Pfeiffer Falls

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, California, USA

About Pfeiffer Falls

Hiking Distance: 1.6 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 1 hour

Date first visited: 2001-03-31
Date last visited: 2010-03-19

Waterfall Latitude: 36.2568
Waterfall Longitude: -121.78119

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Pfeiffer Falls is a small multi-stranded 60ft waterfall typically within the shadowy forest confines within Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

We noticed that this was one of the more popular waterfalls on the Big Sur coast, and it was for good reason as we not only got a pretty nice waterfall, but we also got a nice view of the valley from an overlook all – all within a reasonable amount of time in a fairly short day hike while getting some decent exercise to boot.

We also noticed a hidden upper tier of the falls so perhaps the total drop of this falls was a lot more than the reported 60ft main drop.

Julie checking out Pfeiffer Falls

The first time we did this hike in 2001, we actually did it in a loop that took in the Valley View Overlook (of Big Sur Valley) as the waterfall itself totaling about 3 miles.

However, on our most recent trip in 2010, fire damage from 2009 wiped out the shorter less-than-one-mile round trip trail from the lodging area to the falls and back.

Accessing the Pfeiffer Falls

So we had no choice but to take the longer more hilly Valley View Overlook trail, which was about 1.6 miles round trip if we only did the waterfall (not counting the spur trail to the Valley View Overlook itself).

Fire damage had also affected the viewing area immediately at the falls itself as the adjacent hillsides had been de-stabilized and there was no longer the wooden viewing platforms that were here when we last came here in 2001.

Yet despite the fire damage, there were still quite a bit of infrastructure, facilities, and amenities not to mention staff (from fee collectors to rescue workers to trail maintenance folks) so perhaps the day use fee ($10 when we went in 2010, which was up from $7 when we went back in 2001) was being put to good use.

The signed trailhead to get up to Pfeiffer Falls, which was actually different from where we started on our first visit here back in 2001

The hike to the falls and back was mostly uphill and narrow in some stretches.

There was a significant amount of poison oak along the trail so that was always on our minds (both times we did this) as we tried our best to stay on the trail and limit the amount of rubbing against the plant’s toxic oils.

Although we could’ve extended the amount of hiking to take in more of the La Ventana wilderness, we pretty much stuck to the trails involving only this waterfall and the Valley View Overlook.

So we can’t say more about where the other trails went and how they were like.


Pfeiffer Falls is administered by the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. For more information, questions, and current conditions, you can check out the California Department of Parks and Recreation website or the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Facebook page.



Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is roughly 12 miles north of Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn (roughly 6 hours drive north of Los Angeles) and 26 miles south of Carmel on Hwy 1. The park is well-signed with lots of activity so you can’t miss its entrance.

Once inside, we used to be able to proceed straight ahead at the four-way intersection just beyond the collection booth and park somewhere in the vicinity of the Big Sur Lodge. But on our latest trip (with all the fire damage), we had to make a left at that four-way intersection, then drive up the hill a short distance before turning right. From there, the road winds its way a short distance further uphill before you should start to see a car park.

It’s this car park that is closest to the Valley View Overlook trail, which begins near some signage about redwood trees just behind the hairpin turn.

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Bottom up angled sweep of Pfeiffer Falls from right at the base

Bottom up sweep from the footbridge near the falls showing lower cascades as well as part of the trail to its base

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Tagged with: big sur, monterey, bay area, central coast, california, waterfall, pfeiffer big sur, ventana

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