McWay Falls Big Sur, California: Tips for a Perfect Visit

McWay Falls Big Sur California

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Imagine standing at the edge of a world where waterfalls dance their way into the arms of the ocean, painting a scene straight out of a fairytale.

Welcome to McWay Falls in Big Sur, California – a realm of natural beauty so mesmerizing, it seems almost too magical to be real.

This is how I felt when I first visited these falls with my sister.

It’s a stunning place for photography, relaxation, and exploration.

In this post, we’ll share tips and insights for your visit, from how to get there and what to pack, to when to go and what to see.

Let’s dive in and discover the enchantment that awaits at McWay Falls in Big Sur, California!

Overview:

Getting to McWay Falls Big Sur, California

Julia_Pfeiffer_Burns_State_Park_Entrance
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park entrance sign.

There aren’t really a lot of transportation options to get to McWay Falls Beach you can go by car, taxi, or by private tour.

Going by car or taxi:

You will need to take California Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) and look for the sign for Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Note: As of July 2023 California Highway 1 is closed from Lucia and Gorda.

This is due to landslides that were caused by storms that happened this year in California.

Depending on whether you’re driving from northbound California into Big Sur or southbound I recommend using Google Maps to help map out your route.

It will have up-to-date routes based on the current situation.

**Important tip: Be sure to download Google Maps offline before driving into the Big Sur area!!

There was no cell reception while we drove down within Big Sur (My phone plan is through Verizon Wireless, but even then most time had no reception).

It is nice to have at least a map app that can guide you to your destination and show you nearby attractions in case you get no cell reception down there.

How to Download Google Maps Offline (If you don’t know)

  • Step 1: Open the Google Maps app and ensure you’re connected to the internet, not in Incognito mode.
  • Step 2: Search for a place, like Seattle, or zoom in to the area you want to download.
  • Step 3: Tap the name or address of the place at the bottom of the screen, then tap More and Download the offline map.
  • Step 4: Adjust the map area by pinching or zooming, and check the size of the download at the bottom. Tap Download to start downloading the map.

You can access your offline maps by tapping your profile picture.

From here you can also update, delete, or rename your offline maps from there.

Learn more by checking out Google Support.

If you decide to go by taxi instead of car, it will be more expensive and less convenient.

According to Rome2rio, a taxi from Monterey to McWay Falls Beach costs around $90 – $110 one way and takes about an hour.

This will also depend on the time of day or occasion such as off-peak season or not.

A taxi from San Francisco to McWay Falls Beach costs around $500 – $650 one way and takes about three hours!

We recommend renting a car instead, as it will give you more flexibility and save you money.

My sister and I did the California Pacific Highway Roadtrip starting from Los Angeles up to Point Reyes National Seashore Park.

We rented a car from Los Angeles International Airport which was a cheaper option than picking up the car from San Diego International Airport.

Note: I rented several different cars at different airport locations in California doing several road trips across the state.

Los Angeles International Airport was cheaper than most airports across the state for the most part.

For example, I paid only $30 per day for a compact car in LA, while if I had a similar car from San Francisco, San Diego, and even Ontario I would have paid $50-$60 per day.

However, prices may vary depending on the time and the season.

Therefore, I recommend playing around with the locations and dates to find something that fits within your budget.

Our best experience has been renting a car through DiscoverCars.com.

As a flight attendant, I get many of the perks people can dream of when it comes to travel such as discounts through airlines, hotels, car rentals, and even cruises.

However, most times I like to compare my benefits amongst the different options available to find the best deals and most convenience.

For instance, in this case, my sister and I wanted to do the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip during summertime: July to be exact for 8 days.

(Not the best option to do a road trip in the summer, but will tell you more later on).

The price from my work discount wasn’t as good as the offer from DiscoverCars.com.

It was a difference of $250 dollars if I had done my work discount versus DiscoverCars.com.

Picking up the car on a Monday and returning it on a Tuesday.

On another occasion, we wanted to explore the Channel Islands but didn’t want to use our cars so we rented from San Diego to the Channel Islands.

Again DiscoverCars.com was $150 cheaper than my airline discount (that gave me an Alamo compact car).

Lastly, we also used DiscoverCars.com when we visited Orlando, Florida again after moving back home to California since it was cheaper by $100.

We drove only compact cars from Dollar, Budget, and Alamo.

We didn’t have any extra hidden fees, charges, or any other issues when using this service.

It is important to mention here though that: we never had to change/cancel our reservations or missed picking up our car rental during the given hours.

So, maybe different people will experience different outcomes depending on their situations such as canceling or changing.

