Andrew Molera Falls

Andrew Molera State Park, California, USA

About Andrew Molera Falls


Hiking Distance: 1/2-mile round-trip bushwhack and scramble
Suggested Time: 45-90 minutes (depends on route-finding skills)

Date first visited: 2021-02-07
Date last visited: 2021-02-07

Waterfall Latitude: 36.28024
Waterfall Longitude: -121.82655

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Andrew Molera Falls (also labeled as “Highbridge Falls” on Google Maps) was an elusively hidden waterfall within the boundaries of Andrew Molera State Park on the Big Sur Coast.

It actually took me two attempts before I finally found it, but it required quite a bit of persistent route-finding and overgrown scrambling in order to finally witness it.

Andrew_Molera_Falls_008_iPhone_02072021 - The elusive Andrew Molera Falls
The elusive Andrew Molera Falls

This waterfall presented a bit of a headscratcher for me because the description in Ann Marie Brown’s 4th edition of her California Waterfalls book suggested that it was a pretty straightforward 10-minute walk after finding the correct starting point.

However, that wasn’t my experience the first time around back in April 2019, and it was from that visit that I had a feeling the next time I’d make the attempt, I’d have to be willing to get dirty in order to find it.

Regardless, I was puzzled at how the waterfall could be so difficult to reach in light of what was said in the book.

That was when it dawned on me that the recent history of floods and fires as the extremes of Climate Change had adversely impacted the state’s Central Coast region might have something to do with it.

Andrew_Molera_Falls_071_02072021 - Full context of the Andrew Molera Falls, where you can see that there are two leaning trees about to topple over in addition to the already fallen trees around the falls itself
Full context of the Andrew Molera Falls, where you can see that there are two leaning trees about to topple over in addition to the already fallen trees around the falls itself

Indeed, on my second visit, I had to endure scrambling over a lot of fallen burnt redwood trees (unable to stand from the destabilized soil resulting from the fires) that clearly obliterated whatever use-trails that were once here.

And as you can see in the photo above, the threat of more trees falling into this drainage remain as I spotted several more leaning trees (including a pair leaning right over the 35ft Andrew Molera Falls).

Who knows how much longer this waterfall may be reasonably accessible before Mother Nature reclaims it?

But whatever the case may be, as time goes on, the degree of difficulty and risk will continue to increase.

Andrew_Molera_Falls_049_02072021 - Looking back at the jumble of fallen trees and overgrowth that I had to slowly get through in order to reach the Andrew Molera Falls
Looking back at the jumble of fallen trees and overgrowth that I had to slowly get through in order to reach the Andrew Molera Falls

Therefore, the difficulty score reflects this even though it should have been a short excursion if you only considered the hiking distance alone.

Finding Andrew Molera Falls

First and foremost, in order to find the Andrew Molera Falls, you have to find the correct starting point (see directions below).

Despite being in Andrew Molera State Park’s boundaries, there is no signage for it.

The key is to identify an unsigned gate at the bottom of an unpaved road leaving the Hwy 1.

Andrew_Molera_Falls_007_04242019 - This was the fence blocking the unpaved road leaving Hwy 1, and it was the key landmark for at least getting started finding the Andrew Molera Falls
This was the fence blocking the unpaved road leaving Hwy 1, and it was the key landmark for at least getting started finding the Andrew Molera Falls

As the unpaved road ascended behind the gate, I spotted a couple of faint use-trails leaving the road and descending into the dense growth.

While I managed to scramble from the first use-trail that I found shortly after the gate (which went over one fallen burnt redwood tree before continuing on then disappearing in overgrowth), I would recommend the second use-trail leaving the road.

That use-trail was higher up the unpaved road before it started to bend to the left away from the audible creek.

Right at this bend, there was another use-trail leading into the dense overgrowth, and this provided a more straighter path to the Andrew Molera Falls though it, too, eventually disappeared into the jumble of fallen trees and overgrowth.

