Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

California, United States
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 (3 votes, 3 reviews)
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park offers a dramatic meeting of land and sea - attracting visitors, writers, artists and photographers from around the world. The same geologic, climate and marine processes that shape the character of this beautiful park keep it undeveloped, susceptible to natural forces. Wildfires and landslides are common.

This state park is named after Julia Pfeiffer Burns, a well respected pioneer woman in the Big Sur country. The park stretches from the Big Sur coastline into nearby 3,000-foot ridges. It features redwood, tan oak, madrone, chaparral, and an 80-foot waterfall that drops from granite cliffs into the ocean from the Overlook Trail. A panoramic view of the ocean and miles of rugged coastline is available from the higher elevations along the trails east of Highway 1.

Visitors may hike, scuba dive, fish and explore the coastal overlook.
Park News Alert
All trails at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, with only 1 exception, are now open for hiking, including the recently cleared Tan Bark Trail.

Hazardous conditions still exist on the Ewoldson trail and it remains closed while repairs are completed throughout the summer. Please carefuly observe closure signs.
Getting There
The park is 37 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1, and 12 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur.

The Day Use Annual Pass is accepted at this park.
Seasons/Climate/Recommended Clothing
Park temperatures range from the mid-80s at higher elevations inland to the mid-40s, with heavy winter rains and frequent coastal fog. Layered clothing is advised.
Operating Hours & Contact
The park is open 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset.
Telephone: 831-667-2315
Whale Watching
In December and January the bench at the end of Overlook trail is an excellent place to watch for gray whales migrating southward to their breeding and calving grounds off the Baja California coast. Many whales pass close to shore at this point, and occasionally one will come into the mouth of the cove. In March and April, they can be seen returning north to their summer feeding grounds in the North Pacific.

Sea otters can sometimes be seen in the cove, and harbor seals and California sea lions are occasional visitors. Many sea and shore birds - Sleek black cormorants, seagulls, brown pelicans, and black oystercatchers - also make an appearance.

Underwater Area
Between Partington Point and McWay Creek is the Julia Pfeiffer Burns Underwater Area, which was established in 1970 and is now a scuba diving area. The rocky shoreline is the access to the underwater park. Special-use permits allow experienced scuba divers to explore the reserve.

McWay Waterfall House
The terrace is all that remains of Waterfall House, the residence of Lathrop and Helen Hooper Brown. When the Browns began to acquire their Big Sur acreage in 1924, Mrs. Brown became acquainted with Julia Pfeiffer Burns, the daughter of a Big Sur pioneer family. In 1962, Mrs. Brown gave the ranch to the state for use as a state park dedicated to the memory of Julia Pfeiffer Burns.
Camping & Trails
Two tent-only, walk-in environmental campsites are available by reservation.

Make Camground Reservations

Some park trails are undergoing rehabilitation due to natural events. Observe all posted trail signs.
Tips & Rules
-McWay Falls and the beach at McWay Cove are off-limits to visitors.
-Tidal conditions can change quickly, and cliff overlooks are dangerous. Stay away from cliff edges to avoid being swept out to sea by sleeper waves any time of year.
-Dive permits and surf conditions are available at Big Sur Station on Highway 1.
-Except for service animals, pets are not permitted in campsites or on trails. All pets in the parking area must be attended on a six-foot maximum leash.
-All natural and cultural features are protected by law and may not be disturbed or removed.
Natural History
This four-square-mile park is situated on the central coast. Steep canyons filled with ancient redwood trees and sheer cliffs dropping nearly vertically to shore provide habitat for many sensitive aquatic and terrestrial species.

Three perennial creeks flow through the park; Anderson, Partington and McWay Creeks begin nearly three thousand feet up in the Santa Lucia Mountains. McWay Creek ends in spectacular McWay Falls at its cove.

