soberanes was used during summer by Rumsens (a subgroup of Ohlone) and other Native Californians. Their diet consisted of mussels, abalone, sea lions, deer, rabbits, acorns and buckeye seeds.

Photo by Margie Whitnah

Rocky Ridge Trail

A rustic, broken-down barn and large grove of old cypress signal the stop for the trailheads of Garrapata’s inland trails. The northernmost one is the Rocky Ridge Trail, on which energetic hikers have options, including a 6 mile out-and-back outing, or a 4.6 mile loop which returns via Soberanes Canyon Trail. Hikers choosing to begin the loop via the Rocky Ridge Trail can start along the trail behind the barn, crossing willow-lined Soberanes Creek, then going a short ways to the Soberanes Canyon Trail junction (which turns right). At that point the Rocky Ridge Trail is to the left, heading north.

Those Rocky Ridge hikers choosing to hike in 3 miles will walk by coastal scrub up steep trails with spectacular vistas, at first of the shoreline and coastal Santa Lucias. In spring the grasses host lovely wildflowers. Rugged, lichen-coverered boulders and rock outcroppings stand out among the grasses. One overlook has a welcome bench to rest upon. When reaching about 1,600 feet in elevation, views of the whole Monterey Bay and coastline are possible on clear days.

Those hiking on to Doud Peak at the end of the trail may even view central coast peaks to the east.

It is debatable whether or not hiking up the Rocky Ridge Trail is the best direction to start, since hiking out on the loop via the Rocky Ridge Trail would give hikers a constant view of the coast while descending.

Photo by Margie Whitnah

Photo by Margie Whitnah
Rough boulders preside over whimsical canyons. Crystals glisten in a mosaic of wildflowers and lush sea blues. Quartz diorite, a type of granitic rock, sparkles in the northern Santa Lucia Range. Rusty hewn rocks on the ridge are intertwined with granite boulders that form the ramparts of the coastal coves. Of the whole 90-mile Big Sur coast the formation and interaction of land and sea is no where s0 poignantly portrayed as in Soberanes Canyon.

Photo by Jack Ellwanger
As turbulent waters open fissures in the granitic rock, deep, craggy coves form along the coast

Soberanes Canyon Trail

Approaching the Soberanes Canyon Trail from the Rocky Ridge Trail brings the hiker’s perspective from a broad, almost 360-degree view of the northern coastal Santa Lucia range, with hillsides folding and rolling toward the sea, to a narrower perspective as one drops into the watershed of a redwood-filled canyon. The steep trail quickly descends an elevation of 1,200 feet from the Rocky Ridge Trail to the canyon of majestic Sequoia sempervirens. Along the way, admiring wildflowers that may be blooming or, once in the canyon, the variety of ferns, make for pleasant hiking breaks. The cool, bubbling creek under the redwoods, passes by large boulders, some of which may reveal to observant visitors, the grinding areas of indigenous people.

Hikers can expect a variety of creek crossings in following the trail among the coast redwoods, tanoak, California bay, madrone, buckeye, willows, berry bushes, and other native and non-native plants as the hikers trek toward the coast. Particularly noteworthy non-natives are the dense hillsides of prickly pear cactus. The cacti have taken on a life of their own starting from the days early settlers introduced them into this area. Hiking the last part of the 3-mile long Soberanes Canyon Trail has some other botanical surprises in the form of calla lilies that seemed to have spread from the historic old farm area which was once part of a Mexican land grant, and later part of property owned under names such as Post, Soberanes, and Doud. After pondering the building remains, fences, and indications of inhabitants of yesteryear, yet another marine trail and experiences await hikers across Highway One.


Soberanes Point (Whale Peak)
This distinctive headland, a gentle cone peaking out of the oceanscape with a mountain backdrop, gives on a comprehensive and dramatic look at Big Sur coastline. It’s a short (1 mile) trail that winds around the peak. It goes through several coastal botanical and intertidal zones. It ends at a view point on top that gives one a heart-stopping view of the Big Sur coast.

Soberanes Point Trail begins 6.7 miles south of Carmel’s Rio Road on Highway One. At this point, on the east side of the road, is the trail into the mouth of Soberanes Canyon.

Both trails traverse expanses of non-native plants. Two local groups, Chuck Haugen Conservation Fund and California Native Plant Society, along with California Department of Parks, have vigorously fought back the invasion of invasive species and the area is slowly returning to a native state.

