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A Guide to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park in 2024

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is located in Monterey County along California’s central coast.


In this article, we will highlight the best hikes and campsites at Pfeiffer Big Sur and answer frequently asked questions to help you find the best viewpoints along Highway 1. 




History of Pfeiffer Big Sur

Spanish explorers referred to the coast south of Monterey as “El Sur Grande,” or “the Big South.”


Pfeiffer Big Sur is named for Michael and Barbara Pfeiffer, who came to Big Sur in 1869 and were the first Europeans to permanently settle there.


The Pfeiffers built cabins and started farming and beekeeping along the coast, then opened Pfeiffer Ranch Resort where Big Sur Lodge stands today.

In 1933, Pfeiffer sold his family’s 680-acre ranch to California State Parks and it was preserved as Pfeiffer Big Sur. 


What Can You Do at Pfeiffer State Park?

Trails

You can access the Big Sur River Gorge Trail from Day Use Lot 3 at the Pfeiffer Big Sur state park campground.


Start at the trailhead and follow the path until you reach the Big Sur River, where the marked trail comes to an end.


At that point, keep walking upstream through the gorge for a quarter mile until you reach the main pool. Then, you can swim up the river, climb around some logs and boulders and go diving and cliff jumping. 


A moderate three-mile loop hike, Buzzard’s Roost Trail weaves through towering redwood trees and rewards hikers with views of Sycamore Canyon and the Santa Lucia Mountains.


Hikers will encounter switchbacks and gain 750 feet in elevation while trekking to the ridge at the top, where they will overlook Sycamore Canyon, the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. 

Manuel Peak Trail, also known as Mount Manuel Trail, is a difficult 10.4-mile hike with an elevation gain of 3,464 feet. Many hikers turn around after the first three miles as the path is not maintained past this point and quickly becomes steep and overgrown.


If you continue, keep in mind that the entire hike takes an average of 6.5 hours to finish and requires strenuous uphill climbing with little shade, so bring a hat and plenty of water. The path starts at the Big Sur Valley floor and winds over five chaparral-dotted hills on the ridge with beautiful views of the Big Sur Gorge and the Pacific Ocean. 


Camping

The best option is the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Campground, where 189 RV and tent sites are located close to the Big Sur River. All campsites include a parking spot for one car minimum, a fire pit and a picnic table, but do not have site hookups.


Campers can find fresh water, hot showers and toilets at facilities throughout the campground. The campground has one cabin site which can accommodate a maximum of six people. 


A standard tent/RV camping site costs $50 per night, while a premium riverfront site costs $60 per night. The cabin can be reserved for $75 per night.


Keep in mind that reservations, which often fill up six months in advance, are required for the cabin and strongly encouraged for campsites.

Viewpoints

Bixby Creek Bridge, a stunning structure which has been a classic Big Sur attraction since it opened in 1932, is a must-see spot on Highway 1.


As you drive over this tan bridge which spans an emerald valley below, look to the sprawling green hills on one side and the teal ocean crashing against the rocky coastline on the other. 


McWay Falls is an 80-foot tall beach waterfall on the Big Sur coastline which cascades from golden cliffs and splashes onto the sand before flowing into the sea.


For the best view of the Falls, head to the entrance of Big Sur’s Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, pay the $10 day use fee and then walk to the stairs near the entrance kiosk.

From there, take the 10-minute Waterfall Overlook Trail and see the Falls from above. 


Pfeiffer Big Sur FAQs

Q. How much does it cost to go to Pfeiffer State Park?


The day-use fee at the park is $10 per vehicle. The nearby Pfeiffer Beach is not a part of the state park and charges a separate entrance fee of $12 per vehicle, cash only. 


Q. How to get to Pfeiffer Big Sur?


Take Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, to reach Pfeiffer Big Sur. Check current conditions on Highway 1 while planning your trip. A portion of the road is closed for repairs at Paul’s Slide, which may require that you use an alternate route depending on your direction of travel. 


Q. When is the best time to go to Pfeiffer Big Sur? (H3)


Autumn is the best time of year to visit Pfeiffer Big Sur — the weather is pleasant, the crowds are few and the wildlife is abundant.

Catch a glimpse of blue whales, humpback whales and orcas navigating the Pacific Ocean in September or monarch butterflies migrating through Andrew Molera State Park in October. 


Pfeiffer Big Sur: Conclusion

Before you end your trip, take a tour of the picturesque Point Sur Lighthouse, an isolated red-and-white beacon on a rocky point overlooking the Pacific.


Another outstanding viewpoint is the Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach where the setting sun shines through an opening in a rock formation on winter evenings at low tide, casting a glowing light on the foamy waves.




Experience the best of Pfeiffer Big Sur when you visit these scenic attractions. 

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