Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Big Sur California

Where is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is located in Big Sur, California along the edge of a rugged coastline. The park is nestled between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. It offers visitors a unique experience between the redwood groves, natural hot springs, impressive waterfalls, and miles of backcountry trails. The park is 37-miles south of Carmel and 12-miles south of Big Sur State Park on Highway 1. San Francisco is 150-miles north, while Los Angeles is 250-miles south of the park.

How Big is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns US State Park stretches from the Big Sur coastline into 3,000-foot ridges. Situated on the central coast, the park is 3,762-acres full of ancient redwood trees, steep canyons, and sheer cliffs that drop nearly vertical to the shoreline. The redwoods grow within 100-yards of the shore, near the southernmost point in California that is able to support this species. The park is between the Ventana Wilderness and the Los Padres National Forest, forming a wildlife corridor preserving 173,000 acres of continuous space for a variety of species and vegetation.

Sunlight Shining Through Keyhole Rock Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Weather

The weather at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park can change sustainably, even within a few hours. Park temperatures range from the mid-80s at higher elevations inland to the mid-40s, with heavy winter rains and frequent coastal fog. Winter daytime temperatures range from 50 to 70°. Overnight temperatures can drop to 30 to 50°F. In the summer, daytime temperatures typically lie around 70 to 80°F, while nighttime temperatures fall to 50 to 70°F. Additionally, summer mornings often have a thick fog that will eventually burn off by midday. Overall, the weather can shift month-to-month and even hour-to-hour, making it important to wear layered clothing. Remember - the temperature rarely drops below 50°F during the day and 30°F at night.

When did Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park become a State Park

The land was first inhabited in the early 1800s by Native Americans, who used the terrain for hunting and harvesting. In the later 1800s, a number of pioneers settled on the land. The homesteaders were loggers, tanoak harvesters, and ranchers. In 1869, Michael Pfeiffer, father to Julia Pfeiffer, moved to Sycamore Canyon. Julia spent much of her life in Big Sur. Once older, she would often lease pasture land at Saddle Rock, near McWay Falls. The owners of the land enjoyed Julia’s inspiration for the terrain, sea, and wildlife. They donated Saddle Rock Ranch as a state park dedicated to Julia Pfeiffer in 1962.

View of Hiking Deck and Mcway Fall Big Sur California

Things to do in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

There are many activities available in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Our National Park Visitors Guide has listed below the main sites and the best things to do.

McWay Falls

This is easily the most popular attraction in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The 80-foot waterfall flows year-round, tumbling down a steep granite cliff into a deep cove that pours directly into the Pacific Ocean. Take the “Overlook Trail” to view this unique California coastline sight.

Whale Watching

The entire population of gray whales migrate past the Big Sur coastline twice a year. In late fall, they head south to the lagoons of Mexico. In early spring, they return to Alaska with their newborn babies. You can see whales in big turnouts from December-April. They are medium-sized whales, reaching up to 45-feet in length.


There are two campsites located south of McWay Cove in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Both sites are only accessible via hiking. There are no vehicles permitted on the campgrounds. Camping in the park is very popular. Reservations should be made months in advance.

Scuba Diving

Scuba diving the shore north of McWay Creek is a popular activity. The area can be reached from Partington Cove. There is a rich marine life in these waters, including kelp greenling, cabezon, and other colorful fish.

Ewoldsen Trail

This trail is unique because it takes you east of Highway 1, in the opposite direction of the Pacific Ocean. It immediately starts in the old-growth redwood forest. The trail will lead you through a lush landscapes, many canyon and ocean views, and quite a bit of elevation gain.


Partington Cove

In the nineteenth century, Partington Cove was used as a loading point for tanbark where it was shuttled through a 60-foot tunnel that pops out into a cove. Today, it was can reached by a quick hike that leads you down a tree-lined canyon and into the tunnel.

The Tin House

The Tin House was built in 1944 with tin sheeting and parts from two old gas stations. Lathrop Brown, the owner of the land at this time, would stay in the house one night during the week. You can peak through its windows and see how each room was designed.

Esalen Institute

You can visit the Esalen Institute, a non-profit retreat center that focuses on alternative education. Popular workshops include meditation, mindfulness, neuropsychology, and ecology.

Hawthorne Gallery

The Hawthorne Gallery displays the artwork of the Hawthorne family, as well as selected artists across the country. There are locations in Big Sur, California and Port Orford, Oregon. Both galleries have fantastic overlooks of the Pacific Ocean.