Bird Notes by Jeff Davis and Don Roberson
Garrapata is home tgo the local breeding race of the White-crowned Sparrow (“Nuttall’s” form). Lazule Bunting and Orange-crowned Warbler are present during summer, and Wrentit, Spotted Towhee, and Bewick’s Wren are present year round.

This can also be a good place for viewing Brandt’s Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, and Pigeon Guillemot. The trail inland along Soberanes Carek can be good for migrant vireos and warblers. Costa’s Hummingbird, Rock Wren, MacGillivray’sWarbler, and Black-chinned Sparrow have bred withinSoberances Canyon.



Margie Whitnah (left), our trail narrator, has a passion for Big Sur hiking.


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  Andrew Molera State Park

Click here for Molera print version

Seven and a half square miles of wilderness, 21 miles south of Carmel, along the ocean, into the mountains, and complete with a wild and scenic river – Andrew Molera State Park is a great favorite for outdoor enthusiasts. The entrance is three miles south of Point Sur and 4.5 miles north of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. An $8 per car fee is collected at the parking lot entrance. Guests at the Big Sur Lodge have free entrance to all Big Sur coast state parks during their stay at the Lodge.

A variety of interesting trails, most with incredible views, and a 24-site walk-in campground make Molera an engaging place to stay awhile.

The park is dissected by the Big Sur River. Long stretches of marine terrace, vast sweeps of beach, expansive scapes of wildflowers, hillsides of coastal scrub, and deep old-growth redwood and oak forests make Molera an imagination-bending experience.

How the pristine Big Sur River winds from the Ventana highlands to the sea is a rare California natural prize. Big Sur River has no dams, nor any man-made diversions. It is thoroughly untamed and wonderful, it is instructive and magical all at once. How it enters the Pacific at the Headlands is a raucous and lovely place. This is one of the liveliest wild bird encounters on the whole Pacific coast. And, all along the river you walk among one of the most precious and populated songbird habitats anywhere.

Molera is a treasure, and there are many trails inviting you in. Among its many attributes, it is a very rewarding birdwatching area (Molera bird watching).

Across Highway One from the Molera entrance, the 10-mile Old Coast Road begins its backcountry wind to the Bixby Bridge through a redwood forest.

Photo by Margie Whitnah
Along the lower Big Sur River, the trail offers rare encounters with many bird species: chickadees, bushtits, warblers and many other songbirds (see our Songbird Banding at Big Sur Ornithology Lab), belted kingfishers, red-shouldered hawks, kites, kestrels, and golden eagles.

At the headlands there are views up and down the coast and to the mountains of the Santa Lucia Coastal Range. Offshore, California gray whales are seen during their winter migration south to Baja California lagoons, and Spring return to the Arctic.

This trail is one mile, and easy. But can be uncomfortable when cold and windy.

Photo by Margie Whitnah

Beach Trail Loop
An easy, nearly 2-mile walk along the Big Sur River through riparian thicket, along a vast and fascinating beach and back through a bird watching paradise in a restored meadow.

Beginning at the parking lot area’s picnic site, cross the river at the footbridge, which is constructed annually before Memorial Day and removed after Labor Day. Beach Trail begins on the right at the trail fork. Follow it to the beach. Before reaching the beach the Creamery Trail junctions with the Beach Trail. Continue on to experience one of California’s most scenic and dramatic beaches. Molera Beach spans 2.5 miles from the Headlands at the Big Sur River lagoon at the river’s mouth, south to Cooper Point.

To the north there is whimsical collection of driftwood, and great waves to the south. It is beautiful.

Creamery Trail
Return by reversing to the Creamery Trail junction. Once a milk cow pasture, the meadow is being restored to its native state by the California Department of Parks. It’s a massive job to revegetate the meadow with native plants, but the progress to date is inspiring.

In this trail loop you might see bobcats and coyotes, and probably will see lizards, rabbits, and deer.

Ridge, Panorama, Spring and Bluffs Trail Loop
For those wanting a full day hike with incredibly diverse sights, flora and elevations, taking a loop hike which includes these four Molera State Park trails will guarantee a memorably rewarding outing.