Andrew_Molera_Falls_113_02072021 - This was where the unpaved road bent to the left away from the Andrew Molera Falls. There was a faint use-trail leaving this unpaved road to the right, which eventually led to the Andrew Molera Falls
This was where the unpaved road bent to the left away from the Andrew Molera Falls. There was a faint use-trail leaving this unpaved road to the right, which eventually led to the Andrew Molera Falls

While it’s hard to describe the scrambling through the overgrowth, the key thing that I noticed was that the creek would eventually made a bend to the right (east).

It’s that bend that pretty much concealed the Andrew Molera Falls until I was pretty much right in front of it, and it’s the main reason why I found it to be quite elusive given the context of all the uncomfortable scrambling involved.

As I got closer to the Andrew Molera Falls to try to improve my views of it (since a large fallen redwood blocked most of its view from the initial approach), I saw that there was a bit more risk to dropoffs and unstable creek embankments.

This was where I had to be extra cautious about where I would put my weight because an injury here would not be a good thing.

Andrew_Molera_Falls_074_02072021 - Context of the chaotic mess around the Andrew Molera Falls
Context of the chaotic mess around the Andrew Molera Falls

In any case, I finally made it to the base of the Andrew Molera Falls after about 35 minutes of scrambling and route-finding.

However, it only took me about 15 minutes to return to the unpaved road on the return scramble.

That gives you an idea of how it tends to take longer when you’re not quite sure where you’re going, but once you know where the destination is, it’s much easier the next time around.

Where Does The Unpaved Road Go Anyways?

One of the mistakes that I made regarding my first attempt at finding the Andrew Molera Falls was that I followed the unpaved road all the way to its end.

Andrew_Molera_Falls_016_04242019 - The unpaved road eventually led up to this clearing with some fencing sticks and a couple of picnic tables
The unpaved road eventually led up to this clearing with some fencing sticks and a couple of picnic tables

It turned out that this road ascended then veered away from the creek responsible for the waterfall.

It ultimately led up to a clearing where there were a couple of picnic tables and some loose fencing.

I noticed that there was another faint trail that continued to the left of the clearing, but I didn’t go very far from this clearing to see where it ultimately went.

In any case, this unpaved road acted as kind of a diversion away from the Andrew Molera Falls, but it did give me a chance to observe some California condors circling overhead from that clearing.

Andrew_Molera_Falls_097_02072021 - Looking up at one of the circling California condors gliding over the La Ventana Wilderness
Looking up at one of the circling California condors gliding over the La Ventana Wilderness

Overall, I spent roughly 90 minutes away from the car on my second visit (I had spent nearly an hour on my first futile visit), but this included a side excursion to go back up to the picnic tables at the end of the road.

I’m confident that it should take no more than 30-45 minutes on my next visit now that I know where to look for the Andrew Molera Falls.

Finally, one last thing worth mentioning was that there were quite a few mosquitos when I made my April 2019 attempt, but there weren’t as many in my February 2021 visit.

I suspect that’s due to how much standing water has had a chance to stick around and breed the mozzies, which might suggest that mid-Winter (when the weather is agreeable) could be a better time to do the scramble than later in the Spring.

Authorities

Andrew Molera Falls resides in Andrew Molera State Park near the village of Big Sur in Monterey County, California. It is administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. For more information, questions, and current conditions, you can check out their website.

