UPDATE: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park continues to be closed due to the impact from the 2016 Soberanes Fire and flooding from recent heavy rains.
While visiting Big Sur, California, we stayed in a comfortable Riverside Suite overlooking the lush lawn and redwood-lined Big Sur River at the fabulous Big Sur River Inn. There are so many wonderful things I could tell you about the Big Sur hotel, but I’ll lave that for another post, and just tell you that we began every day of our Big Sur family vacation with delicious, freshly-made, monster-size breakfast burritos from the burrito bar in the back of their General Store.
OMG yum! It was the perfect way to fill up and fuel up before hitting the road each day.
After chowing down on our giant breakfast burritos, our first day in Big Sur started with a visit to the closest California State Park to the Big Sur River Inn, the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
Sitting on the western slope of the Santa Lucia Mountains in the Los Padres National Forest, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park has 1,006 acres of redwood, oak, sycamores, cottonwoods, maples, alders, chaparral, and open meadow areas. Its peaks tower high above the Big Sur River Gorge, where the Big Sur River enters the pristine park and flows past the spectacular 800-1,200 year old giant redwood trees that shade much of the park.
We first parked outside the Big Sur Lodge and took a peek inside. The minute my kids saw the deli and ice cream counter, they made plans to stop in after our hikes for an ice cream reward! I peeked inside the restaurant and the lobby, and it was beautiful. I think next time we vacation in Big Sur, we’re going to try to stay here for something different — but still go to the River Inn for burritos!
Next we did the Pfeiffer Falls Trail hike and the Valley View Trail hike. Both trails are the same for the first half mile, then they split apart. We combined both trails into one 2 mile, round trip hike to Pfeiffer Falls and the Valley View Overlook. We then followed the River Path and Warden’s Path, both wheelchair and stroller accessible along the Big Sur River, past oldest trees in the park on our way back to the lodge for ice cream.
Hiking Trails At Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Within Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park there are eight miles of hiking trails, and in the Ventana Wilderness which borders the park, there are over 200 miles of trails. Overlooks provide stunning, panoramic views of the Big Sur Valley and the Big Sur River Gorge, the rugged Big Sur coastline, Sycamore Canyon, the Santa Lucia Mountains, Point Sur, Pfeiffer Falls, and Andrew Molera State Park.
There are eight main hiking trails:
- BUZZARD’S ROOST: This 3 mile round trip, moderate loop hike follows the Big Sur River then climbs through shady redwoods to an exposed sunny ridge with a panoramic view of the ocean, Sycamore Canyon, and the Santa Lucia Mountains.
- NATURE TRAIL: This 0.7 mile round trip, easy self-guided trail offers an opportunity to learn about Big Sur’s native plants. Starting across from Day use Lot #2, look for the printed nature guides at the trail head.
- RIVER PATH and WARDEN’S PATH: This 0.6 mile, wheelchair and stroller accessible, loop trail follows the bank of the Big Sur River, passes through the Redwood Deck, and includes a number of picnic areas. Dogs are allowed on this trail.
- VALLEY VIEW TRAIL: This 1.6 mile round trip trail climbs a moderate-strenuous 750 feet through a Redwood and Oak woodland to a fork in the trail. Take the left fork to the Valley View Overlook, where you will be rewarded with a tremendous view of the Big Sur River Valley, Point Sur, and Andrew Molera State Park. The first 0.5 mile of this hike follows the same trail as the Pfeiffer Falls Trail.
- PFEIFFER FALLS TRAIL: This 1.4 mile round trip trail follows Pfeiffer Big Sur Creek through one of the park’s finest redwood groves. Take the right fork to reach Pfeiffer Falls, a 60-foot waterfall. The first 0.5 mile of this hike follows the same trail as the Valley View Trail.
