State Parks, Big Sur
Point Lobos is a great place to go to watch the migration of the Pacific Grey Whale. These marine mammals make the longest of all whale migrations, often traveling up to 14,000 miles to the lagoons of Baja California, where they will bear their calves. The caves are born without blubber so it's essential that the mama's get south before giving birth.
The migration is best seen between December and April. Be sure to bring your binoculars and be patient.
Right in the middle area of Big Sur, on Highway 1, is the turnoff to a nice state park called Pfeiifer. There are plenty of hiking trails. This is not a coastal park, Pfeiifer is all about the Redwoods. I recommend the trail called Pfeiffer Falls. This is a trail about a mile long which ends up at this nice cool and refreshing waterfall.
Since we were camping at Big Pfeiffer State Park, we figured we should do one of the walks in the park. It was foggy in the morning anyway and we welcomed a nice forest walk. The falls themselves are not awe-inspiring, especially in June when the rainy season has long passed. I guess they would be flowing a lot more in the wet winter months. Still, the one mile hike passes through some lovely redwood forest so worth checking out for that if you're not a big waterfall person.
The Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is located on both sides of Highway 1, 37 miles south of Carmel. The main draw card of the park is the McWay Falls, which is California's only coastal waterfall. The falls drop 80 feet - originally straight into the ocean, but these days onto a sandy beach in a small cove.
The official entrance and parking area are on the eastern side of Highway 1. There is also a small area on the side of the road where you can park, immediately south of the entrance. We parked there and saved ourselves the $10 fee (Sep 2008).
It is only a short walk to the best vantage point for the falls. When we saw the waterfall I was a bit disappointed - it wasn't as impressive as I was expecting - perhaps it is better when there has been more rain. Anyway, it was still worth a look, and the coastal scenery nearby is lovely.
Located 26 miles south of Carmel, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is the largest state park in the Big Sur region. The park is filled with hiking trails, of varying difficulty. There is a large camping ground, situated in a valley by the Big Sur River, and for those who don't like to 'rough it' as much, the park is also home to the Big Sur Lodge.
When you enter the park, to the eastern side of Highway 1, you have to pay a fee for entrance/parking - it was $10 in Sep 2008. As we entered we were advised that a large section of the trail we were planning to hike had been burnt out, and that one section - to the Pfeiffer Falls - was closed for repairs.
Disappointed about not being able to see the falls, but still keen to see some redwoods, we went ahead with the Valley View trail. It started in a redwood grove and then headed gradually uphill, through a burnt out section of forest and ending up on a plateau offering great views across the forest and to the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
Thankfully we didn't come across any mountain lions, as warned about on the sign at the start of the trail.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is located just south of the town of Big Sur. It contains picnic areas, a lodge, cabins to rent, and hiking trails, including one to a waterfall. The trails are fairly short and relatively easy. The park is a pleasant oasis and a nice place to explore a coastal redwood forest. There is an entrance fee of eight dollars per vehicle.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is one of the best parks in Big Sur. It is known for the stunning beauty of McWay Falls, the great hiking through the redwoods on Ewoldsen Trail, the history of the Pfeiffer family, and of course Big Sur ocean views.
The 2,000 acre park runs from the shoreline to 3,000 foot mountains full of redwood, oak and chaparral. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park has picnic areas, restrooms, plenty of paid parking ($8) and some free parking along highway 1 with easy access to the park and trails.
We spent about 4 hours here one day in the fall, hiking the canyon trail, maybe half of the Ewoldsen Trail, and of course making the pilgrimage to McWay Falls. The redwoods were massive and amazing, the contrast from the mountains to the falls on the ocean spectacular, and the hiking excellent. It was warm, so plenty of water was necessary, and we took a bunch of photos. This was a great way to spend an afternoon.
The peak of Point Sur sits 361 feet above the water. It has a lighthouse which was first lit in 1889 and has been in continuous use since, having been automated in 1974 (or 1979 depending on the source). The facilities are closed to public visitation, except by guided tour. These three-hour walking tours are available on weekends and seasonally on Wednesdays and Thursdays, first come-first served. Moonlight ghost tours are also held once or twice a month in the summer (see http://www.pointsur.org/ for tour information).