This loop hike, in the neighborhood of 8 miles, can be done in either direction, but this description will follow in order the Ridge, Panorama, Spring, and Bluffs Trails. The loop can also be started from various places in the park, but this description assumes that hikers will start near the northwestern end of the Ridge Trail (closest to Molera Beach). Trails that meet at, near, or en route to the Ridge Trail junctions include: Beach and Creamery Meadows loop trails and the Bluffs Trail. Looking at a map, hikers will also note that about a third of the way up the Ridge Trail, the Hidden Trail, runs into the Ridge Trail, providing yet another option.

To begin this loop hike, hikers need access to the trails on the park’s more southern, coastal side of the Big Sur River. Many months of the year, hikers can do this hike by crossing the Big Sur River at the parking lot’s picnic area by using a temporary bridge or by wading across the river if it isn’t running too high or too swiftly. The water can be quite chilly and the rocks in the river bed can be more tolerable when some sort of footwear is worn. Another way that some hikers access the trails for this loop trip, is to cross the river by fording it at the Big Sur River mouth. Always check with the staff at the park’s kiosk for advice first about the tides at the river mouth or current safety conditions for river crossings, if the narrow footbridge is not up.

Once hikers have navigated any waterways, walked the earlier described “flatland” trails (Headlands, Creamery Meadow, River or Hidden Trails) and reached a junction of the Ridge Trail near Molera Beach, this “four-trail” loop hike can begin. Before starting, hikers may want to visit Molera Beach briefly to appreciate the beauty of the beach, waves, river mouth, headlands, coastal bluffs and vistas. Returning to the nearby trails that meet up with the Ridge Trail, hikers will re-visit many of the native plants and shrubs that were seen on their stroll from the parking lot to the beach and bluff area.

The 2.7 mile Ridge Trail starts out relatively flat, among the splendid array of relatively low-lying vegetation mentioned in the earlier descriptions of the park’s river land area. As this wide trail (previously a fire road) climbs steadily uphill, the views of prominent peaks to the east, the coast and river mouth become awesome. The views only diminish when hikers begin entering the sunlight-filtering tunnels of coast live oaks and tanoak that surround the trail — trees full of character, gnarly with age and weathered with moss and lichen. Soon, the woods of oak give way to stands of towering redwoods, as hikers ascend gradually along the reddish duff ground cover and accompanying ferns and sorrel.

The Ridge Trail ends at a lovely junction rest stop complete with a bench under an old cypress, beside a fence that marks the southern boundary of the park. The coast views are spectacular, though the signs along the road south of the fence are less welcoming, “Posted: No Trespassing – Keep Out.” New and modern, private homes with priceless views are built here, but lovely native brush still graces the hillsides on the north side of the fence. After lingering awhile, hikers will be ready for the 1.9 mile Panorama Trail with a welcome downhill grade and narrow, but interesting switchbacks. The coastal views can sometimes be so clear, it is said, that Cone Peak, rising over 5,000 feet high, forty miles south, can be seen. The vegetation along this open coast have to adapt to the strong winds and salty atmosphere, as is seen by some dense, tangled redwood forests that survive here, not towering, but unusually short, and seemingly huddled together for protection from the elements.

As the Panorama Trail winds toward the ocean cliffs, a sign signals a side trail that shouldn’t be missed, the Spring Trail. This tenth-of-a-mile spur to the beach goes down a delightful little gully with a creek that leads to sands rich with animated driftwood of all shapes and sizes. If the tide isn’t high, hikers can often enjoy beachcombing up to nearly a mile of shoreline between Cooper and Molera Points. At times, the beach’s northern bluffs host an idyllic waterfall which splashes down onto the boulders, sand, and anyone who can’t resist this refreshing enticement.

Hopefully refreshed by their visit to the Spring Trail’s beach paradise, hikers can now retrace their steps up to the

Bluffs Trail. This trail runs 2.8 miles along the scenic bluffs back toward the mouth of the Big Sur River along a relatively flat plane, except for a couple gullies. The red dirt and golden sandstone of the marine terraces are especially rich in color if you have lingered long enough for the sun to be setting low in the sky. The coastal bluff grasses at dusk are muted in color, with occasional blossoms adding interest. Arriving to the river mouth at sunset is a mixed blessing — the sunset setting can be overwhelming and sensational, but the dash back on the darkened trails and, perhaps, an icy river crossing, can make hikers wish they had allowed more time to return to the parking lot or their campsite! But whatever route or amount of time hikers choose to use, the rewards of this Molera day hike loop are really great.

