Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Activities

Big Sur

Nearby Activities and Events

Esalen Institute

Located just south of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
Retreat center, educational institute, seeks to forge new understandings of self and society.
Includes Steven Harper workshops on Big Sur
Esalen Institute

Jade Festival

May 5-7, 2017
Pacific Valley School
Admission free
Big Sur Jade Festival

Big Sur International Marathon

April 29, 2018
26135 Carmel Rancho Blvd.
Carmel, CA
The course extends from Big Sur to Carmel.
Big Sur Marathon Events

Henry Miller Library

48603 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA
A non-profit book store and arts center featuring writer and artist Henry Miller
Summer events include theater, lectures, art shows, and music.
Henry Miller Memorial Library

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

26 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1
(831) 667-2315
Pfeiffer Big Sur SP
Campsites and Big Sur Lodge with 61 guest rooms
Facilities: conference center, cafe, grocery store, redwoods, trails
Fees: $10 for day use

Bixby Bridge

This famous Big Sur bridge is located 13 miles south of Carmel. The reinforced concrete arch is 714 feet long and 280 feet high, constructed in 1931. It is one of the most photographed landmarks in California. Use the turnout north of the bridge for the best viewing.

Photographing the Wonders of Big Sur

Hike to McWay Falls Viewpoint

The leading attraction at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is the half-mile hike out Waterfall Trail and Overlook Trail to the viewpoint overlooking McWay Cove and picturesque McWay Falls. Dropping 80 feet from the cliff above the beach, McWay Falls are a favorite attraction for photographers and tourists. Visitors are not allowed in McWay Cove.

coast at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, CA

Start the wheelchair accessible Waterfall Trail from the main parking lot and follow it down through a tunnel under Highway 1 where the path intersects the Overlook Trail. Turn right and continue a short distance to the overlook. The falls originally plunged into the ocean, but in 1983 a forest fire and landslides sent debris into the cove, forming the beach. Now only at high tide does the fall strike the ocean.

Hikers can continue south on the Overlook Trail to the environmental campsites near the top of the falls and on up to Highway 1, south of the main parking area.

Waterfall House Remnants

Just above the overlook are the remnants of the Waterfall House, which was the home of early residents Lathrop and Helen Hooper Brown. The two-story house included large windows with unparalleled views of the coast. Outside were terraced gardens. The house was connected to the highway and a caretaker's cottage via an electric tramway. When Helen donated the land to the state she stipulated that the house should be converted to a museum; or, if that was not completed in five years, that it be torn down. The house was eventually razed. Today only remnants of foundation and terraces remain.1


Picnicking sites are found among the trees around the upper parking lot.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Wildlife

Whale Watching

Many of the viewpoints around the park make great places for whale watching. Gray whales are most often seen during the winter and spring months (especially in December and January and then again in March and April) as the make their annual migrations. Whales have even been seen to venture as close as the mouth of McWay Cove.


Along the coastal areas keep your eyes open for black cormorants, brown pelicans, the ever present seagulls, and an occasional black oystercatcher. On the trails to the higher ridges watch above for red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, eagles, and perhaps even a California condor. In the forested areas you are apt to spot California quail, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, jays, wrens, and dozens of other species.

  1For more about the history of the park, see the charming and informative Pelican Network website along with the comprehensive and beautifully organized Hiking in Big Sur

Exploring Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Most visitors confine their stop at Julia Pfeiffer State Park to the Overlook Trail for a view of McWay Falls, but a number of other sites and a network of hiking trails are worth exploring.

Caution: Check with rangers or lifeguards that conditions are safe for your planned activities.

Pelton Wheel

Electricity for the Lathrop and Helen Hooper Brown home was generated by a Pelton Wheel, spun by the pressure of water delivered down a penstock from a small check dam 2000 feet up McWay Creek. The wheel was contained in a small building next to the modern parking lot. A model of the wheel are on display inside the building along with a sign describing when it was built and how it operated.

Partington Cove

Rocky Partington Cove was once used for shipping tanbark. Remnants of the operation can still be seen, including a 60-foot long tunnel which today is still part of the trail to the cove. Partington Cove is 2 miles north of McWay Creek and the main parking lot. Parking by the Partington Cove trail is in pull-outs along the highway. The mile long trail to the cove drops sharply but is well maintained. You will find restrooms near the ocean.

The Tin House

During World War I when building material was difficult to obtain, the Brown family built a house high in the hills behind their main home at McWay Cove. The mountain home was constructed from metal salvaged from old gas stations. To their dismay, the couple discovered that the noise made from the expanding and contracting metal as temperatures changed made the house far too noisy to be enjoyed.

The house is still there and can be viewed from the outside through its windows. The location has wonderful views of the coast far below.

The shortest route to the Tin House is up Tin House Road, a dirt fire road closed to vehicles. The 2-mile hike to the house climbs steeply 1,600 feet from the starting point along Highway 1, about a mile north of the main park entrance. An alternate route is to use the longer Tan Bark Trail by Partington Cove.

coast at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, CA

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Other Popular Park Trails

Tan Bark Trail - Begins at Partington Creek trailhead and climbs through dense forest along the creek. Redwoods, ferns, and mossy rocks line the trail. Pass the Donald H. McLaughlin Grove of redwoods and climb into oak country. Eventually connects with Tin House Road.

Ewoldsen Trail - Climb through redwood forest and gain wonderful views of the coast. Begins at the main parking lot. A short side spur leads to 30-foot tall Canyon Falls. The trail was closed in 2012 for repairs, so call ahead before setting out to hike it.


The Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Underwater Area was established in 1970. The area reaches from Partington Point to McWay Creek. It is open for scuba diving with a special-use permit obtained at the Big Sur Station on Highway 1. Access to the ocean is at Partington Cove.

Ocean Safety

California State Parks and Recreation cautions that "large surf, cold water temperatures, backwash, sudden drop-offs, pounding shorebreak, and dangerous rip currents can turn what seem like safe activities such as playing near the surf line, wading, or climbing on rock outcroppings, deadly." Learn more about ocean safety at CA State Parks: Ocean Safety

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