Tales from the Trail: Pfeiffer Falls, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur
Winter has been particularly splendid for weather in Monterey County this season. While those throughout the country have been experiencing typical winter climates the California Central Coast has been blessed with spring-like temps in the mid-60s. Not wanting one of these “Chamber of Commerce” days to waste away indoors I decided to make it my mission to venture to sunny Big Sur.
Before setting out I did a little research on which park to visit, since there are over six in just Big Sur. After taking an office poll and combing various hiking blogs I finally settled on Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
It is Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park of which many people immediately think of when “Big Sur” is mentioned. It has a lodge with accommodations, a very large campground and beautiful waterfalls (upper and lower Pfeiffer Falls) that are accessible by a short trail. Having been to McWay Falls and Salmon Creek Falls I just had to see how this waterfall lived up to its nearby competitors.
After a quick, and scenic, 40 minute drive from Monterey my hiking buddy and I arrived at the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park entrance off of Highway One. This park has great signage and it’s large wooden entrance sign is hard to miss.
We paid the $10 entrance fee and headed into the Big Sur Lodge’s convenience store which was stocked with snacks and treats to keep us fueled. After debating on which flavor of Nature Valley granola bars to purchase we set out for the Pfeiffer Falls Trail.
The well-manicured and well-labeled trailhead begins just across from the lodge. Apparently the official Pfeiffer Falls Trail (which is supposed to loop through the canyon) was closed due to flooding. Instead we were rerouted using the Valley View Trail, which was perfectly fine.
From the lodge, the trail climbs the canyon and below you can see a series of bridges, passing by attractive mid-sized redwoods the entire way. Most of the trees here are an unusually dark and even a brown hue, since they are not bleached by salt air or coated with lichens. A patchy light green carpet of sorrel covers the ground and there is a moderately dense understory of tanoak. The combination of rich colors gives Pfeiffer Big Sur a unique look.
The hike started off relatively easy and was I surprised by how well-maintained the trail was. Eventually the trail emerges at a viewpoint over the Big Sur Valley, looking toward the ocean. The grand sweep of the valley makes for a spectacular view. In the distance, I could see lush rolling hills covered with almost every type of tree imaginable including oaks, sycamores, willows and redwoods.
Once we soaked in some sun, and views, we continued up the hill. This is where things began to incline. The hike was still manageable but was definitely steep. Luckily there was plenty of fresh oxygen to be had.
What goes up must come down! After a short descent down the hill we approached another bridge. I could tell we were getting close to the falls once I began to hear rushing water nearby. After another slight turn there it was, Pfeiffer Falls! Although it wasn’t as impressive as McWay Falls it was still a beauty (I am always a sucker for waterfalls).
My hiking pal and I took it in while we munched away on our granola bars. The shaded area got a little chilly so we began our journey back through the Valley View Trail, since the loop route was closed. The entire hike was just over two miles and took about 45 minutes to complete at a leisure pace.
Another popular trail at this park is the Buzzard’s Roost Trail. This 3-mile loop apparently touts fantastic views of old-growth redwood forests accompanied with epic ocean views. Looks like I need to start planning another trip!
For a list of other day hikes in Monterey County click here.
Looking to spend time at more than one California State Park in Monterey County? Purchase the California State Parks Pass which grants you access to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Andrew Molera State Park, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
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