- BIG SUR RIVER GORGE: This 0.5 mile round trip, paved trail leads you to the Big Sur River Gorge, an undeveloped natural area. Adventurous hikers may continue on by wading in the river and climbing along rocks and logs. Diving and jumping into the river is prohibited.
- MT. MANUEL TRAIL: Beginning in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, this 8 mile round trip trail enters U.S. Forest Service land after the first mile for a strenouous climb with tremendous views of the Santa Lucia Mountains and distant ocean. Bring a hat and lots of water as it is sunny and exposed most of the way.
- PINE RIDGE TRAIL: Primarily a Ventana Wilderness Trail, the first 2.5 miles of this 23 mile one way hike skirt above and around Pfeiffer Big Sur’s campground and River Gorge. The trailhead is located at the Big Sur Station. This trail is extremely popular on weekends and holidays when many backpackers are drawn to Sykes Hot Springs, a strenous 10-mile (6-7 hour) one-way hike. Dogs are allowed on this trail.
Hiking to Pfeiffer Falls
We began our family hiking adventure in the Day Use #1 parking area. The trail to Pfeiffer Falls and the Valley View Overlook leaves from the left of the restrooms and almost immediately begins to make a bit of a climb. There are a few steep sections, but overall the trail is wide and well maintained, and is doable for kids and adults alike.
The trail took us past gorgeous redwood trees, some burned out from past fires. Then we crossed a bridge over the river and began heading uphill to a sunny fork in the trail and a wooden sign that pointed left for the Valley View Overlook and right for Pfeiffer Falls.
We followed the trail downhill to the right toward Pfeiffer Falls, winding down a series of switchbacks and stairs and I I could think of was that we’d later be hiking back up this hill! Soon we were back under the shady redwoods, crossing Pfeiffer Redwood Creek to reach the 60 foot waterfall. There were only a couple other families at the falls, so we waited for them to take photos, then we snapped a few photos of our family in front of the falls and relaxed in the shade with some cold water.
When we were ready, we retraced our steps, hiking back up to the fork in the trail.
Hiking To The Valley View Overlook
From the trail junction, we followed the Valley View Trail left uphill, climbing the mountainside ridge line. As we trekked up the short, steep trail, overgrown with lush shrubbery, periodic breaks in the trees provided glimpses of the Big Sur River Valley, which provided just enough distraction from the hot, blazing sun overhead. Eventually the trail ended at a small overlook area with a single bench.
From the overlook, we could see the entire Big Sur River Valley stretching all the way to the Point Sur Light Station and the Pacific Ocean.
Throughout our entire Big Sur vacation, Brian’s data signal and cell service was spotty at best, and mine was non-existent. But as we stood at the Valley View Overlook, taking in the magnificent scenic vista, Brian’s phone began to ring. It was a client and he took the call as he enjoyed the view. The minute I figured out he had a signal, I pulled out my iPhone and I too had data! Hooray!
I’m not embarrassed at all to say we spent a half hour atop that scenic viewpoint sharing photos to social media and checking email. And to the other self-righteous hikers that gave us dirty looks as we had our noses buried in our phones while the kids waited: poo on you. We had just come from three days exploring Pinnacles National Park with no service, and we were going to be in Big Sur for three more days. We needed to take advantage of the signal while we had it!
When we were done posting photos to Instagram, we turned around and followed the trail back the way we came all the way to the parking lot.
The Colonial Tree
Next, we hopped back in the truck and drove to the Day Use #4 parking area, near a ball field and large covered picnic area. We pulled all of our picnic gear out of the back of the truck, snagged a picnic table and enjoyed a hearty lunch under the shade of the native oak trees. After lunch, we walked over to the famous Colonial Tree.
Estimated to be between 1,100 and 1,200 years old, the Colonial Tree has a circumference of 31 feet. While it is the largest redwood tree in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, it’s not the tallest. The top of the Colonial Tree was severed by lightning strikes. It is located on the side of the road between Day Use Area #3 and Day Use Area #4.
