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A First Time Visitor Guide to McWay Falls

McWay Falls in Big Sur is a truly a one of a kind place I had the honor of seeing a few times and while I highly recommend it to first time visitors, you should also know about what to expect when you get here, including limitations (you can’t go down to the beach there for example) and other important things (like awesome things you can do nearby).

I’m going to cover all of that in this post so when you are ready to travel to McWay Falls, you’ll know exactly how to have an awesome visit there and where to go. Anyway, let’s begin with this:

Quick info on McWay Falls Big Sur CA:

  • Name: McWay Falls.
  • Location: Pfeiffer State Park in Big Sur California (Specific location below).
  • What is it? An iconic beach waterfall in California.
  • Things to do: Waterfall viewing, camping, hikes nearby and more.
  • Limitations: You can’t swim there and you can’t go down to McWay Falls.
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
  • Recommended? Yes! It’s easy to see and there’s a great park in the area to check out too. It’s among one of the most popular sights in Big Sur and worth visiting at least once.

5 things to know before you visit Mcway falls in Big Sur:

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  1. The exact location of McWay Falls in Big Sur.
  2. 4 best ways to see this waterfall (close up).
  3. Why you can’t go down to the beach in McWay Falls (details).
  4. Awesome things to do near McWay Falls.
  5. Where you can see more places like McWay Falls (but can actually go down to the beach).

1) Where is Mcway Falls located? 

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The exact location is in a state park called Julia Pfeiffer State Park. It is located within the Big Sur region of the California Coast. I have included a location to McWay Falls just in case and I strongly recommend you put that in before you even enter the Big Sur area.

The reason why is because everytime I’ve personally been there, the connection is horrible and without the GPS, you might actually miss this waterfall (I also recommend you put in the other locations I’ll be sharing for what to do after you see McWay Falls so you don’t miss out).

2) The 4 best ways to see the Big Sur waterfall (as close as possible):

best ways to see mcway falls big sur

Despite it not being legal to go down to the McWay Beach (which is where the waterfall runs down to), there are actually several ways to get pretty close and here they are:

  1. McWay Falls overlook I linked above (this is free to view, as it’s right off Highway 1). You’ll be about a few 100 feet from it.
  2. McWay Falls trail (It’s a short trail in Pfeiffer State Park, costs $10 and it takes you to another overlook that’s very close to the one off Highway 1, but it’s slightly closer to the waterfall). You’ll also be a few 100 feet from it here too.
  3. Kayak or boat near McWay Cove. I have rarely seen this but I have heard that people do it. How close you get here varies. I also don’t know if there’s any tours that go here (it’s most likely people who live around the area taking their boats/kayaks here).
  4. There is also a campground right above he waterfall but it’s difficult to get because of it’s popularity and the reviews are mixed. Also the view of the waterfall from here isn’t that good but the views of the McWay Cove are amazing.

My advice for the best way to see McWay Falls is this:

  • If you’re just looking to see it from a distance and don’t want to pay, use option 1. 
  • If you are looking to see this waterfall and check out the hikes in Pfeiffer State Park, then use option 2. 

3) Why you can’t go down to McWay Beach (it’s known as McWay Cove):

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The reason why it’s literally illegal is because there’s no way to go down without risking you life. I have seen some videos of people doing it (illegally) and having seen what is required, I understand why it’s not allowed (it’s just too dangerous). On top of that, it is enforced as I have often seen police patrol McWay Falls and Big Sur overall, so you risk a big ticket too on top of that. 

As tempting as it might be to go down to McWay Falls, I will strongly advise against that and recommend you check out the other recommended spots I’ll talk about in a moment, including other beach waterfalls similar to McWay Falls. One other thing I’ve considered is how packed McWay beach would be if it were possible for people to get down there (It would be tough to visit this place).

Note: There are closings around this area (see details of where you can go).

4) More things to do near McWay Falls Big Sur:

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1) Stay at the Saddle Rock and South Gardens Campground (this is the one that’s right above McWay Falls). Do remember the things I mentioned above about seeing McWay Falls from it.

2) Check out Pfeiffer State Park overall ($10 fee). It’s right next to the waterfall and there are awesome hikes right in the area to see.

3) See more of Big Sur. There are equally amazing sights in the Big Sur area that I liked just as much as the waterfall (China Cove was my top pick). You can easily do a lot in the area for one or more days.

4) If you are traveling north, then I recommend a few amazing coastal spots to see and they are:

5) Not far from this area is Pinnacles National Park which is not on the coast but it has awesome hikes and things to see.

5) Where to see more places like Mc way Falls (and go down to the beach too):

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So I have a whole post on beach waterfalls to check out and while McWay Falls is on that list (there are more than 10 options), there are also numerous others there where you can go down to the beach easily (sometimes it’s a hike, other times you can just walk there). Here are a few:

  1. Alamere Falls (this is also located in California and you can easily walk up to it from the beach).
  2. The waterfall in Secret Beach too (this is on the Oregon Coast and you can also walk up to it).
  3. Sombrio Beach waterfall and the Mystic Beach waterfall (both on Vancouver Island).

I will admit that McWay Falls is truly stunning on it’s own but considering the limits of seeing it close up, these alternatives I provided will really be awesome ways to have similar experiences, although some of them do require driving far to reach.

Other questions about the Big Sur waterfall:

Can you go down to McWay Falls?

No, going down to McWay Falls is not allowed and very dangerous which is why it is illegal. You can only see it a few 100 feet from 2 overlooks.

How long is the McWay Falls hike?

The McWay Falls hike is under half a mile in total from the parking lot to the overlook of the waterfall.

Do you have to pay to see McWay falls?

Only if you enter Pfeiffer State Park which costs $10, but there is also a free overlook a few 100 feet north from the park entrance which provides a free view of McWay Falls.

Is it still worth visiting McWay Falls despite the limits? 

I honestly believe so because even though you not being able to down to McWay Falls, you can still get multiple great views of it to start, there’s many things to in Pfeiffer State Park overall and then you also have the Big Sur area on top of that. For a first time visit to this area, I think seeing this place is necessary!

Furthermore, I also added more than a few options for beach waterfalls above so if you really want to have a fun and safer experience with going down to amazing beach waterfalls, you now have many choices for that and if you have any further questions about this location or the other info I covered here, you can ask me below!

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