McWay Falls is truly a one of a kind place I had the honor of visiting not too long ago. If you haven’t already been here, you should definitely add it to your list.
Here’s one reason to add Mcway Falls to your bucket list:
Breathtaking is enough to illustrate how spectacular this place is.
I am very glad I had time to see it during my west coast trip in 2019. And in 2020 I revisited it again to take this picture of it:
You can literally sit and stare at not just the falls but the entire panorama of this location, all day.
But I’m not just here to praise it and tell you to go.
I wrote this article because I had a number of questions going here that I now have answers to and chances are, if you’re an explorer like me and you’re considering visiting Mcway Falls, you’ll likely have these same questions too.
Here are some common questions you may have about Mcway Falls:
- Where exactly is it located?
- Can you get down to the beach and right next to the waterfall itself?
- Is it dangerous to go there? Is the hike easy?
- Can you camp there?
Well I have the answer to all of these questions and want to share what I experienced in this iconic spot in Big Sur (the area where you can find this waterfall).
Where is Mcway Falls located?
The exact location is in a state park called Julia Pfeiffer State Park. Here is the exact Google maps location of it (put it into your GPS before you hit Big Sur, because reception in the park is usually very bad):
Can you actually hike down to McWay Falls?
Unfortunately it is illegal to go down there. The reason why is because of the many dangers.
There is no road or path that leads down there and you would literally be risking your life to scale down there. From what I have heard, there HAVE been fatalities from people who tried to get down there and while you can check out videos of people actually getting down to the falls and even drone shots of it (from what I know, you cannot fly drones there), it’s still highly dangerous.
When I went there, I tried to find a way down and legally went through a few paths that were open to the public (besides the lookout). I find out area that goes to the opposite end of the lookout that is close to the falls itself, and there is a picnic area there. But unfortunately, to actually get to down the falls, you’d need to scale down some very steep gorges and risk your life. I don’t think it’s worth it.
One of the locals I spoke to before I found this location did tell me some people do kayak or paddle board to the beach itself once in awhile, so you may want to ask a local park ranger if this is legal. Here’s a great video showing great angles of it (including some where the person went down there, which again is illegal):
Is it dangerous to go there? Is there a hike to the overlook?
The good news is that regardless of whether you put it into your GPS or not, finding this place is VERY simple. As you drive on the ONLY road in Big Sur, which is Highway 1, that is also called Cabrillo Highway, you will see plenty of signs for the park and there are at least 2 parking lots near the actual location:
- One which officially takes you into the park and onto a trail that leads to the lookout of the falls and…
- One that is right off the highway, which takes you to an edge where you can see the location perfectly as well, as it’s literally a few steps from the parking lot. The first picture I put above was taken from the parking lot so you can see how scenic that looks.
Here are the safety levels to each option:
- The trail to the overlook is safe and the walk on it is too. Green.
- The overlook from the parking lot in the 2nd location has no fences covering it, so don’t fall off. Yellow.
- And of course, the third illegal option of trying to get down there, we did talk about and you should NOT do it. Red.
Either way, you can choose to enter either location and see the falls from a distance, or hike the short trail to a lookout for it. The lookout is actually right underneath the second location (the parking lot stop off the highway).
Can you camp there?
Big Sur itself has many camping locations within the parks that are in that large location, some of which are close to McWay Falls. As I recall, the only potential camping spot was in the picnic location I visited, on the opposite end of the outlook, but you need to check there first to see if it’s open and if it’s not, you can find plenty of nearby locations to the park itself and walk from there.
Do I recommend visiting Mcway falls?
And keep in mind that this is NOT the only scenic location. The whole Big Sur area itself has a plethora of activities, camping, hiking and scenic views you can enjoy. Obviously, stay safe and don’t do foolish things like trying to hike down to the actual falls itself, you’re literally going to be risking your life and if even if you do make it, you will risk a hefty fine as it is patrolled quite often.
I have plenty of other photos and videos I took of this location on my Instagram channel.
I was truly blown away when I got there and in fact, I wasn’t even supposed to be there. The very same day I went to Big Sur, I was actually supposed to go to Yosemite (I was staying at a friend’s house in Modesto, which is in between both spots).
Because Yosemite was snowed in the day I was supposed to go, and closed, my plan B option was to hit up Big Sur. Originally, I was going to do one day in Yosemite and one in Big Sur, with in hindsight, the lack of time I had, I would have ended up only making time for one location and I am VERY happy that things turned out the way they did, because Big Sur and all the places I saw there were truly spectacular. Go there.
Anything else near McWay Falls worth seeing?
Well, all of Big Sur and these 5 spots in it is a must if you have the time. Certainly Bixby Bridge is on the list too, but I have documented the places I saw in the west coast that west coast road trip I did here and depending on the kind of trip you’re taking to the west coast, you can see which of the points I plotted and mark them down for your trip too.
And if the beauty of Big Sur is something you want to keep seeing, south of this area is filled with many places like it (but Big Sur is still the best) and if you head north, well there is possibly even more beautiful nature (I’m talking about the Oregon coast).