Big Sur Lodge
After visiting the Colonial Tree, the kids were jonesing for some ice cream, so we headed back to the Big Sur Lodge Espresso House for a sweet treat.
Nestled deep in the mighty redwood forest of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur Lodge has 62 cottage-style guest rooms and is well known for its exquisite beauty, dramatic vistas and temperate climates. The Big Sur Lodge Restaurant and Bar with indoor dining and patio dining overlooking the river, and the Espresso House with specialty coffees and teas, hand-dipped ice cream, deli sandwiches, and other tasty snacks are open daily. The Gift Shop Gift Shop and General Store, also located inside Big Sur Lodge, has souvenirs, keepsakes, and apparel, grocery items, sundries, and camping supplies.
Brian and the kids enjoyed their ice cream cones as we walked along the river by the lodge, then we hopped in the car, bound for our next Big Sur Adventure.
How The California State Park Came To Be
John Pfeiffer and his wife Florence lived in a cabin along the north bank of the Big Sur River beginning in 1884. In 1930, John Pfeiffer had the opportunity to sell his land to a Los Angeles developer who wanted to build a subdivision. Instead, in 1933, Pfeiffer sold 700 acres to the state of California and they named the new state park, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, in honor of John and Florence Pfeiffer.
Know Before You Go
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park continues to be closed due to the impact from the 2016 Soberanes Fire and flooding from recent heavy rains. Buzzards Roost Trail is also closed until further notice.
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is located at 47555 Highway 1, Big Sur, California 93920.
- Entry fee is $10 per car, per day. The entrance fee allows you access to all California state parks until sundown on the same day.
- Located along the Warden’s Path on the south side of the Big Sur River, the Ernst Ewoldsen Nature Center is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm
- Download the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park brochure and map.
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park’s campground has approximately 175 RV and tent campsites, with premium campsites sitting along the Big Sur River. Two group tent sites and a hike/bike site are also available, but no RVs are allowed in these sites. There is also a Campfire Center that offers evening programs on the weekends during peak season.
- There is no beach access or ocean access in this park. The turn-off for Pfeiffer Beach is located on Highway 1, approximately one mile south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park’s entrance. Heading south from the State Park entrance, it is the second right turn. Pfeiffer Beach is not a California State Park and charges a separate entrance fee.
- We had no cell service anywhere in this park, except we all did have LTE service at the top of the Valley View Trail.
- Dogs are not allowed on any State Park trails, but they are allowed in the picnic day use areas, campground and on paved roads throughout the park. Dogs must be on a leash at all times.
Other Nearby Big Sur Attractions
From hiking to scenic vistas with spectacular panoramic views, visiting pristine beaches, collecting shells, and hunting for pieces of Jade, to driving the world-famous Pacific Coast Highway, hiking to majestic waterfalls, enjoying a delicious meal, or doing a bit of shopping, there are a lot of fun and exciting family-friendly things to do along the rugged Pacific Coastline of California’s Big Sur region.
When traveling south on Highway 1 from Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, it is approximately:
- 1 mile to the Pfeiffer Beach turnouff (Sycamore Canyon Road)
- 10 miles to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
- 25 miles to Limekiln State Park
- 32 miles to Jade Cove
- 33 miles to Sand Dollar Beach
- 35 miles to Willow Creek Picnic Area And Beach
- 44 miles to the Salmon Creek Falls Trailhead
- 48 miles to Ragged Point Inn & Resort
- 65 miles to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
- 65 miles to Hearst Castle
When traveling north on Highway 1 from Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, it is approximately:
- 3 miles to the Big Sur River Inn
- 5 miles to Andrew Molera State Park
- 9 miles to Point Sur State Historic Park
- 17 miles to Garrapata State Park
- 24 miles to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
- 32 miles to Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row in Monterey, California
- 34 miles to Lovers Point Park in Pacific Grove
- 35 miles to the Point Pinos Lighthouse