However, based on our personal experience, we can confidently say that DiscoverCars is a reliable and affordable car rental service that offers great value and convenience!

We highly recommend DiscoverCars.com to anyone who is looking for a car rental service that can meet their needs and budget.

Going by Private Tour:

If you don’t plan on renting a car while visiting McWay Falls Beach you still get by by booking a private tour.

There are a few private tours that will take you throughout Big Sur.

Stopping at several famous places around Big Sur such as Bixby Creek Bridge, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, and Pfeiffer Beach State Park to name a few.

Usually, these tours are full-day and charge a fee.

But, you will have your own private guide that will show you the best spots, tell you the history and stories of Big Sur, and answer any questions you may have.

You will also have the opportunity to take photos, hike, swim, or relax at your own pace.

You will enjoy a comfortable and safe ride in a luxury vehicle with snacks and drinks provided.

Some private tours are:

Best Time to visit McWay Falls Big Sur, California

Clearer afternoon overlooking the falls
Clearer afternoon overlooking the falls.

When planning your visit to the enchanting McWay Falls, the time of year can significantly impact your experience.

Each season brings its own unique charm, allowing visitors to tailor their journey according to their preferences.

Here’s a seasonal guide to help you make the most of your trip:

Winter and Spring:

For those seeking to witness the waterfall in its full splendor, the winter and spring months are ideal.

During this time, the region experiences higher rainfall, breathing life into the creek, and causing the waterfall to flow more vigorously.

The sight of McWay Falls gracefully tumbling into the cove is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Additionally, the surroundings come alive with colorful wildflowers, painting the landscape with vibrant hues.

Keep in mind that while the weather may be wetter during these months, the reward is a magnificent display of nature’s grandeur.

End of Summer and Fall:

If you prefer pleasant weather and clear skies, consider visiting during the end of summer or fall.

As the temperatures begin to mellow, the region enjoys more agreeable conditions for outdoor exploration.

The fog is less likely to shroud the landscape, offering unobstructed views of the waterfall and the dramatic coastline.

Moreover, from December to May, you might be treated to the majestic sight of California gray whales migrating along the coast, adding an extra touch of wonder to your experience.

However, it’s worth mentioning that visiting during the summertime, particularly in June and July, may come with a caveat.

The region is often blanketed by overcast skies and lingering fog, potentially hindering visibility and obstructing picture-perfect moments.

While some lucky visitors may catch a break with clearing skies, the unpredictability of the weather during these months can be a concern.

I confess I have a personal preference, but I would recommend skipping the summer season if you can.

My sister and I visited McWay Falls in late July, and we were not impressed by the weather.

For most of our trip, Big Sur was chilly and misty.

The sky was gray and gloomy.

On our last day there, we got lucky and got a break and the fog lifted in the afternoon.

We were able to see McWay Falls in its full glory.

It was a breathtaking sight of turquoise water cascading over a cliff into a sandy cove.

We felt like we had discovered a hidden paradise!

Overlooking the Falls in Big Sur
Overlooking the falls in the afternoon and the fog slowly clearing away.

**Important Tip: If you do find yourself in Big Sur during the summer, consider visiting McWay Falls later in the day, preferably after 3 p.m.

Why you may ask?

For waiting until later in the day allows the marine layer to dissipate, revealing the breathtaking vista that lies beneath.

Allowing you to capture that epic picture of McWay Falls in all its unobstructed splendor.

The late afternoon sun casts a golden glow upon the cascading waterfall, transforming the scene into a photographer’s dream.

It’s a moment you won’t want to miss, and capturing it in a photograph will forever remind you of its natural wonder.

Rules & Regulations

McWay Falls Overlook Trail Signs-min
Danger and Dog Signs at McWay Falls Overlook Trail.

There are a few things to know before visiting McWay Falls Big Sur, California you should know before you go:

Note: Please note that dogs are not allowed on the McWay Falls Overlook Trail!!

This is for the safety of your dog, the wildlife, and the environment.

There are signs posted along the trail to remind you of this rule.

Please respect the park authorities and other visitors by leaving your dog at home or in your car.

If you want to enjoy Big Sur with your dog, there are other places you can visit that are dog-friendly, such as Pfeiffer Beach or Garrapata State Park. 

You Can See McWay Falls Only One Way

McWay Falls Tunnel Entrance
Walking into the McWay Falls tunnel entrance.

The McWay Falls Overlook Trail is the only legal way to view the waterfall. 

There is no beach access, or any other way to get into this place.

The trail overlooks the falls from a distance.

From the parking lot of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, it is about a 6-minute walk to get to the McWay Falls Overlook Trail.

