I have never seen a waterfall like this before. A waterfall that plunges from the sky, into the ocean. It’s one of the few waterfalls I have ever seen that you can actually walk up to and enter, which is a real treat. You can swim right through the falls and the beach, and even walk to the other side of the island and back if you want. I don’t really know what else to say about it, because it’s just so cool.
After publishing several posts about the best hikes near the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, I was inspired to write this blog post. I am certainly not the first person to have written about this area—in fact there are many great places to visit—but this waterfall is an awesome place to check out. It is actually a series of three waterfalls and the drive from San Francisco is a wonderful trip to take when visiting the area.
McWay Falls is one of the most beautiful falls in California, a place that is accessible only by car. To reach the falls, you must drive through Big Sur, a scenic stretch of California coastline that is home to some of the state’s most breathtaking scenery. The drive alone is a highlight, taking you through forested areas of redwoods and the coast itself, which is lined with stunning views of the ocean. In fact, the drive is so good that one of the best places to stop is a waterfall, a place called McWay Falls.
McVeigh Falls in Big Sur is an 80 foot high waterfall that makes for a perfect photo. In a state known for its many beautiful waterfalls, McVeigh Falls takes its rightful place among the year-round waterfalls found along the famous Pacific Coast Highway. McVeigh Falls, part of the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, is one of only two named waterfalls in California that are also tidal. Depending on the tide, McVay Falls drains directly into the Pacific Ocean or into a small pristine bay. Either way, it’s a beautiful sight and one of the most photographed attractions in California. Are you planning to visit McVey Falls in Big Sur? Read on to find out what to expect and what you need to know before you travel!
What can you expect from McVeigh Falls?
One of the best views in California ! McVeigh Falls is formed by McVeigh Creek and flows year-round, unlike many other famous waterfalls in California. The thin ribbon of silvery water between the cliffs and greenery of Big Sur, the turquoise waters of the bay below and the blue ocean beyond are simply magical. Until 1983, McVeigh Falls flowed directly into the Pacific Ocean. But after a season of record rainfall, mudslides and landslides have occurred, including a large landslide north of the falls. California Highway 1 was damaged and recovery efforts in the area washed much of the landslide debris into the ocean. The ocean then created the beach you see today by washing away some of the debris in the area just below McVeigh Falls and turning it into sand. Today, the pristine white bay at low tide is integral to the perfection of McVey Falls. But at high tide, McVeigh Falls plunges headlong into the Pacific Ocean.
McVeigh Falls Hiking Trail
Although McWay Falls is visible from the California Highway 1 side of the road, the short McWay Falls Overlook Trail offers an unobstructed view. The trail to McVeigh Falls is one of the easiest hikes in Big Sur. The McVeigh Falls Overview is located on the terrace of the old Falls House, which was owned by Lathrop and Ellen Brown. In 1961, Ellen Brown donated the property to the State of California with the condition that the Falls House be turned into a museum or torn down. The museum could not be established, so the house was demolished. The trail to McVay Falls is short (0.5 miles in either direction) and mostly paved. There are a few steps between the parking lot and the beginning of the trail, but otherwise it’s flat. Enjoy the wildflowers, butterflies and birds in the spring. Migrating gray whales can be seen in the winter and spring. Especially in December and January the migrating whales pass close to the coast. Sea otters and seals can sometimes be seen in the bay. California condors probably nest in the eucalyptus trees at McVeigh Falls. We didn’t see any during our visit, but be sure to check out the treetops and sky while you’re there: You might even be lucky enough to see one of these huge birds! The wingspan of the California condor can reach up to 3 meters, making it an impressive sight to see. As you descend the stairs, you’ll be walking parallel to McVay Canyon and can see (and hear) McVay Creek in the canyon below, rippling all the way to the cliffs and ocean. You then cross the tunnel under California Highway 1 to reach the west side of the road. When you’re out of the tunnel, continue on the path along the cliffs. Soon you will reach an observation deck from which you can admire the magnificent McVeigh Falls and take many pictures. At the time of writing, due to erosion, the trail was only open to one point (the first viewpoint). But from the observation platform outside, the view of the waterfall is spectacular.