Old- and second-growth coast redwoods grow within 100 yards of shore, near the southernmost point in California that supports this species.
Wildlife & Plants
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park links with the Ventana Wilderness and the Los Padres National Forest to form a wildlife corridor preserving 173,000 acres of contiguous open space for species needing wide-ranging habitats. Native vegetation types in the park include coastal scrub, chaparral, coastal prairie grasslands, mixed evergreen forest, riparian redwood forest and arroyo-willow riparian forest. Non-native species include blue gum eucalyptus, acacia, mock orange and jubata grass. These species originate elsewhere, but they have taken over parts of the park. Work to control non-native species is ongoing.

Four active seabird colonies make up some of the largest of those found along the Big Sur coast. The central coast’s only known colony of double-crested cormorants lives just offshore. Partington and McWay canyons shelter sensitive butterfly populations, including one of only 18 surviving Smith’s blue butterfly colonies on Earth.

Many species in the park are listed as either threatened or endangered, including peregrine falcons, bald eagles, California brown pelicans, California condors and southern sea otters.
Marine Life
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary helps preserve California’s rich marine life in both rocky intertidal and coastal strand zones. The California Sea Otter State Game Refuge, with its extensive kelp forest, reaches from the Carmel River in the north to Cambria in the south. In the underwater portion of the park, divers will be amazed by the underwater pinnacles and cliffs along the coastline. Kelp greenling, cabezon and other colorful fish make their homes among the kelp.
Accessible Features
We are working to improve accessibility throughout our parks but we regret that there are currently no (wheelchair) accessible activities at this park. This may be an undeveloped park, or there may be terrain, historic or resource protection issues or other limiting factors. However, there may be some wheelchair accessible features, such as parking areas, restrooms, and routes of travel, that meet some of the current accessibility guidelines. Call the park or email us at access@parks.ca.gov for details.


Overlook Trail to McWay Falls
A short hike with amazing views of the Big Sur coast with a stunning waterfall falling to the sandy beach below
0.5 mi/
0.8 km
Tanbark Trail
A strenuous loop into the hills above Big Sur with amazing views along the coast as far as the eye can see
6.4 mi/
10.3 km
Tanbark Trail
Tanbark Trail
Big Sur, California, United States
Difficult: 6.4 miles, Half day
A strenuous loop into the hills above Big Sur with amazing views along the coast as far as the eye can see
Overlook Trail to McWay Falls
Overlook Trail to McWay Falls
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, California, United States
Easy: 0.5 miles, 1 hour or less
A short hike with amazing views of the Big Sur coast with a stunning waterfall falling to the sandy beach below
Community Trips
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Tan Bark Loop
by chris on Mar 30, 2008
Slates Hot Springs, California, United States
8.6 miles
Day hike along the Tan Bark trail. It was 3.2 miles up to "The tin house" which was abandoned and have amazing views of the coast line. We then decided to hike down to the water and walk along the rocks for a bit.
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Short Walk to the Cliff
by chris on Mar 30, 2008
Slates Hot Springs, California, United States
0.6 miles
Just a short little walk to the cliffs above the water in Big Sur. Great views of the little cove and a waterfall.
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Partington Cove
by larrygu on Jul 13, 2012
Big Sur, California, United States
1.1 miles
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McWay Waterfall Trail
by larrygu on Jul 13, 2012
Big Sur, California, United States
0.6 miles
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Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park - McWay falls.
by shadrack1 on Jan 05, 2013
Slates Hot Springs, California, United States
1.3 miles
After hiking Limekiln State Park, we planned on killing a little time at McWay Falls. It's only a quick jaunt off the highway, so there is no reason no to check out the falls. Jumps the guardrail and you're practically there.
Just past the junction of the Tanoak trail and the Fire Road, looking east into the valley Photo
Leaving the Tin House, looking north east into the valley, the fog was cresting the hill. Photo
Hiking along the fire road. Photo
View from the fire road looking south down the California coast. Photo
Big Sur - Tanbark Trail to Tin House
by shadrack1 on Apr 04, 2013
Big Sur, California, United States
6.3 miles
It was spring break for the boy, and I had put off our trip to Yosemite since I had broken my thumb, but I was still itching to do some hiking. I poked around a few hiking sites and discovered that the Tanbark Trail had recently reopened after the 2008 fires.We shot down highway 1 and arrived at the trailhead (which can be difficult to find as there is no sign pointing...
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Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
by esjewell on Feb 02, 2014
Big Sur, California, United States
Hiking/camping | 0.0 miles
Short stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park along Big Sur Highway.  I wanted to check out the two campsites for future reference.  The campsites are definitely worth a return trip soon.  From the parking lot, hike under the highway and then head south on the trail to the campsites.  The campsites are in a nice grove of pines overlooking McWay Cove on one side and the coastline on the other.  The...
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2014 05 31 Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Ewoldsen Trail to Overlook Hike
by BrianKatrinaHiggins on May 31, 2014
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, California, United States
10.8 miles
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is well known for McWay Falls, which is a 90 foot water fall that drops onto the beach at the ocean at a very scenic cove.  Any trip to the park needs to include the 1 mile round trip to the overlook to see McWay Falls.  The park has a number of other great features.  There are great redwood forests along the creeks, other falls, ocean view overlooks,...
Big Sur (Transcental Elevation)
by Kealia on Aug 08, 2009
Big Sur, California, United States
9.5 miles
Read cache log at: http://www.geocaching.com/seek/cache_details.aspx?guid=2beaea0d-cf67-40f6-9438-814e619caeda&log=y&decrypt=Great hike with Andy, Laurent and Corby.  A Touchstone classic.
Big Sur Hike
by usn.mustanger on Jan 08, 2012
Slates Hot Springs, California, United States
2.6 miles