Note: The trail goes downhill a bit, but in my opinion, this is wheelchair accessible.

It’s a pretty flat, short, smooth trail.

You Can’t Swim or Climb the Cliffs

McWay Falls Cliffs Overlooking the Water
McWay Falls Cliffs are rocky and unstable.

Swimming or climbing at McWay Falls is strictly prohibited.

The area around the falls is extremely hazardous, with cold and rough water, slippery and sharp rocks, and steep cliffs.

Gonna sound harsh here but please don’t be foolish and risk your life or the lives of others by trying to get close to this waterfall!

There have been many tragic accidents in the past, such as Medina Faraz and Marie Denea Ishie who lost their lives while attempting to reach McWay Falls Big Sur, California.

Your life is too short to waste it on a foolish risk for getting that up-close selfie image.

Instead, cherish every moment and appreciate the beauty of nature from a safe distance!

Respect Mother Nature

History_Sign_of_the_Waterfall
History sign explaining the history of this place.

Please respect the natural environment and wildlife by staying on the trail, not littering, and not feeding or harassing the animals.

There are many rare and endangered species found here such as the California condor, and Monterey Pine that require our utmost care and protection.

Keeping a safe distance from the wildlife allows them to thrive undisturbed in their natural habitat.

By practicing responsible tourism and adhering to these guidelines, we can play a vital role in preserving the delicate ecosystem of McWay Falls and its surroundings.

Let’s be conscientious stewards of this ecological treasure, ensuring that generations to come can continue to marvel at the beauty of these rare and endangered species in their unspoiled environment.

Together, we can make a positive impact on the preservation of McWay Falls and its diverse wildlife for years to come!

Parking & Facilities at McWay Falls Big Sur, California

Payment Center at McWay Falls Big Sur California
Paying cash at McWay Falls Payment Center.

Know that Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset.

Furthermore, if you plan to bring a vehicle here which is what most tourists do expect to pay $10 for parking per vehicle.

***Important Tip: Only cash or check is allowed as payment!

You will need to take an envelope from the box and fill out the required information such as the date, vehicle’s day use, and the amount disclosed that you’re paying.

There are restrooms and picnic tables here in this parking lot.

We also saw a park ranger as well pass by.

To view McWay Falls, you need to walk a short trail (0.5-mile round trip) that starts from the parking lot inside the park.

The trail goes through an under-road tunnel and along the cliff edge to an overlook point.

The trail is paved and easy to walk – definitely wheelchair accessible on the trail.

Note: This place gets crowded during sunsets.

So make sure to arrive early to find parking!

What to Wear & Bring at McWay Falls Big Sur, California

Overlooking the McWay Ways with fog
Overlooking the McWay Ways with fog.

When visiting McWay Falls in Big Sur, California, it’s essential to be prepared for the coastal climate and outdoor activities.

Here’s a list of what to wear and bring:

Clothing:

Layered Clothing:

The weather in Big Sur can be variable, so wearing layers allows you to adjust to changing temperatures.

Start with a light base layer, add a long-sleeved shirt or sweater, and top it off with a jacket or windbreaker.

Comfortable Shoes:

Choose sturdy, closed-toe shoes suitable for hiking and walking on uneven terrain.

Sneakers or hiking boots with good traction are recommended.

Hat and Sunglasses:

Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection.

Sunscreen:

Apply sunscreen with a high SPF to shield your skin from the sun’s rays, even on overcast days.

Gear and Accessories:

Camera or Smartphone:

Don’t forget your camera or smartphone to capture the breathtaking views of McWay Falls and the surrounding landscape.

Binoculars:

If you’re interested in birdwatching or spotting wildlife, binoculars can enhance your experience.

Water Bottle:

Stay hydrated throughout your visit by bringing a refillable water bottle.

One of our favorites is the Bluefin Hi-Drate Stainless Steel Water Bottle.

This 1-liter bottle features a bamboo lid with an etched graphic design, adding a touch of elegance to its practicality.

The stainless steel construction ensures durability and keeps your beverages at the desired temperature, whether you prefer icy cold water on a sunny day or a warm drink during cooler evenings.

Its wide mouth design allows for easy cleaning and convenient refilling.

The included carrying loop makes it a breeze to take on hikes or outdoor adventures.

Stay eco-conscious and hydrated in style with the Bluefin Hi-Drate Stainless Steel Water Bottle on your side.

Daypack:

Carry a small daypack to store your essentials, snacks, and water while exploring the area.

One of our favorites is the Peak Design Everyday Backpack V2 20L for bringing your camera and snacks while checking out McWay Falls.

