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Outdoors & Recreation

McWay Falls

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Monterey, California 93940 USA

  • Other Outdoor Place
  • Waterfall
  • Scenic Point
  • Natural Feature
  • Hiking Area
  • Beach

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McWay Falls is an 80-foot waterfall located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park that flows year-round. This waterfall is one of only two in the region that are close enough to the ocean to be referred to as "tidefalls", the other being Alamere Falls. The source of the waterfall is McWay Creek and is one of the few waterfalls that empties directly into the ocean. Originally the waterfall cascaded directly into the ocean but after a 1983 fire and 1985 landslides, the topography of McWay Cove was altered, forming an inaccessible beach. The waterfall now meets the ocean when the tide is in. On the edge of McWay Creek is a small building which houses a Pelton wheel, with signs that provide historical facts. Christopher McWay homesteaded the canyon in the late 1870s and eventually McWay's Saddle Rock Ranch was sold in the 1920s to Lathrop Brown and his wife, Helen Hooper Brown, who built two houses at Waterfall Overlook. In 1961 the approximately 1,800 acre property was donated by Helen Hooper Brown to the state for a park, to be named for Julia Pfeiffer Burns.

The Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is located 37 miles south of Carmel. Near its parking lot begins the half-mile Waterfall Trail, a dirt path heading westward toward the ocean, to a short tunnel under Highway 1, a right turn to a trail in the cliffside overlooking a small cove, to the sign "Overlook". Although it can be viewed via a trail from above, the beach and scenic cove below is difficult to access by land, however, it could be easily reached by boat. Even with this possibility, it is not recommended that people visit the beach as a safety precaution due to crumbling cliffs and to preserve the environment. Just upstream is 30-foot McWay Creek Falls, and on a smaller tributary is Canyon Trail Falls.

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Rated 5.0 August 30, 2014

This waterfall cove is absolutely breathtaking, though you can't actually get down to the falls, there are plenty of places to take beautiful pictures of it. There are two campsites at the park and they're incredibly popular, usually booked up to 6 months. However, you can always visit the State Parks website and see if there's a cancellation. So, definitely book early!

Read full article here
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Rated 5.0 October 6, 2014

Such a beautiful place! Loved it. I only wish you were able to go down the beach but I understand such an amazing place could be ruined if a lot of people were to be able to go down there. Good for pictures though. Catch a sunset for a beautiful light.

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Rated 4.0 August 27, 2014

Very pretty but also very crowded.

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July 24, 2014

Hey wondering about the campsite in the area anyone can help me?

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May 28, 2014

As beautiful as it looks in pictures! However, at the time I visited about seven or more ppl had gone down to the beach level and totally ruined the 'isolated and pristine" view I was expecting.

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Rated 5.0 May 10, 2014

Absolutely breathtaking! Theres not too many beach scenes that even compare to this one!

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April 28, 2014

I really enjoyed the view and the well traveled path to go see it. Though I really wished we could've gone down to the actual beach. Looks like the only possible way was to reserve the nearby campsite and scamper down a treacherous looking cliff.

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February 16, 2014

This is absolutely amazing. :)

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July 4, 2013

I grew up around this area and have seen this many times, and every time it is amazing. It NEVER gets old. Be sure to have your camera ready!!

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April 17, 2013

I need to see this before I die!

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January 24, 2013

It is truly breathtaking!

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Rated 5.0 June 29, 2016

Amazing. Like out of a dream! Truly breathtaking. It's like a Caribbean island. And only a short walk from the parking lot!

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Rated 5.0 June 8, 2016

Stunning. It would be a big miss to drive by and not stop. The trail is easy and the view... Stunning. Even the story of the house and how it came to be is fascinating. I sure wish I could have lived there!

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Rated 5.0 March 26, 2016

Beautiful view and nice small hike out to the view.

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Rated 5.0 December 29, 2015

You can pay for parking or you can park along the side of the road. The road is narrow with a curve though, so be careful! There were park rangers hanging around when we were there near the entrance to the trail and they were very friendly. The trail isn't too long or difficult down to the overlook and it isn't super crowded. You can't actually get down to the falls, but the view from the look out is beautiful!

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Rated 5.0 October 29, 2015

While driving along the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur, which if you've never done you really need to do, we saw a bunch of cars pulled over on both sides of the road. This looked like a happening place. Something was definitely going on here.

It seems we had inadvertently discovered McWay Falls, one of the most photographed areas in Big Sur.

McWay Falls is an 80 foot waterfall that flows year round. This waterfall is what is known as a tidefall meaning it falls directly into the sea.

It's a very short hike, less than a quarter of a mile, from the highway down a dirt trail to the best viewing area. The view just gets better and better the closer you get to the end of the little trail.

This place is definitely worth a stop if you're passing by. I thought this was one of highlights of our drive in Big Sur.

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Rated 3.0 February 24, 2015

I did the hike across the street then stumbled upon this waterfall trail & it is gorgeous. It looks so tropical! Wish we would have found a way to get down to the beach but the views were such an enjoyment anyhow. It's just a short, flat bump out to view the waterfalls. At the end there's a little history tribute to two women one of which had a home built on that exact cliff. If you are passing by this spot on highway 1 it is a must stop!

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Rated 5.0 February 15, 2015

Breathtakingly beautiful.

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Rated 5.0 February 13, 2015

I loved the Coastal drive and this is one of the GEMS you must stop and see. The hike was worth it. And from the parking lot go North following the stream. Quiet and serene. And I'm used to Alaskan beauty being from Alaska. This drive takes your breath away. But don't be in a hurry. Too much natural beauty to take in at 60 mph. Not that you could go that fast on Hwy 1.

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