Would definitely recommend checking out the Ewoldsen loop. Start at the entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and take the Ewoldsen trail. It can be a bit tricky to find at the beginning but follow the clearest paths and the wire railings they have put up to guide you to a post which clearly points you in the direction of the trail.
As you follow the trail, you will go up in elevation slightly, so make sure to take some water breaks! It is very shady throughout, which was a plus!(especially on a sweltering hot day in July when we went)
You will eventually get to the Ewoldsen loop, where you have the choice to go right or left. The left route is much steeper but rewards you with beautiful views quickly. The right route increases gradually, winding around the canyon, and eventually you see the aforementioned gorgeous ocean views. Take the right trail. Building up to the views makes them that much sweeter!
On the way down from the loop, the trail gets quite steep and slippery, so make sure you wear gripped shoes and watch where you step. We broke for lunch at the bottom of the loop(where there is a footbridge across the river) and found it to be a nice place to cool-down and fuel up.
Lastly, the day we went was super foggy, so we didn't get to experience the many magnificent views that were promised. Check the forecast before, and if it is still foggy, well, it is still a gorgeous hike! Make sure to check out the McWay waterfall across the road when you're done!

Visited on Jul 03, 2015

by beaks14 on Jul 08, 2015
Ewoldsen trail is open and the view from the overlook is fantastic! The trail might be considered difficult in some stretches but is not hard at all, particularly since it is mostly in the shade.
I would suggest carrying water and a camera!

Visited on Jul 06, 2014

by madhat on Jul 07, 2014
I was here a few years ago on a short trip during spring break. We stopped off to see McWay falls which was just spectacular. If you think the pictures look great, just wait until you see the real thing (and it only takes less than 30 minutes).

Then we went on a hike along the Tan Bark Trail to the old tin house. The first half of the hike was pretty rough--lots of climbing and no views of the coast. Once we got to the tin house everything changed. We could see miles along the coast to the north and decided to take the fire road back down which was open and allowed is to look at the coast the entire way down--just amazing!

Visited on Mar 30, 2008

by chris on Dec 15, 2010

Who's Been There

chris is the Guru of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

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What people are saying...

Big Sur, Tanbark, day hike, Tin house, Tanoak

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