With its optimal size, ergonomic design, and quick access features, this backpack ensures a comfortable and organized experience on the trails.

The multiple compartments offer convenient storage for your gear, while its weather-resistant materials provide peace of mind during unexpected weather conditions.

Versatile and durable, the Peak Design Everyday Backpack is not only perfect for hiking but also serves as a reliable companion for daily use and travel.

Its customizable interior and sleek aesthetics make it a stylish yet functional choice for any adventure, allowing you to focus on enjoying the journey without worrying about your gear.

Other Essentials:

Cash or Card:

Some parks may have entrance or parking fees, so bring cash or a credit/debit card for payment.

For example, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park has a parking fee of $10 but only accepts cash or check.

Map or Guidebook:

Grab a map or guidebook from the visitor center or download digital maps before your visit to navigate the trails and points of interest.

Insect Repellent:

Depending on the season, there may be insects around, so pack some insect repellent to avoid bites.

Our favorite is Ben’s Insect Repellent, which contains 30% DEET and provides up to 8 hours of protection.

It also comes in a convenient travel size that fits easily in your backpack or pocket.

Snacks:

Pack some energy-boosting snacks like granola bars, fruits, or nuts to keep you fueled during your adventures.

Optional:

Hiking Poles:

If you plan to hike the trails around McWay Falls, hiking poles can provide extra stability and support, especially on uneven terrain.

Our top choice is the Wading Staff.

This lightweight and adjustable wading staff from Patagonia is essential for situations requiring a reliable third point of contact, be it wading or hiking.

Crafted from carbon fiber-wrapped aluminum, it offers both strength and portability.

The staff comes complete with its own stuff sack and a retractor that conveniently attaches to your wading belt.

Its ergonomic foam grip ensures a comfortable hold, and the durable carbide tip provides exceptional traction.

Rain Jacket or Poncho:

Be prepared for unexpected rain by bringing a lightweight rain jacket or poncho.

You can’t go wrong with the Granite Crest Rain Jacket.

This 3-layer, fully PFC-free rain jacket is the perfect companion for all-day movement on the trail, even in wet conditions.

It boasts a high-performance design while also being responsibly made.

Crafted from NetPlus® 100% postconsumer recycled nylon ripstop it is sourced from recycled fishing nets.

Helping reduce plastic pollution.

PFC-free DWR finish gives a durable water repellency without harmful perfluorinated chemicals.

It’s waterproof and offers breathable protection.

With the right attire and gear, you’ll be ready to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of McWay Falls in Big Sur, California the right way.

Attractions Nearby McWay Falls Big Sur, California

Point-Lobos-National-Reserve-Gibson-Beach
Point Lobos National Reserve Gibson Beach on a sunny day.

If you’re looking to explore more than just the McWay Falls Big Sur in California, then you’re in luck.

Big Sur is an amazing destination with many beaches, hikes, waterfalls, and state parks to discover.

For those who love hiking some famous hiking trails in Big Sur worth exploring are:

Ewoldsen Trail:

Located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park this moderate is about a 4.5-mile loop trail.

That takes you through towering redwoods and offers spectacular views of the coastline, including the iconic McWay Falls.

Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View Trail:

This is a 2.4-mile loop in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

This leads you to the impressive Pfeiffer Falls.

And then climbs up to the Valley View Overlook, providing sweeping vistas of the Big Sur River Valley.

Sykes Hot Springs Trail (For experienced hikers):

This a challenging 10-mile round trip hike in the Ventana Wilderness.

This trail rewards hikers with the chance to soak in natural hot springs amid a stunning redwood and oak-filled canyon.

Partington Cove Trail:

This is a short but captivating 1-mile round trip hiking trail.

This trail starts near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

It leads through a lush canyon, surrounded by towering redwoods and fern-covered cliffs.

As you make your way along the trail, you’ll pass through a historic tunnel that was once used for loading and unloading ships.

Partington Cove was a busy shipping spot during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Once you emerge from the tunnel, you’ll be greeted by stunning views of the ocean and Partington Cove below.

The trail continues down to a viewing platform that overlooks the cove, providing a picturesque scene of the crashing waves against the rocky shoreline.

Salmon Creek Falls Trail:

A relatively easy 2-mile hike off Highway 1, leading to a picturesque 120-foot waterfall cascading into a serene pool.

Andrew Molera State Park:

The park offers several interconnected trails.

Like the Headlands Trail, which leads to stunning coastal views.

As well as the Bluffs Trail, which provides excellent opportunities for whale watching during migration seasons.

