Big Sur: McWay Waterfall on HWY 1

The drive on Highway 1 through Big Sur is an adventure in itself. The road travels along the edge of the ocean cliffs, revealing views of the bright turquoise water around every hairpin turn. I may have mistaken my first visit for a dream had it not been for the goosebumps on my arms and the butterflies in my stomach at the sight of it all.

On my last visit to Big Sur with Shoestring Adventures LA, we spent the night at a backpackers campground on the Little Sur River. After breakfast, we began our journey back to Los Angeles. As I gazed out the passenger window, something caught my eye. We pulled over, and within a few moments, we were gazing down at McWay Waterfall, located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. I had driven past at least six times but never spotted it until now!

McWay Falls was named after Christopher McWay, an early settler and farmer from New York state who arrived in the area around 1874. The park itself is named after Julia Pfeiffer Burns (1868-1928), a local and legendary early pioneer and resident. (Hiking in Big Sur) From the lookout, we walked to the ruins of the old “Waterfall House,” built by Lathrop and Helen Brown.

I tried for a moment to imagine having McWay Waterfall as my bedroom view, and life was pretty good.

It’s no wonder this is one of the most popular attractions in Big Sur. Next time you’re driving through Big Sur, make sure to stop and admire!

View from “Waterfall House”

McWay Waterfall Trail

  • About This Hike: .64 mile, out and back
  • Fitness Level: Easy
  • Trailhead Directions: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park easy to spot off Highway 1. The entrance is about 37 miles south of Carmel, 12 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and about 68 miles north of San Simeon.
  • Parking: Paid parking is available on the opposite side of Highway 1. The waterfall can be reached by walking through a tunnel under the road. You can also find free parking along the ocean side of Highway 1. Please watch for traffic!

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