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More photos of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Eco Guide to California Central Coast

Hikes in JPB State Park
Partington Trails to
the Cove and Tin House

McWay Falls
Canyon Trail and
Ewoldsen Trail

Almost 2,000 acres of coastal, canyon and mountain greatness, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a fantastic place –and a perfect introduction to Big Sur.

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McWay Creek
Photo by Jack Ellwanger

Park Trail Map

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is 34 miles south of Carmel, and 11 miles south of Big Sur State Park — and covers 10 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.


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


At McWay Falls a one/third mile trail leads from the parking lot to an overlook above a serene cove. A branch of this trail leads a quarter/mile to the south side of the falls where it overlooks a granitic rock cove in a pine forest. (There is no trail access to the beach below.)

Inland from the falls are two stimulating trails that begin as one.

The Canyon Trail follows the McWay Creek up to a waterfall about a mile inland from the Park’s picnic area.

Branching off the Canyon Trail, about half way, is the Ewoldsen Trail that leads up the mountain -steep in parts- about two and one/half miles. The trail crosses streams and though meadows to a ridge that offers one of Big Sur’s greatest coastal vistas.

It would be difficult to select a single area as a ‘Best of Big Sur’ – there is so much variety in the area, it is difficult to choose anywhere that is typical.

But Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is such an incredibly beautiful place, that it would make the best lists for anywhere in the world. May not be one of the best in Big Sur, but surely one of the best in the world.

With ten miles of coast, 3,762 acres of highlands and canyon watershed and off shore underwater reserve, JPB is a collection of some of California’s most intriguing and evocative coastal features.

These include: A fault line runs right into the sea at the McWay waterfall, Indian village sites, medleys of geologic remnants mesh in stunning promontories, forested rocky points jutting straight up from rich underwater canyons, white rocks from the Sierras and plants from the desert, coves with thick kelp forests and dancing black oyster catchers, and view vantages that are so enchanting they are difficult to leave.

South Fork of McWay Creek wends through granite and five iterations of a Sequoia Sempeviren – Coastal Redwood – one continuous living organism likely to be more than 10,000 years old.

Most people just see the ocean coves, waterfalls and granitic rock islands. What is missed by them are the ancient growth redwood groves, highland meadows of amazingly diverse botany, fascinating historical structures, wonderland-like trails, mixed evergreen and riparian hardwood forests.

Pfeiffer Burns underwater park from above the McWay falls (left)

Starfish, sea anemone and other tidepool denizens crowd in at the Julia Pfeiffer Burns Underwater Park (right).
Photos by Margie Whitnah



Family of migrating California Gray Whales seeks refuge in McWay Cove from predatory Orcas.

Photo by Margie Whitnah

Condors over Big Sur – Julia Pfeiffer Burns has been chosen by these wondrous creatures to nest
Photo by Daniel Bianchetta


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From the PelicanNetwork description of camping at JPB:

Hike-in environmental campsites, like Molera. But nicer. And, cost more. Price here is $14 per day in the In-Season, and $11 per day in the Off-Season. There are two sites, each accommodates up to 8 people. No water. No toilets. You have to hike back to the park entrance for those. The hike from the park’s vehicle parking area is about 1/3 mile. But, the campsites can be reached from the road by foot (there’s a closed gate at the trail to the camp sites), and that cuts the hike in half.

The sites have a cupboard, table, typical camp charcoal stand, and a fire pit. (Sorry, dogs are not allowed.)

These sites have something rare and exhilarating.

Set on the south side of the promontory that forms the threshold for McWay Falls, the camp sites face Saddle Rock – a unique scene of extraordinary beauty – and the granite coves of the south side of this point.

The views are breathtaking. The campsites are situated among granite boulders, in a pine and cypress forest.

Two other features of Pfeiffer Burns are worth mentioning. McWay Falls is an 80 foot drop over a granite precipice, into the ocean tide on a pristine beach in a cove that is completely unmolested by humans – except there is a trail high up the granite cliffs on the opposite side where people trod a well beaten path to view one of this continent’s most exquisite sights.

The other mentionable feature is a picnic area near the Park entrance.

It is in a Redwood canyon along the McWay creek – as delicious and idyllic a scene as any Hollywood set creator could dream up.

There are ancient Redwoods that were not harvested 125 years ago because they had anomalies –like twisted trunks or great burl out growths that diminished their commercial values. But left to grow they are magnificent reminders of what the forest was like. They are like huge holy creatures. The forest floor is a soft bed of fluffy needles accented by glossy green ferns, sunlight beaming through the forest canopy onto the busy, gurgling stream –which is flopping over colorful, mossy rocks in a gentle meander to its thunderous fate in the spectacular falls into the Pacific Ocean.

If you do not see it for yourself, you will not believe it.

Big Sur Pages


Interactive Map

People & Places

Hwy 1

The Lodge


Old Coast Road





Partington Cove & Canyon

Molera State Park

Nacimiento Road

Pfeiffer Burns SP

Birding in Big Sur

Park Trail Map

Guide to Big Sur Camping

Guide to Big Sur Hiking

A story about the Waterfall Trail
About the Waterfall Trail and history of Julia Pfeiffer Burns and the Browns who lived here Coast&Ocean story.

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