Grimes Point Scenic Overlook and Seals Beach Overlook

Located just off of Highway 1, these views are quite spectacular. This is the perfect spot to pull over, stretch your legs, and enjoy the overlook. The Seals Beach Overlook is located just .5-miles further down the road from the Grimes Point Scenic Overlook.

View of Foot Bridge in Middle of Big Sur Forest Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

When to go to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

The park is open from 8 A.M. to sunset, 7-days a week, year-round. Those with camping reservations are permitted to stay overnight. The most popular time to visit is from April to October when the weather is warmest, and the fog disappears by afternoon. Otherwise, visiting during the off-season will help avoid crowds, but you may encounter some rain. Hiking and overnight camping is best in spring, summer, or even fall. Whale watching is best in December, January, March, and April. Head over to the coastal overlook points, like Grimes Point Scenic Overlook or Seals Beach Overlook, for an opportunity to see gray whales migrate. Each season provides different reasons to visit the park. Regardless, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is fantastic any time of year.

Must-Have things to bring to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

You’ll want to pack a few items when visiting Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. List of Parks has covered all of that here:

Layered Clothing

As mentioned earlier, the weather conditions can change quickly. It can be a beautiful day in the afternoon, but once the sun drops the temperature will drop too. California is located on a desert; pair that with being close to the ocean and you can imagine how cold it gets at night. Layer clothing to prepare for the temperature changes.


With any outdoor adventure, it’s important to bring water and stay hydrated throughout the day. There are not many water fountains throughout the park, so pack a few water bottles. There are some convenience stores down Highway 1 if you need more.


You may want a snack during your drive down Highway 1 or while in the trails of the park. As stated above, there are some convenience stores along the way. Additionally, Highway 1 has a few restaurants if you’re looking for a more wholesome meal. In terms of snack options, protein bars, nuts, and crackers are great options to fuel your body for an outdoor activity.


Binoculars are an essential item to bring along if you’re planning to go whale watching. If visiting the park outside those peak whale watching months, there’s always a chance to see dolphins instead. The Pacific Ocean is a vast body of water and binoculars will help you get a better look.

Trail Maps and Guides

Julia Pfeifer Burns State Park is full of spectacular hiking trails. Each trail varies in length; some are a quick 1-mile walk, while others are over 5-miles. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, lost, or accidentally take a path that’s much longer than you planned for. View trail maps and guides before reaching the park.

Sunscreen and Hat

Spending the day outdoors will expose your skin to harsh UV rays for a long period of time. It’s important to protect your skin from the sun and a potential sunburn. Sunscreen and a quality hat can do just that. Apply a layer of sunscreen before entering the park and reapply throughout the day. Use a quality mineral-based sunscreen.

Polarized Sunglasses

Polarized lenses are specially coated and designed to reduce glare. Once the fog breaks, the sunlight can be quite blinding in Bug Sur. Polarized glasses will help alleviate the harshness of the sun and enhance visual clarity. With the oceanfront views of the park, you’re going to want to soak in every sight.

Camping Gear

Many visitors of the park plan to stay overnight. Spending a night in the great outdoors can be an amazing adventure. Having necessary camping items is essential for a successful stay. We recommend a tent, sleeping bag, fire starter, flashlight, and toilet paper.

First Aid Kit

A well-stocked first aid kit is essential for any traveler. Accidents are just that – accidents. You can’t determine when or where they will happen, but you can be prepared for any scenario. Some items that should be included are bandages, gauze, surgical tape, scissors, tweezers, antiseptics, antihistamines, antibacterial creams, and more.


Between the redwoods, overlooks, coastline, and waterways, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park has sights you’ll want to remember forever. Bring a camera (or iPhone) along to capture the breathtaking views. There is no cell service in Big Sur, so you’ll have to wait until you exit Highway 1 to post these pictures on social media.

View of Waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Where to stay in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

There are no hotels within the park itself; camping is the only option. Two environmental campsites are located on the west side of Highway 1, south of McWay Cove. They are hike-in only. There are, however, some options to stay in a hotel close to the park, including The Post Ranch Inn, Glen Oaks, Ventana, Big Sur Lodge, Lucia Lodge and more. The hotels are slightly north or south of the park and can be reached by Highway 1.

Food Nearby Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

There are some great restaurants just outside of the park, including Nepenthe, The River Inn, The Village, Sierra Mar, and Big Sur Roadhouse. Many of them have fantastic views and unique overlooks of the ocean. A quick drive down Highway 1 will get you there.

Airports near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

There are a few major airports close to the park. The nearest airport is Monterey, which is 22-miles from Big Sur. Further north, there are the San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland airports. Fresno Airport is 121-miles east of Big Sur and LAX is 350-miles south. Regardless of which airport you fly into, a car is required to reach Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

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