Mouth of Big Sur River
Photo by Margie Whitnah

East Molera Trail
Big Sur travelers passing along Highway One by Andrew Molera State Park must often be impressed by the view of a majestic, white peak which rises to the east. They aren’t surprised to learn that it is named, Pico Blanco, which is Spanish for “white peak.” Hikers along the well-trodden Molera trails to the west of Highway One also can’t help but be awed by this huge mountain that seems to reign over the whole area. Many Molera visitors may have mused about hiking up that stark, marble peak, but that peak hike is a tough, dry and long trail climb.

Most Molera hikers don’t know that a trail on the east side of the highway is a nice compromise for those wanting to view Pico Blanco from a closer, higher location. The route is via the East Molera Trail which is either a 3.2 or 3.8 mile out-and-back hike, depending upon the starting point. Or, it can be a little longer for those wanting to take a side spur trail across a gully to a lovely, old oak on a knoll.

Starting from the Molera State Park parking lot, hikers walk an extra .3 mile by going down the service road past the ornithology lab, the stables, and then paralleling the highway, through an under-road culvert and onto a dirt road.

Shortly, they meet up with the trail heading left up the hill from the alternate trailhead option. Hikers starting from the Highway One trailhead, can park in turnouts not far from the old, wooden cattle chute, which forms a gateway to the trail.

The first six-tenths of a mile or so are a fairly steady slope through gnarly coastal live oaks and bay laurels, while further along redwoods line the gully off toward the right. To the left, the hills’ slopes are covered with grasses which may be golden in some seasons or, during others, lush green with large orange and purple patches of wildflowers. Rest stops along the slopes, reveal up close to hikers that there is a wide spectrum of colors and types of flora to be discovered here.

Near a wooden fence, where the trail angles off to the left with a significant climb for the next mile, hikers may choose to take the time to take a short side spur to the right. Those taking the spur will be passing by redwoods rising from a narrow canyon, stepping over the small creek and up a knoll, but not too far, to the trail’s end at a lone, stately oak. It’s a serene place to enjoy the views, eat lunch or just relax in the tree’s shade.

Back at that fence where the trail goes left climbing 1,000 feet in a mile, hikers encounter switchbacks and slopes of between 20-30% grade, but the rewards from the views also increase dramatically. Hiking up the mountain’s ridges toward a saddle that is crested with stands of redwoods and neighbored by Pico Blanco looming in the not-so-distant background, gives hikers motivation to continue to the 1,549-foot elevation. Besides all the trailside attractions of wildflowers, insects, lizards, and native plants, the awesome, far-off attractions of soaring birds, perhaps condors, Point Sur, Molera headlands and beach, may take the hikers’ mind off the physical effort.

Pico Blanco through redwoods. Nearly 4,000 feet high, this mountain of marble was thought to be the place of human creation by Native Americans of the area.
Photo by Margie Whitnah

Once at the ridge, an usual place for towering redwoods, hikers may be amazed even more to view the details of Pico Blanco face on, much closer, framed by the erect trunks of redwoods and spreading limbs of ancient oaks. The ridge itself is home to yucca whipplei, a huge dead tree trunk with a portion that looks like art sculpture of a whale’s fluke, plus stunning views in all directions. The extensive panorama includes the Big Sur coast and Santa Lucia ranges as far as visibility allows and, nearby, the canyons of both the Little Big Sur and Big Sur River watersheds.

This redwood ridge opposite Pico Blanco is an inspiring place to rest or snack before retracing the trail toward Highway One. (Note of caution: Those exploring even further along this redwood ridge eventually might spot the rare Santa Lucia firs and views of the Double Cone, but it is a very difficult, overgrown fire road trail that leads away and up a few miles southeast toward Post Summit.)

Bird Notes by Jeff Davis and Don Roberson

Molera State Park is the premier birding locality in the region and offers good birding at any season. In 1999 it ws designated a Globally Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society-California, the American Bird Conservancy, and California Partners in Flight. It is best birded by taking the one mile trail on the north side of the Big Sur River from the main parking lot to the beach.

The area is excellent for woodpeckers, flycatchers, vireo, and warblers. Most records of rare and unusual birds for the region have come from this site.

This is also the home of the Big Sur Ornithology Lab which operates a constant-effort mist netting and banding station about1/8 mile upstream of the main parking lot.

