The Big Sur area is home to what is arguably the most beautiful coastline in the U.S. With majestic mountains and forest on one side and the crashing ocean on the other, there’s no shortage of stunning scenery when you drive down Highway 1. And McWay Falls, an 80-foot waterfall in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, just might be the most majestic sight of all.
McWay Falls is created by water that flows from McWay Creek directly into the ocean (or the sand, depending on the tide levels). It’s one of only a few waterfalls in California that do this, so it’s pretty special.
See all the waterfalls near California Beaches.
The waterfall happens to be located at the end of one of Big Sur’s shortest trails, making it easily accessible to all. Park in the designated lot, and walk west towards Highway 1 and look for signs for the waterfall trail. After heading down some wooden steps, proceed along a wide path, walk through a tunnel under the highway, and emerge facing the ocean. Turn right and walk along the path until you see the falls.
The falls, creek and canyon are all named after an early settler and farmer named Christopher McWay. He came to the area with his son in the 1870s. Julia Pfeiffer Burns, whom the park is named after, was an early pioneer who ran a ranch in McWay Canyon with her husband, John B. Burns.
Unfortunately, the falls can only be appreciated from afar, but the view from the trail is enough to blow you away. Access to the beach below is off-limits to the public to keep it as pristine as possible (and if you are seen trespassing, there is a big fine). But luckily there are several viewpoints and overlooks, so take as many photos of McWay Falls as you can. Natural beauty like this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.