McWay Falls.
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McWay Falls in Big Sur, California

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Along the rugged coastline of California’s iconic Big Sur region lies McWay Falls, a stunning waterfall cascading onto a pristine beach that has long been a magnet for anyone traveling on Highway 1.

This spot is busy but worth it! But before you head out to McWay Falls, here are some things to know.

How to Get to McWay Falls

Getting here is so easy. You’re turning right off of Highway 1 when you see the sign that says “McWay Canyon Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.” You can park here.

Parking near McWay Falls can be a bit of a challenge, as one might expect from such a popular destination. At our most recent visit, we arrived at 11 in the morning (on July 4th, no less); it seemed like every spot was taken.

Nina and Garrett taking a selfie besides McWay Falls.
Say “cheese!”

However, don’t be discouraged by the full parking lot sign; there’s a constant flow of people coming and going, and we were fortunate to find a spot after a short wait.

There is some questionable street parking, too, if you don’t get lucky. For those in big rigs and RVs, you might not be able to stop here as the parking situation does cater to big vehicles. It’s a tight squeeze around here, so be aware.

The Trail to McWay Falls

Distance: .4 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 19 feet

The path to McWay Falls is surprisingly accessible. It’s a short dirt trail that’s easy enough for a leisurely walk. I did it in flip-flops! As you walk, you’ll follow a meandering creek that eventually takes you through a rather peculiar tunnel that plops you right in front of the ocean!

Nina walking into a tunnel with trees and bushes on top.
Walking through the tunnel in flip-flops…

Beyond the tunnel, the dirt path continues and leads you to a viewing point that offers a breathtaking vista. Finally—McWay Falls reveals itself, a majestic sight as it tumbles from the rocky cliffs into a pristine cove. The azure expanse of the Pacific Ocean stretches out before you, creating a picture-perfect scene.

This is essentially one of the most popular vista points on the California coast and maybe even the state!

One thing to note is that you can’t make your way down to the falls or the beach itself; access is restricted for safety and environmental reasons. However, this limitation doesn’t diminish the magic of the view. Standing on the edge of the cliff, you’ll feel like you’re on the brink of the world, gazing at this natural wonder.

View over McWay Falls falling onto the beach framed by plants.
Look in wonder from the viewpoint

While you’re viewing McWay Falls, just keep in mind you’re on a narrow cliffside with a fence and likely a crowd around you! There’s no benches, or tables, or really much room for much else. Mostly everyone comes to look, take a pic, and leave.

Common Questions For Visiting McWay Falls:

Are There Facilities at McWay Falls?

The park offers a few picnic tables, providing a lovely spot for a snack while taking in the sights. There’s also a toilet facility here. These are all located in the parking area, not at the falls.

How Much Does it Cost to Go to McWay Falls?

It’s $10 unless you have a state park pass to display.

The trailhead sign for McWay Falls in California.
Trailhead sign for McWay Falls

Can You Go Down to McWay Falls or The Beach?

There’s no way down to the beach or any closer to the falls. It’s actually illegal to go anywhere but the viewing spot. Make sure to stay on the trail provided.

Are There Closures?

Possibly—Be aware of trail and road closures!

During my visit, I noticed that a section of the viewing area on the trail was closed off, likely due to storm damage, which is super common here. Luckily we still had a view! (Seems to be a long-term closure)

Just down from McWay Falls, Highway 1 was closed as well during this visit. This area is prone to closures, so always double-check.

Overlooking McWay Falls and the blue ocean water of the cove it's found in.
Something out of a storybook!

Tips for Visiting:

  • Nearby Stuff: Don’t miss out on the nearby Partington Cove, a beautiful and easy trail! It’s easy to do these two spots on the same day.
  • Arrive Early or Late: To secure a parking spot more easily and to enjoy the site with fewer crowds, you might want to arrive early in the morning or later in the afternoon.
  • Pack Essentials: Bring essentials like water, snacks, and sunscreen. There are limited amenities out here, so it’s a good idea to be prepared.
  • Check for Closures: Keep in mind that road and trail closures or viewing area restrictions can happen, especially after storms or during maintenance. Check for any updates or closures before your visit.
  • Plan for Seasonal Changes: Depending on the time of year, the flow of McWay Falls can vary. Spring and early summer typically offer the most impressive views, with more water flowing over the falls. (our photos are from early summer!)
  • Getting Gas: The nearest gas station will be at Big Sur Station, just a bit north.
  • Nearest Town: Big Sur Station is tiny. We can barely call it a town. If you’re looking for a real town, your best bet is to head north until you reach Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey. If you’re heading south, you’ll find a few tiny towns, but the next biggest one will be Cambria.

Read more of our guides from around Big Sur:

If you find yourself looking for things to do in Big Sur, California, make sure to plan a visit to McWay Falls. It’s a small slice of paradise that you won’t want to miss!

We hope this helped you plan your visit to McWay Falls!

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