The nearby Point Sur Naval Facility was established in 1958. Its mission was the tracking of Soviet nuclear submarines using the navy's Sound Surveillance System. The naval facility was decommissioned in 1984 and all but one of the buildings was turned over to the California State Parks System in 2000.
Point Sur light station stands atop a volcanic rock, jutting into the ocean on a unique flat peninsula. The north side of the peninsula has beautiful wide sandy beaches while the south side has rocky shoreline with some narrow beaches and small cliffs. The light tower is 40 feet tall,and it stands 270 feet above the ocean.
This is a 3,580 acre park that includes some of the Big Sur's most photographed coastline. Be sure to stop at the small parking area in the McWay Canyon. A trail will lead from this parking area under the highway to a bluff, which will give you the view that you see in my photo. The waterfall you see in the photo is 80 foot high and drops directly into the ocean or the beach, depending on the tide. There is no beach access here, but the view is so spectacular you will be glad that you came.
In this park you can visit the beauty of the redwoods, or the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean. This 716 acre park is not only filled with beauty, but also has an interesting history. Along the west fork of the Limekiln Creek you will find four large kilns left over from the early 1880s when lime was manufactured here. The park offers 3 hiking trails, taking you to the kilns, into the redwood forest, and to a beautiful 100 foot waterfall, as well as a 300 foot beach on which to relax. There is also a campground with 33 sites. The sites are small and the RV limit is 24 feet, trailer length is limited to 15 feet to make room for your pull vehicle. You can reserve campsites by calling 1-800-444-7275 or reserve on line at www.parks.ca.gov
This is the park that we camp in when we visit the Monterey and the Big Sur area. Besides the campground there are trails leading through its beautiful 950 acres of redwoods, conifers, oaks, and open meadows. On one hike we saw a waterfall hidden away among large redwood trees. Although you will not see the ocean from the park, the Big Sur River runs through the forest, and has a charm of its own.
In this 2,879 acre park you can follow a pristine trail that runs along a whale watching area. Bring your binoculars and scan the ocean for whale blows. Garrapate is also a good area for bird watchers. Trails will lead you along an ocean view, through coastal vegetation, or into dense redwood groves. This is an undeveloped park, and we had some difficulty finding it as there are no entrance signs or large parking areas. Instead there are several highway turnouts along highway 1.
Many people in California consider Point Lobos to be the best of the state parks. The preserve has about 1,325 acres of sandy beaches, Monterey Cypress Groves, and unusual rock formations like the one in my photo. Sometimes seals can be seen resting on rocks offshore, or you may see sea otters bobbing over the waves on their backs. Listen for their barking. You might hear them before you spot them. It is said that this area may have been the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. There are a number of hiking trails within the preserve, and with a permit, limited scuba diving is permitted. In the photo you see a seagull sitting on a rock. Doesn’t the rock remind you of a skull? We saw this rock along the Sea Lion Point Trail in Point Lobos Preserve. Be aware that all state parks require an entrance fee, however, if you pay at one park, you can then visit any other state park that day without paying an additional fee. If you are camping in a state park as we do, you can visit any state park without paying a fee for the entire time that you are camping.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns is a lovely small park in the California State Park system. Located about 10 miles south of the town of Big Sur on Highway 1, it's an easy way to stretch your legs and take a peek at the only fresh water fall into the Pacific. Your day use fee is good in all of the California parks, so if you pay at Point Lobos, keep your ticket and use it to enter Pfeiffer Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns.
Camping is also available here but is far more primitive than it's big brother Pfeiffer Big Sur. Walk in campsites are currently $14.00 per night.
Pfeiffer Big Sur is one of the most popular in California's fine State Park system. This is a place that has a rich history for me personally. I remember camping with my family, many years ago. It was a favorite to us then because it had a huge "pool" with a beach where the river was encouraged to form a public swimming area. In the early '60's the pool was eliminated when protection of wildlife became more of a focus.
Then came the years of rock climbing and forging our way up the river to the gorge where we congregated with other young people, swimming in the cold deep natural pools, sunbathing on rocks, and flirting with the young rangers who worked in the park for the summer.
Later in college, I spent a year working at the park myself, in the Lodge's restaurant. It was a year when hippies and young people hitched their way up and down the PCH, creating a colorful (and smelly!) environment that was delightful for the young, and a nightmare for their parents and the older folks who lived in the area.