Photographing McVeigh Falls
McVay Falls is best photographed in the afternoon, when the sunlight falls on the falls and the rocks behind them. The golden hour and the sunset are beautiful as the waterfall is in the light and the rocks turn golden. Although you can see McVeigh Falls from California Highway 1, the view is obstructed by vegetation. For the best photos, follow the path to the observation platform! Watercolors work best on a bright, clear day. On these days you can clearly distinguish the turquoise water of the bay from the blue water of the open ocean. While a light fog can add to the atmosphere, it’s best to choose a day and time when the sea layer doesn’t obstruct the view too much. From the vantage point, the waterfall looks like a thin ribbon, so image sharpness is key.
Highlights ofover McVeigh Falls, CA
McVeigh Falls is located on California Highway 1 in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Although the water flows year-round, the flow is greatest in winter and early spring. McVeigh Falls is visible from the west side of California Highway 1, north of the park. However, parking is very limited and vegetation is abundant and can obstruct views. In addition, California Highway 1 is a narrow road that often causes traffic jams at popular viewpoints like McVeigh Falls. The best view of McVeigh Falls is from the observation deck at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. You can park on the side of the road and walk to the trailhead, or you can park in a designated spot in the park. We recommend you park inside. The total fee for parking and one day use of the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is currently $10. A California State Parks Golden Bear Pass or other California State Parks day pass is valid in the park. So if you pay an admission fee to one of the Big Sur State Parks, you can visit the others on the same day without paying an additional fee.
spoiler alert: There is no legal access to McVeigh Falls Beach!
Please note that there is no legal beach access at McWay Falls, Saddle Rock and McWay Falls. The landscape around the falls is fragile, and the restriction is in place to preserve the integrity and pristine beauty of the attraction and protect visitors from injury. If you are caught trying to enter the bay, you risk a heavy fine. There have also been reports of visitors being seriously injured (or worse) when they tried to go to the beach. Follow park rules and guidelines to visit McVeigh Falls safely and preserve the attraction for future visitors. At the time of this writing, the McWay Falls Overlook Trail was only open as far as the first viewpoint. On our last visit, we saw one of the visitors sneak through the fence and continue on the closed part of the trail. Please don’t be such a visitor. The McWay Falls Observation Trail can be hiked year-round. The toilets are located at the entrance to the park. Dogs are not allowed on the trail above McVeigh Falls. The Big Sur coast is a no-fly zone for drones. There are some steps at the beginning of the path, so it is not without obstacles. Big Sur State Parks are generally open from 8 a.m. to sunset. However, before your visit, check the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park website for updated information on rates, special closures and hours of operation.
How to get to McVeigh Falls in Big Sur, CA
Getting to McVeigh Falls is easy. It is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, along California Highway 1 in Big Sur. McVeigh Falls is a must for your trip to Big Sur! From Carmel-by-the-Sea North, drive 36.4 miles on California Highway 1 and you’ll be at the entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. If you’re heading south from San Simeon, you need to drive 52 miles to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park on Highway 1. Look for the park entrance sign on the McVeigh Canyon side. The McWay Falls Observation Trail is located just outside the park entrance. Next to the booth where you register and pay to park, you will find signs indicating the course. Although you can park on the street along California Highway 1 and walk to the trailhead, it is safer and easier to pay an entrance fee and park in one of the parking lots. California Highway 1 is narrow, with only one lane in each direction, and it can be difficult to park on the side of the road near popular attractions when it’s busy.
Tips for visiting McVeigh Falls
Come in the afternoon for a good light
McVeigh Falls is in the shade until noon. Because it is a thin strip of water, it is best seen in the afternoon, when the sunlight shines on the rocks.
Download or print maps and brochures before your visit
Don’t expect to receive cell phone service in Big Sur. Although the entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and the Overlook Trail in the park are well marked, you should still download or print maps or directions before heading to Big Sur.
Know the safety rules of the park
Big Sur is a wilderness area with poison ivy, ticks and wildlife. Respect and follow park safety rules and guidelines.
Check the tide schedule for the day of your visit
Depending on whether you visit McVay Falls at high tide or low tide, it plunges directly into the waves or hits the beach. If you are particularly interested in either, check the tide tables before your visit so you can choose the right time to come.