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Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
26 miles south of Rio Road 
$8 Park entrance fee per car
Plenty of picnic sites along the Big Sur River
Free to Guests of Big Sur Lodge 

Click here for Pfeiffer Big Sur print version

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park was established in 1933, and is the most popular park on the Big Sur Coast. There are more than 200 drive-in tent camp sites with tables, fire pits and cooking grills in the redwoods and along the Big Sur River, and an exciting complex of trails, and an interpretive nature center. The campground has hot showers and restrooms, large group campgrounds, campfire center, store, laundromat, and Park Rangers conduct daily nature programs during the summer. Make reservations through 1-800-444-7275. There are 62 modern, but rustic and woodsy, cottage units in the redwoods at the Big Sur Lodge in the park. Call 831 667 2025 – or visit: Big Sur Lodge

Nature Trail
This self-guiding trail can be toured in about 30 minutes and is a .7 -mile round trip from the Lodge. The trail offers a fine opportunity to see many of the plants that are native to Big Sur. Printed nature guides are available at the western end of the trail, between the Lodge and the Ranger Station. Suitable for wheelchairs.

Pfeiffer Redwood Creek Trail to the falls is through a lively, dense old redwood grove. It is an instructive trail. You can see how a redwood forest makes its own soil and understory. The creek cuts through alluvial deposits, and you can see how the valley built up over the eons.

Pfeiffer Falls Trail
Photo by Jack Ellwanger

Pfeiffer Falls Trail
This 40 to 60 minute stroll along Pfeiffer Redwood Creek features some of the finest redwood groves in the Big Sur region.

Expect steps in the steeper sections and a number of scenic bridges across Pfeiffer Redwood Creek. The 60 foot high waterfall at the end of the trail is a scenic highlight. A wooden platform at the base of the falls is a fine place to rest, meditate or have a picnic lunch – 0.7 mile one-way from the Lodge.

Valley View
From either the beginning of the Pfeiffer Falls trail, or from the base of the falls themselves, you can climb through the oak woodland to Valley View Overlook. The view from this vantage point includes much of the Big Sur Valley, Point Sur and Andrew Molera State Park. The outlook is a mile one-way from the Lodge and 0.5 mile from Pfeiffer Falls.

Oak Grove
The great beauty of Big Sur is due in part to the variety of its natural ecosystems. The Oak Grove trail exemplifies this as it travels through a number of plant communities.

From deep redwood groves to open, oak woodland, and to hot, dry chaparral, this 60 to 80 minute hike makes it possible to enjoy the many different faces of Big Sur. It is approximately 3 miles round trip from the Lodge.

Big Sur River Gorge Trail
The wild and scenic,
completely untamed, Big Sur River begins high in the Santa Lucias by the Ventana Cones. It drains more than sixty square miles of raw coastal mountain watershed and plunges down a narrow granite gorge into the park and lazes toward the ocean.

Huge boulders brought by the river are flung around the canyon in great artistic array. Pebbles brought down the undammed river provide spawning and rearing habitat for steelhead, a seagoing trout. Sands brought by the river spread out along the banks by the redwoods making a unique and pleasing scene.

Manuel Peak
At the top, you will get one of the lovliest, sweeping views of the Ventanas. Getting there will test you conditioning, though. This steep, one way trail, is more than 5 miles, averaging nearly 12% gradient, rising more than 3,000 feet. Plenty of ticks and poison oak.

Buzzard’s Roost
A moderate two-hour hike along the Park’s western edge will take you along the river, through shady redwoods, then through a series of switchbacks among bay trees and tan oaks to the chaparral-covered top of Pfeiffer Ridge.

Up there is a magnificent panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountain Range. Interestingly, on the ridge redwoods grow alongside chaparral plants. The unusual soils made of sandstone and shale, and the rare microclimate formed by the cool ocean breeze mixing with the warm valley air, create a fascinating array of plants – dwarf redwoods with chamise, wheat leaf, ceanothus, yerba santa and manzanitas side by side.

The entire Buzzard’s Roost loop is a 5-mile round trip from the Lodge

Oak Grove
The great beauty of Big Sur is due in part to the variety of its natural ecosystems. The Oak Grove trail exemplifies this as it travels through a number of plant communities.

From deep redwood groves to open, oak woodland, and to hot, dry chaparral, this 60 to 80 minute hike makes it possible to enjoy the many different faces of Big Sur. It is approximately 3 miles round trip from the Lodge.

The wild and scenic, completely untamed, Big Sur River begins high in the Santa Lucias by the Ventana Cones. It drains more than sixty square miles of raw coastal mountain watershed and plunges down a narrow granite gorge into the park and lazes toward the ocean.

