Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

#1 in Best Things To Do in Big Sur
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park picture
lucky-photographer/Getty Images

Key Info


Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
  • 4.5Value
  • 4.0Facilities
  • 5.0Atmosphere

Named after one of Big Sur's most beloved pioneers, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a favorite among both locals and tourists. A feast for the eyes, the park features seven marked trails that take travelers to tucked away coves, up to waterfalls, along miles-long creeks, through redwood-clad forests and more. Not to mention, it is one of the few areas in Big Sur where scuba diving is allowed. 

The shortest and most traveled path is Waterfall Overlook Trail. Less than a mile long, the trail takes visitors to one of the most popular attractions in Big Sur: McWay Falls. The site is lauded for its beauty, and is a culmination of all geological features typical to Big Sur: The secluded beach is flanked by jagged bluffs covered in shrubs, wildflowers and cypress trees. The falls, flowing from atop one of the cove's granite cliffs, tumble 80 feet down into the cove and get swept up by the ocean. The cove is also a prime place to spot migrating gray whales that pass through Big Sur from December to February, as well as March to May. In the past, some have even come into the mouth of the cove.

Another popular pathway is the 5-mile-long Ewoldsen Trail, which snakes along McWay Creek and ventures into multiple redwood groves. Other notable trails include the Canyon Trail and Lookout Trail, both attached to Ewoldsen (and worth the extra effort) as well as the Partington Cove Trail. 

Recent travelers said if you can only visit one place in Big Sur, it should be Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Visitors to McWay said the beauty of the cove was indescribable and that pictures don't do the attraction justice. Others who ventured beyond the falls strongly encouraged travelers to do the same, with many recommending the Ewoldsen Trail for its towering redwoods. Partington Cove was another favorite among travelers because it wasn't as crowded as McWay Falls and is a prime place to spot gray whales, as well as endangered California condors.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is located off of Highway 1, about 12 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and 14 miles north of Limekiln State Park. The park opens a half-hour before sunrise and closes a half-hour after sunset. It costs $10 to park your car near McWay Falls, but visitors suggest parking along Highway 1 and walking into the attraction to avoid the fee. Partington Cove is about 2 miles north of McWay Falls and is more difficult to reach, as it is completely unmarked with the exception of a gate. Keep in mind that access to the beach at McWay Falls is forbidden. For more information, visit the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park website.

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More Best Things To Do in Big Sur

Andrew Molera State Park
Pfeiffer Beach
Time to Spend
1 of 6
#2 Andrew Molera State Park

This 4,800-acre park is the largest state park on the Big Sur coast and offers multiple activities and attractions, not to mention several hiking trails. Named after the man who brought the artichoke to California, Andrew Molera Park's natural wonders include secluded beaches, redwood groves, meadows and the Big Sur River along its 20 miles of hiking trails. Because of the park's flatter geography, visitors are allowed to bike and can take horseback rides throughout the park. The beach is also safe to surf, and is considered to be one of the best surfing spots in Big Sur.

There are nine trails that comprise Andrew Molera State Park, five of which are main trails and three that are considered alternative trails. The Bluffs Trail, Panorama Trail and Ridge Trail are all main trails that connect to make the Andrew Molera Loop. The Loop takes travelers along the coast via the Bluffs Trail then around into an equally beautiful wooded area via the Panorama Trail and Ridge Trail. There are also various pathways on the Bluffs Trail that go directly down to the shore.

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