Visit in late afternoon to enjoy less crowded area
During the day, the popular attractions along Big Sur Road can be crowded, especially if you arrive on a nice day. Parking lots can be overcrowded, which means wait times. Come back later in the afternoon for a quieter time. The sunset at McVeigh Falls can also be spectacular!
Or visit us during the week
Big Sur is one of the most popular weekend destinations in California. If you are looking for more seclusion on the trail and at the lookout, plan your visit on a weekday.
Allowing sufficient time
The McWay Falls Observation Trail is a short trail. But the landscape is so beautiful that you’ll definitely want to linger there! Take plenty of time to enjoy the views, watch the birds and wildlife and take lots of photos and videos.
Take cash to pay for the day’s use
If Big Sur State Park has a staffed entrance kiosk, credit cards are generally accepted. But on our last visit to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, we had to register ourselves. There was a small envelope to put our contribution in and a slot to put it in for the collection. For your own safety, bring cash to pay the entrance fee if you plan to park at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
The Big Sur coastline can be cool and windy, especially along the ocean, and McVeigh Falls is no exception. Dress in layers to be comfortable during the examination.
What to bring on a trip to McVeigh Falls, Big Sur
The McWay Falls Observation Trail is a short hike, but it’s always a good idea to have a supply of drinking water with you while hiking.
The McWay Falls lookout trail and overlook are mostly open, so use sunscreen. Also wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. We love this natural and water resistant sunscreen!
Bring your smartphone or camera to take pictures and videos of the beautiful waterfall. Looking for a small camera that takes great landscape photos? Consider the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III. It takes excellent high-resolution photos and great videos. Buy on Amazon!
Bring binoculars if you like bird watching or want to see marine life. If you see a California condor or a gray whale, you’ll definitely want to observe them more closely! We use a Celestron Trailseeker compact waterproof binocular. They work well, even in low light. ***** Want to explore more of California’s central coast? Also check out our other travel and route guides! Did you find this article informative? Save it for later! Perhaps you’ve heard of Big Sur before, but you don’t know much about it so here’s our top 24 tips for visiting the Big Sur, California area.. Read more about can you go down to mcway falls and let us know what you think.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you go to the beach at McWay Falls?
McWay Falls is the most popular waterfall in Big Sur, California. It is situated on a trail that climbs to the top of a canyon, from where you can see all of Big Sur. The waterfall is a two-tiered waterfall, with the first tier being about 15 feet high, and the second tier being a total of 30 feet high. The trail leading to the waterfall is about a mile long and is narrow, so be prepared to walk slowly. McWay Falls is located at the McWay Falls State Park, north of Big Sur in California. It is one of the tallest waterfalls in California and has been a national park since 1935. The waterfall drops at a rate of about 200 feet per mile, and the height of the waterfall is more than 1,000 feet. The trail to the waterfall is about 3.4 miles round trip.
How do I get to McWay waterfall?
McWay Falls is a pristine waterfall located within Big Sur, a popular area with plenty of beautiful natural wonders. It is a popular site for photographers who seek epic landscape shots, but is not always easy to get to. Hidden off the main highway, and not well marked, it is a challenging hike for even the most seasoned travelers. So, how do you get to McWay Falls? Here’s what you need to know. McWay Falls is one of the most popular natural attractions in Big Sur, California. The waterfall is located in the Big Sur River, which is part of the confluence of the San Andreas Fault and the San Lorenzo River. The waterfall is on private property (the McWay Ranch) and can be visited only on a scheduled tour.
Can you go down to Big Sur?
McWay Falls is an easy hour drive from Monterey. It is a short hike to a waterfall that cascades into the ocean below. The waterfall is a visual treat that is truly beautiful, and the surrounding forest makes for a fun hike. Big Sur is a unique place: a popular tourist destination that is heavily visited, but still remains untouched by commercialism. It is a magical place that is just a short drive from San Francisco, yet it feels worlds away. Even if you are just passing through, the views of the ocean and of the coastline will be like nothing you’ve experienced before. Even if you are not staying in the area, you can still experience the magic of Big Sur by taking a drive along the scenic Highway 1 to the town of Cambria.
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