Huge boulders brought by the river are flung around the canyon in great artistic array. Pebbles brought down the undammed river provide spawning and rearing habitat for steelhead, a seagoing trout. Sands brought by the river spread out along the banks by the redwoods making a unique and pleasing scene.

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Pfeiffer Falls
Photo by Jack Ellwanger



Trail junction


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Pfeiffer Redwood Creek
and Pfeiffer Falls Trail

Photo by Cheryl Leeves

The whole Big Sur Coastal range is great condor habitat. Hikers can expect to see these avian wonders from most trails. Recently, condors began feeding on deceased marine mammals. This provides a an excellent clean-up service, and is an important resumption of their historic feeding practice. Marine mammals killed by Orcas, are dead by natural causes are dietary favorites. All condors in the Big Sur region have been reintroduced by the Ventana Wildlife Society. The last 15 in this region were captured in 1985. Now there are more than 100 here. They were bred in captivity. Three pair are nesting, but no eggs yet.



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Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
37 miles south of Rio Road 
$8 Park entrance fee per car
Plenty of picnic sites along the Big Sur River
Free to Guests of Big Sur Lodge

Click here for Julia Pfeiffer Burns print version

Almost 2,000 acres of coastal, canyon and mountain greatness, our sister State Park is a fantastic place and a perfect introduction to Big Sur.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is 11 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and covers 7 miles of exquisite coast with many coves.

Within the park are idyllic trails, waterfalls, underwater parks, historical gems, riparian hardwood forests, mystic redwood groves with ancient growth trees, and deliriously beautiful scenery.

View from top of Ewoldsen Trail
Photo by Margie Whitnah

McWay Falls Trail – A short walk through a tunnel and along the cliff of a cove to the Brown’s Waterfall House site. Entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns is 11 miles south of The Big Sur Lodge and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park on Highway One.

Canyon Trail – A third-mile walk into old growth redwoods to waterfalls of the South and North Forks of McWay Creek.

Ewoldsen Trail – A 4.5-mile loop hike through old growth forests to the top of the coastal range.

Partington Cove – A steep trail to a tunnel and a historic cove, and also to the big rock beach where Partington Creek enters the sea.

Tan Bark Trail – A 3.2-mile hike through ancient forests, mountain springs to a mountain top with spectacular views of the coast- a 6.4-mile round trip hike. 

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McWay Falls, Saddle Rock and McWay Cove
Photo by Jack Ellwanger

Canyon Trail and Ewoldsen Trail

A 4.5-mile steep hike to the top of the Coastal Range.

From its beginning at the parking area of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the trail ascends along the McWay Creek through a redwood-forested canyon.

The Canyon Trail continues beyond the intersection of the Ewoldsen Trail. At its end you face a high waterfall, an ancient redwood emabracing a large granite boulder and steep canyon walls graced with ferns.

The Ewoldsen Trail ascends the canyon before the Canyon Trail’s waterfall. For the first half of the trail you walk along McWay creek in a water wonderland with many water cascades.

The trail is well-marked, is well-maintained, and excellent bridges cross the creeks. After a mile up the trail, you encounter a two-mile loop.  

After a quarter mile along the Canyon Trail, the Ewoldsen Trail intersects the Canyon Trail, then branches off to the right and up slope.

It maintains a steady ascent out of the canyon, crosses creeks deep in redwood forests, rises through sunny oak and chaparral scrub. At times, you’ll see lots of butterflies and wildflowers.

Ewoldsen Trail is a deep, quintessential Big Sur watershed experience.

Evidence of the wondrous powers of regeneration is all around the hiker for most of the trail.



Ewoldsen Trail


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South Fork, McWay Creek falls within embrace of ancient Redwood.
Photo by Jack Ellwanger

McWay Rocks from top of Ewoldsen Trail
Photo by Jack Ellwanger

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The Partington Canyon watershed showcases the distinctive riparian woodland of Central California’s coastal watersheds. The summer fog forms from the clash of warm land air and cold water upwelling from deep offshore canyons.

Partington Creek frolics rambunctiously around huge boulders, pools, rapids and cascades. Giant sycamores and redwoods regally congregate around seeping, bubbling springs.

Partington Cove Partington has two great hikes. First, is a two-mile loop to the ocean. It begins at an iron gate along Highway One – nine miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and 35 miles south of Rio Road.

