Everything You Need to Know About Mcway Falls Before You go

McWay Falls is truly a one of a kind place I had the honor of visiting twice. If you haven’t already been here, you should definitely add it to your list.

But before you go, there’s probably a couple of questions or expectations you may have beforehand and I want to clear it up for you before you do that like if it’s possible to climb down there (it is, but it’s not legal sadly).

Anyway, let’s begin with this:

1 reason to add Mcway Falls to your bucket list (the view is something else):

Breathtaking isn’t enough to illustrate how spectacular this place is.beautiful view of mcway falls at big sur 02

I am very glad I had time to see it during my Pacific Northwest road trip in 2019.

And in 2020 I revisited it again on a western US road trip 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, including during the sunset which makes this place light up and be even more beautiful if you can believe it.

But I’m not just here to praise it and tell you to go. There’s actually a bit more you should know beforehand.

I wrote this article because I had a number of questions going there my first time, that I now have answers to.

And chances are, if you’re a nature explorer like me and you’re considering of planning on visiting Mcway Falls, you’ll likely be wondering what you can and cannot do there.

Sadly, as a spoiler, there are more restrictions than freedoms when visiting Mcway Falls. 

Here are some common questions you may have about Mcway falls:

  1. Where exactly is Mcway Falls it located?what to know about mcway falls before you go 01
  2. Can you hike down to the beach and right next to the Mcway waterfall itself? 
  3. Is it difficult to find Mcway Falls? 
  4. Can you camp at Mcway Falls?
  5. What else is there to see near this waterfall?

If you have any questions about Mcway falls that aren’t being answered here, do let me know!

Now let’s cover the most common ones right now so you can properly check this spot out, get the most out of it (and see what else there is in Big Sur):

1) Where is Mcway Falls located? 

The exact location is in a state park called Julia Pfeiffer State Park. It is located within the Big Sur region of the California Coastline

2) 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 including deaths that have happened from people trying to do that.

The closest you can legally get to Mcway Falls is “Mcway Waterfall Trail” which just takes you to underneath a brige and close to road 1 for a closer view of the waterfall.

As for a pathway to the Mcway beach itself (and right under the falls), there is no road or trail 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 found an area that goes to the opposite end of the lookout that is right above the waterfall 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.

3) Is it tough to find Mcway Falls?

mcway falls map area 01

Nope, it’s very simple and the viewing area is right off road 1 (see map):

You can literally input Mcway Falls on your map, but do it before you enter Big Sur as the connection tends to come and go. You’ll literally find parking lots right above the waterfall overlooking it. That’s how I took the picture from above.

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 Julia Pfeiffer State 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).

4) Can you camp by Mcway Falls?

mcway falls camping 02

Yes, there is a camping spot located right above Mcway Falls called Saddle Rock and South Gardens (why it’s not called Mcway Falls campground, I have no clue as that would be easier to remember).

Anyway, to camp there, you do need to reserve it ahead of time and it literally has a BBQ grill, picnic and camping area. It can easily fit 20 people and several camping tents.

I’ve seen it once before and it gives you a great view of the area, but sadly, no way down to the actual beach.

You will however stand right over the waterfall (and there are guardrails there), and that might be everything you need to see.

A place like that might certainly be worth reserving ahead of time just for the sunsets (and views combined).

At the same time, it’s also close enough to road 1, and far enough from the crowds to give you a peaceful experience with this area.

5) Anything else near McWay Falls worth seeing?

what else to see besides mcway falls in big sur 01

Absolutely! There’s tons of places and here are just some ideas for you:

1) Big Sur and these 5 spots in it are a must if you have the time.

2) And if the beauty of Big Sur is something you want to keep seeing, south of this area (the California Coast) is filled with many places like it (but Big Sur is still the best) and if you head north, well there is arguably even more beautiful nature.

I’m talking about the Redwoods, and the Oregon coast and of course the Washington coast too.

3) Additionally, the area around Mcway Falls also offers tons of stuff to see, including:mcway falls anderson canyon 01

  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (you’d need to enter the parking lot).
  • Canyon Falls (available on a trail north of Mcway Falls).
  • More trail areas around Mcway Falls that take you to even higher lookouts.
  • Anderson Canyon (5 minutes south of Mcway Falls).

Those 4 areas I just listed might be more than enough to help you have an entire day trip not just in Big Sur, but specifically sticking to the Mcway Falls area itself.

The last one (Anderson Canyon) is shown on the right hand side and it also provides awesome views. I can also tell you it gets way less crowds than Mcway Falls too.

The falls is honestly one of many things you can see in that specific area (not even counting all of Big Sur which could take an entire week to explore) and I do encourage you to do that and not just tie an entire visit to this spot only to see the falls and nothing else.

Do I recommend visiting Mcway falls?

mcway falls big sur tripadvisor 06100% yes 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, sea caves and scenic views you can enjoy. This post on Big Sur and Mcway Falls will show you what’s available.

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 National Park (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.

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