For those who just love sightseeing wildlife, waterfalls, or iconic landmarks then you can’t go wrong without checking out:

Bixby Creek Bridge:

One of the most iconic landmarks in Big Sur.

This historic bridge spans the Bixby Creek Canyon and offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

Point Sur Lighthouse:

A historic lighthouse perched on a volcanic rock.

This place offers guided tours and panoramic views of the coastline and marine life.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve:

Just south of Big Sur, Point Lobos is a coastal gem known for its dramatic landscapes, rocky cliffs, and abundant marine life.

You can spot sea lions at Sea Lion Point, China Cove, and Gibson Beach.

It offers numerous scenic trails and breathtaking viewpoints.

Nepenthe:

A restaurant that offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains, as well as a gift shop and a gallery5.

Limekiln Falls:

A 100-foot waterfall in Limekiln State Park, reachable by a 1.5-mile hike through a redwood forest and a creek crossing14.

Ragged Point:

This spot offers breathtaking panoramic views of the rugged coastline, the Santa Lucia Mountains, and the Pacific Ocean.

It’s known for its dramatic cliffs, which drop steeply into the sea.

Giving a stunning backdrop for nature enthusiasts, and photographers looking to take in the awe-inspiring beauty of Big Sur’s coastline.

The Ragged Point Inn and Resort is a well-known establishment located at this point, offering accommodations, dining, and various amenities.

Visitors can explore the viewpoint, enjoy a meal with a view, or take a leisurely stroll through the picturesque gardens on the property.

Lastly, for those beach lovers, Big Sur has plenty of options to enjoy the sun, sand, and surf.

Note: Surfing is not recommended here!

There are no lifeguards present at these beaches in Big Sur.

These beaches are known to be rocky, and unpredictable.

Remember strong currents and riptides that can pull you out to sea.

If you must surf Sand Dollar Beach has been a known destination to see people swimming and surfing at times.

However, we still don’t recommend surfing here, and remember never surf or swim alone!

Some of the best beaches worth checking out in Big Sur are:

Pfeiffer Beach:

Known for its purple sand and unique rock formations which are best visible after rainy days.

This beach is a popular spot for photography and sunset viewing.

Sand Dollar Beach:

The largest sandy beach in Big Sur, this beach is ideal for surfing, fishing, and picnicking.

Jade Cove:

A secluded beach where you can find pieces of jade and other minerals washed up by the waves.

Garrapata Beach:

A scenic beach that offers views of the rocky coastline and the Santa Lucia Mountains.

The beach is also a great place to spot sea lions, otters, and dolphins.

F.A.Q.s

McWay Falls Overlook Traill
Walking McWay Falls Overlook Trail

Is McWay Falls Big Sur in California closed?

As of July 2023, McWay Falls in Big Sur, California is not closed down.

However, for the latest updates on park conditions and closures, please visit the official website of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Do you need to book in advance to visit McWay Falls?

No, you do not need to book in advance to visit McWay Falls, unless you want to join a guided tour.

You can visit the waterfall by paying a $10 fee at the entrance of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

However, you may need to book in advance if you want to stay at a hotel near McWay Falls, as Big Sur is a popular destination amongst tourists.

Is McWay Falls worth a visit?

Here is one possible way to finish the sentence:

In my opinion, if you’re into nature, McWay Falls is definitely worth a visit.

It’s a rare and beautiful sight to see a waterfall that flows directly into the ocean, and the surrounding scenery is stunning.

You can also enjoy a short hike along the McWay Overlook Trail, which offers panoramic views of the coast and the waterfall.

McWay Falls is one of the most iconic and photographed attractions in Big Sur, and you won’t regret seeing it for yourself.

Can you go down to McWay Falls?

Unfortunately, you can’t go down McWay Falls or even kayak and paddle board near McWay Falls.

It is illegal and you will be fined!

The only legal access is through the McWay Falls Overlook Trail.

Conclusion

Trail leading to McWay Falls Big Sur California View
The trail leading to McWay Falls from the parking lot.

In conclusion, visiting McWay Falls in Big Sur, California, is a truly remarkable experience that promises awe-inspiring beauty and natural wonders.

Remember to check for any updates or park regulations before your visit, and come prepared with comfortable footwear and a camera to capture unforgettable moments.

Let us know in the comments below what some of your favorite waterfalls you’ve had a chance to see in Big Sur or your experiences in visiting this fall.

Until next time, safe travels!

Jess and Jeanette are two sisters who were inspired by their family beach vacations while growing up. Their passion lies in guiding you toward the most remarkable beach destinations across the United States! Cheers! ❤️

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