It is a fine trail down to the beach, but steep. The trail goes down to the Partington Creek’s graceful little exit to the Pacific Ocean. Then you back track up the creek to a bridge (there’s an outhouse nearby). Over the bridge you soon come upon a 100-foot tunnel to Partington Cove.

This is like Fantasy Island, only better, as this is real. Mules used to haul wagons of tanbark through here.

The picturesque little cove is home to sea otters and seals, very clear waters and a kelp forest. It is a wildly aquatic experience. On the point is an old hoist stanchion, formerly used for loading cargo, lumber and tanning bark. The iron eyes for tying up the ships are still in place. You can imagine pirates and bootleggers rousting about.


Tan Bark Trail

The second Partington hike begins on the east side of Highway One. Bring drinking water and maybe also a flashlight, just in case. For the first third of the trail there is plenty of good fresh water. Not so, later.

Initially, the trail can be confusing. If you start out going to the left of the creek, you will have a lovely saunter in the redwoods, and come upon an idyllic picnic spot — a boulder hanging over a wide sparkling pool, with a waterfall in a cathedral of Sequoia sempervirens. But, this is the wrong trail. It dead ends at a cliff.

The real trail, the Tan Bark, goes along the south side of Partington Creek, and then up. It branches to the left in three spots, leading into forests deeper within the canyon. It stays right, ascending the canyon. There are a few signs. The Old Coast Trail crossed here, and surely the ghost of poet Robinson Jeffers is about.

The trail follows a 2,000-foot rise in elevation over 4 miles through a redwood canyon.

Then the Tan Bark Trail climbs along a roaring stream, waterfalls, springs bubbling out of hillsides, and into thick stands of exotic oaks, venerable madrones and manzanitas.

The McLaughlin Memorial Grove, on a ledge in a nook of the forest, high above the raucous creek, is awesome. The Grove is home to redwoods with spiraling bark.

In several places, particularly farther uphill in the Swiss Camp area, you see arduous stonework made 70 years ago. Gunder Bergstrom, who lived here in the 1920s, did the work, and it shows a deep love for the area. The stone bridge he built is like a little human cameo to accent a wish to preserve one of nature’s finest settings. The bridge allows the place to be appreciated and protects the stream environment from human impact.

You cross streams and pass springs that bubble up in fern groves, and out of the sides of the canyon. The trail switches back into sycamore, then tan bark oak and into unusual old growth redwoods.

The trail hugs the canyon slope which is chaparral-studded with colorful madrones and manzanitas and piercing views of the sea, across to Partington Ridge, and up into the Santa Lucias. You ascend on a moderately steep gradient, about 12 to 14%, continuing up until you are 2,000 feet above the ocean, and can see it through redwoods. It looks like another planet. On summer afternoons you can watch huge fog banks flow toward the shore far beneath.

Near the top you encounter a well-graded road. This can be your return trip. It is considerably shorter, descending to Highway One about three-quarters of a mile south of the point at which you started. So, you will have to hike up the highway to get back to your car.

Up here you feel you are at the top of the world. From here the coastal views are sweeping and the sea is endless. The view east is to the Santa Lucia high country.

You find the Tin House at the top. It was built by Lathrop Brown, who lived in the grand home across the cove from McWay Falls. Brown was a high official in the U.S. State Department during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. Oddly, the house up here was built of tin salvaged from gas stations before World War II. Its design is strange, too. Even though the Tin House is situated atop a 2,000-foot mountain, practically on top of the ocean, with unobstructed, majestic vistas, it has no view from inside the house to the west.

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Print version of Limekiln State Park Trails

 Limekiln State Park

What fascinating and rewarding experiences this state park readily offers in the heart of Big Sur. Limekiln State Park is located 36 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, centered two miles south of Lucia and two miles north of the eastbound Nacimiento-Ferguson Road turnoff.

Visitors of almost all ages will delight in wandering the short, fairly easy trails, while being awed by the stately redwoods, free-flowing creeks, a royal waterfall, historic limekilns, and an enjoyable stone beach. Longtime lovers of natural and cultural history may find themselves enthralled with this park, and even the uninitiated might, too, getting their feet wet, perhaps literally with creek crossings.

Visitors with foresight may arrange to camp in one of the 33 campsites for an overnight or extended stay. Others with less time available can easily explore the four highlighted areas in a couple hours time, covering less the “less-than a few” total miles on the relatively level trails.

