Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

#4 in Best Things To Do in Big Sur
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park picture
Gary Denham/Flickr

Key Info


Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend


  • 4.5Value
  • 4.0Facilities
  • 5.0Atmosphere

Not to be confused with Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park or Pfeiffer Beach, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest and covers 1,600 acres on the western slope of the St. Lucia Mountains. Like most state parks in this region, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park features redwood groves, open meadows and waterfalls, but what sets this park apart is its location. Unlike Andrew Molera State Park, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Garrapata, which all offer treks along the edge of the coast, this park is further inland and doesn't offer many ocean views. Instead, the main water source is the Big Sur River, which runs through the entire park and is a feature hikers will see while traversing some of the park's trails.

There are 8 miles worth of trails to explore within Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The most popular is the 1.4-mile hike to Pfeiffer Falls. This trail is considered to have some of the best redwood groves in the entire park, on top of its beautiful 60-foot waterfall. If you're planning to hike the Pfeiffer Falls Trail, consider adding the half-mile-long Valley View Trail to your itinerary, as it extends left of the Pfeiffer Falls pathway. The Valley View Trail takes visitors to a lookout point with a bench situated in the middle of the Big Sur Valley, affording views as far as the historic Point Sur Lighthouse.

If you're looking for something more strenuous, seek out the 4.8-mile Buzzard's Roost loop or the 8-mile Mount Manual Trail. Buzzard's Roost guides visitors through more redwoods and ends at Pfeiffer Ridge while Mount Manuel is a steep climb that leads hikers to the top of the 3,379-foot-tall Manuel Peak.

Recent visitors were enchanted by the forest that makes up Big Sur Pfeiffer State Park and said travelers planning to camp in Big Sur should do so at this park. Others, however, said that Pfeiffer Falls wasn't all that it was hyped up to be, and the crowds at the park were off-putting. Opinions varied about the difficulty of the trails, so bring sturdy shoes and assess whether or not you're physically up to hiking certain distances.

The park is located off of Highway 1 and clearly marked with a Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park sign. It costs $10 to park your car. The park is open a half-hour before sunrise and closes a half-hour after sunset. Visit Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park's website for additional information.

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Time to Spend
#1 Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

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.

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