Andrew_Molera_Falls_002_02072021 - Looking south from our pullout spot just as I was getting started on the scramble to Andrew Molera Falls on my visit in early February 2021
Andrew_Molera_Falls_003_02072021 - Looking back towards the north along Hwy 1 as I was approaching the gate blocking the unpaved road leading closer to the Andrew Molera Falls
Andrew_Molera_Falls_004_02072021 - This was the familiar gate fronting the unpaved road leading closer to the Andrew Molera Falls as seen on my early February 2021 visit
Andrew_Molera_Falls_005_02072021 - Beyond the gate, the unpaved road ascended above both the creek responsible for Andrew Molera Falls as well as the elevation of the Hwy 1. Just up ahead was a faint trail leading to the right and into the growth
Andrew_Molera_Falls_011_iPhone_02072021 - A closer look at the first faint trail departure point off the unpaved road leading closer to the Andrew Molera Falls
Andrew_Molera_Falls_007_02072021 - Approaching a fallen burnt redwood tree providing the first obstacle obscuring the otherwise straightforward use-trail that used to lead right up to the Andrew Molera Falls
Andrew_Molera_Falls_011_02072021 - After getting past the first fallen redwood tree obstacle, the use-trail disappeared into this overgrown area
Andrew_Molera_Falls_013_02072021 - Continuing to try to follow the faint overgrown trail up to the Andrew Molera Falls as it was getting harder and harder to pursue
Andrew_Molera_Falls_015_02072021 - Finally starting to see a glimpse of the Andrew Molera Falls, but as you can see, I still needed to keep going to get a cleaner look at it
Andrew_Molera_Falls_041_02072021 - Finally approaching the front of the elusive Andrew Molera Falls
Andrew_Molera_Falls_020_02072021 - Looking back at the overgrown mess that I had to get through in order to reach the base of Andrew Molera Falls
Andrew_Molera_Falls_022_02072021 - This was the view where I stood right in front of the base of Andrew Molera Falls
Andrew_Molera_Falls_023_02072021 - More angled view from the base of the Andrew Molera Falls
Andrew_Molera_Falls_031_02072021 - Slightly more contextual look at the Andrew Molera Falls as it's surrounded by leaning and fallen coastal redwood trees
Andrew_Molera_Falls_039_02072021 - Broad look at the main drop of the Andrew Molera Falls
Andrew_Molera_Falls_057_02072021 - Contextual view of the Andrew Molera Falls and the pair of leaning trees appearing like they're about to topple over
Andrew_Molera_Falls_064_02072021 - While scrambling around the Andrew Molera Falls, I noticed these berries
Andrew_Molera_Falls_067_02072021 - My last look back at the chaotic Andrew Molera Falls before I had to face the chaos of scrambling back
Andrew_Molera_Falls_073_02072021 - Scrambling back among the chaos as I was leaving Andrew Molera Falls
Andrew_Molera_Falls_077_02072021 - As I headed back from the Andrew Molera Falls, you can see from this shot that it didn't take long before the waterfall became hidden from view again
Andrew_Molera_Falls_079_02072021 - While making the bushwhack out of Andrew Molera Falls, I couldn't help but notice these pieces of redwood trees with straightened cuts on them.  That suggested to me that someone might have chainsawed this section of the tree or that this path used to be maintained once upon a time
Andrew_Molera_Falls_081_02072021 - Continuing to carefully scramble my way through the overgrowth in search of any hint of a faint trail to make the scrambling away from Andrew Molera Falls go a little smoother
Andrew_Molera_Falls_084_02072021 - At some point, I found this faint trail that took me down a different path than the one I took earlier on the way to Andrew Molera Falls
Andrew_Molera_Falls_088_02072021 - Eventually, that faint path brought be back to this bend in the unpaved road, which made me realize that the path I just took might have been more straightforward to take in the first place
Andrew_Molera_Falls_090_02072021 - Continuing up the unpaved road just to reacquaint myself with the clearing and picnic area up there
Andrew_Molera_Falls_093_02072021 - Approaching the familiar clearing and picnic area at the end of the unpaved road near Andrew Molera Falls
Andrew_Molera_Falls_099_02072021 - I did briefly check out any other trails around the clearing just out of curiosity, but this photo back at the clearing just indicated how far I went (or didn't go)
Andrew_Molera_Falls_100_02072021 - Heading back down the unpaved road after having had my fill of this clearing area
Andrew_Molera_Falls_103_02072021 - Some lady that I encountered during my Andrew Molera Falls adventure showed me a series of bright red mushrooms by the side of the unpaved road
Andrew_Molera_Falls_105_02072021 - Indeed, I wasn't alone during my early February 2021 pursuit of the Andrew Molera Falls as these ladies were picking chaparral mushrooms
Andrew_Molera_Falls_111_02072021 - Heading down the last downhill stretch of the unpaved road before rejoining the Highway 1
Andrew_Molera_Falls_003_04242019 - During my unsuccessful first attempt at finding the Andrew Molera Falls in late April 2019, I parked in a spacious pullout and had to walk about a quarter-mile along Hwy 1 to get to the gate and unpaved road
Andrew_Molera_Falls_004_04242019 - While pursuing the Andrew Molera Falls, I noticed small intermediate cascades like this one from the Hwy 1
Andrew_Molera_Falls_006_04242019 - This was another intermediate waterfall that I spotted while scrambling towards the Andrew Molera Falls during my late April 2019 failed visit
Andrew_Molera_Falls_008_04242019 - Continuing up the unpaved road not quite sure where it was going during my April 2019 attempt to find Andrew Molera Falls
Andrew_Molera_Falls_011_04242019 - The unpaved road veered away from the creek as it continued climbing during my first go at the Andrew Molera Falls in April 2019
Andrew_Molera_Falls_019_04242019 - Eventually, I made it up to this clearing with some picnic tables, and this was where I started to have doubts about whether I would find the Andrew Molera Falls during my April 2019 visit
Andrew_Molera_Falls_020_04242019 - Looking back across the clearing as I started to head back down the unpaved road to continue looking for Andrew Molera Falls in April 2019
Andrew_Molera_Falls_024_04242019 - Closer look at some of the wildflowers blooming during my unsuccessful April 2019 attempt at finding Andrew Molera Falls
Andrew_Molera_Falls_026_04242019 - NO CAPTION
Andrew_Molera_Falls_029_04242019 - NO CAPTION