After driving down the short eastbound road from the south end of the Limekiln Bridge on Highway One, there is day-use parking available and also restrooms. Most visitors may prefer to head northeast up Limekiln Canyon, hiking out through the campgrounds to the three redwood-lined trails. Doing that, leaves the fourth destination, Limekiln Beach, for last.

Though children may imagine themselves to exploring uncharted redwood groves and creeks, they can be reminded that long, long ago, as difficult as it was to access these intimidating canyons and cliffs, indigenous people were able to inhabit or visit these formidable areas. By the 1800’s, foreign explorers, hunters, hardy American pioneers and homesteaders managed to journey here by trails, too. Some were drawn by the natural resources, particularly the timber and the extracting of limestone to manufacture lime, used to make cement. In the late 1800’s, the area near Limekiln Beach, Rockland Landing, was a vital hub of activity for materials and goods coming and going on schooners.

 Limekiln Trail

At the end of the campground area, the trail leads to a wooden bridge which crosses Hare Creek. (Lou G. Hare, 1867-1921, was an early Monterey County Surveyor.) After crossing the bridge, one soon comes to signs designating the Hare Creek Trail going to the right along Hare Creek (0.3 miles), the limekilns (0.5 miles) and Limekiln Falls (0.4 miles).

Since this trail description is intended to lead to the kilns, one can stay to the left following Limekiln Creek’s West Fork until reaching the junction where Limekiln Falls Trail and Limekiln Creek meet. Staying to the left on the trail to the kilns, one goes about a third of a mile until reaching a fenced-in area which reveals four towering brown steel limekilns, with their ovens and stonework at their bases. In the heyday of Rockland Lime and Lumber Company, cut redwoods went into the ovens to heat the fires, as limestone and firewood were put into the top. That purified the lime by a process known as slaking or calcining, by using slow, regulated burning to produce the lime. Then, the slaked lime was shipped in barrels to San Francisco or Monterey for cement-making, among other uses. The kilns are now roped-off for visitors’ safe viewing.

Photo by Margie Whitnah

 Limekiln Beach

Limekiln Beach, located under the Highway One bridge, is accessed by hiking out the dirt road, just west of the campground and parking lot. One can stroll a long way following the curve of the beach on the sand and rounded stones, trying to imagine the busy shipping port of yesteryear, Rockland Landing, with its barrels of lime going out and commercial supplies coming in. Or, maybe one can just watch the ocean waves going out and coming in, as children on the shore are dreaming up their own stone structures and cementing them with sand.

Limekiln Falls Trail

Retracing the trail along the Limekiln Creek’s West Fork brings hikers back to the junction with main stem of Limekiln Creek where a sign points the way to Limekiln Falls. Depending upon the water level, pant legs may need rolling up and water sandals may prove useful, since this next quarter mile or so will involve several creek crossings, including some with footbridges.

Limekiln Falls
Photo by Margie Whitnah

Limekiln Falls during drought
Photo by Jack Ellwanger

But the steps, crossings, and any wet shoes will be well worth the adventure, especially when the fall’s roar comes into earshot and then the spectacular 100-foot waterfall spilling over the limestone cliff comes into view. Even the refreshing mist can be a bonus. Once rested and ready, the trail and creek crossings can be carefully retraced, returning to the sign at the third branch of these canyon hikes, “Hare Creek – .3 miles.”

 Hare Creek Trail

Hare Creek trail visitors follow along the left side of Hare Creek while hiking to its “End of Trail” sign beside a fallen redwood log. The canyon walk follows along the charming Hare Creek and its pools which sometimes are home to steelhead. The redwoods host sorrel, ferns, and other delightful vegetation in their moist, fragrant, shadows.

Hare Creek Trail
Photo by Jack Ellwanger

At the end of the Hare Trail, by a rock wall, a cascade under a fallen redwood flows into a broad, fern-rimmed pool. It’s a wonderful place to rest and appreciate Mother Nature before hiking back along the trails to the campground and out to Limekiln Beach.

Pool and fall at end of Hare Creek trail
Photo by Jack Ellwanger

Ancient redwood remnant along Limekiln Creek
By Jack Ellwanger

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Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Point Lobos Hikes

Point Lobos Reserve

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Partington Canyon, Cove, Creek & Tan Bark Trail

Andrew Molera Beach State Park

Song Bird Banding in Big Sur

Condors in Big Sur

Big Sur Lodge

California Central Coast People and Nature

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