McWay Waterfall Trail: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

The McWay Waterfall in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. The water cascades down the face of the cliff and lands right on the sand, feeding the ocean itself. It looks to me like something out of a movie with the shear beauty this little speck of coast contains. The waterfall is located about 40 miles South of Carmel in a State Park that sneaks up on you in the midst of the Highway 1 curves; however, if you miss this gem you really should turn around and find it. The trail itself is a mere half mile and features views of the waterfall the entire time.


Unfortunately you can’t walk all the way down to the falls. It is completely closed off, and would actually be a pretty technical climb to get there. This adds to the beauty in my opinion though as it detracts from people going down and messing it up. Also, it provides a great vista for photos without anyone getting in the picture.


When we were there they were just bringing someone up who had made their way down and had gotten themselves a ticket. I don’t know how much it was for, but I have to believe it is probably worth it to see the falls from up close.


The forest ranger that was working there told me that you can put your kayak in about two miles up North and kayak down into the cove without getting a ticket; however, he said it is a difficult cove to get out of if you are not a good kayaker. Seems like it would be a pretty amazing trip to kayak in and stand under the falls though if you have your own gear. Let me know if you do this is as I would love to know how it goes. Other people have said this is not true but that is what the ranger told me, so do it at your own risk.


If you continue along the path you are also greeted with a great view of the Big Sur coastline at the end. It is truly a perfect piece of creation and I would love to spend more time traveling up and down it.

Mcway trail

I took about 100 pictures of the falls. Every time I turned a corner I saw another view that I thought might be better than the last. It is easy to simply point your camera in any direction and get a great picture. If you stop at this park you should also take the Ewoldsen Trail hike as well as it is right across the street, but that is for another blog post.

Check out the rest of my pictures and leave a comment if you have been to the falls and loved it as much as I did.


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Center map

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  • Anonymous 

    This place is amazing! Went there recently and couldn’t believe that a short walk lead to this beautiful waterfall. Great job on your pictures. They really show off how amazing and beautiful this place is.

  • jane hudnell

    I came across this same spot. The water is a shade of blue,like no other. The waterfall is a refreshing change to the overcrowded places I’ve been to. This beach is like your own little oasis. Worth the time to park and hike down to. Gorgeous photos!

    • josh

      Jane, thanks for your comment! I didnt get a chance to get all the way down. They told me the only way to do it with a fine is via kayak but that is awesome that you did! I’m sure it’s amazing!

  • Those pictures are amazing! What a perfect day!

  • alexandra

    the ticket is about $300 depending on how much you suck up to the officers. SO WORTH IT!!! #notsorry

    • hugo flores

      haha way to go beautiful shots, thinking about risking it as well @disqus_k0bt2NK3GE:disqus

    • Guest

      How tough of a climb is it @disqus_k0bt2NK3GE:disqus? I’ll be going soon and definitely want to see the falls up close

      • alexandra

        it is not that bad…i am terrified of heights and its only the very thin part that is a bit scary – its a little over a foot wide. the first part is the hardest, the rest is just climbing rocks.

  • Carla

    I went about 16 years ago. I wanted to go down to the beach, didn’t know it was off limits (ticket). I didn’t see a trial anywhere on my maps, nor did I find a way down. But, I did see a couple on ON the beach (no Kayak in sight). I do love that it is pristine, and as you’ve said. You can get amazing photos with no people. And like you I would love to be able to see the waterfall up close, stand under it, walk on the beach. I guess we can’t have it both ways ; )

    • haha yep, tough that we can’t have it both ways 🙂