Andrew Molera Falls resides within Andrew Molera State Park near Big Sur, but it was on the east side of Hwy 1 away from its beaches.

From the traffic light at Carmel Valley Road and Hwy 1, we drove south on Hwy 1 for roughly 22 miles.

Andrew_Molera_Falls_116_02072021 - Looking back at the context of the gate fronting the unpaved road with Hwy 1 running across this photo
Looking back at the context of the gate fronting the unpaved road with Hwy 1 running across this photo

When we reached the signed entrance for Andrew Molera State Park, we then stayed on Hwy 1 and continued for another mile.

There was an unsigned pullout on the right (by a 45mph speed limit sign), which was the first opportunity that we can stop the car near the starting point for Andrew Molera Falls.

However, continuing another 0.1-mile, that was where we spotted the unsigned gate marking the starting point of the hike to the falls.

Even though it was a bit of a risky move to try to make a sharp U-turn and park in one of the shoulder spaces just north of the gated unpaved road while driving southbound on the Hwy 1, there was another pullout another 0.2-mile further to the south.

Andrew_Molera_Falls_118_02072021 - This was the road shoulder closest to the Andrew Molera Falls starting point, which was just off the north-bound Hwy 1 side
This was the road shoulder closest to the Andrew Molera Falls starting point, which was just off the north-bound Hwy 1 side

This pullout was adjacent to the northbound side of Hwy 1, and it, too had a 45mph speed limit sign.

We could also park here since there’s a lot of parking space here.

However, backtracking to the north, we could then safely pull over to the road shoulder just north of the gated unpaved road.

This was the nearest spot we could safely park the car and get started on the adventure to find the Andrew Molera Falls.

Andrew_Molera_Falls_002_04242019 - This was the north end of the large unpaved pullout on the northbound Hwy 1 side roughly 0.2-mile south of the gated unpaved road leading closer to the Andrew Molera Falls
This was the north end of the large unpaved pullout on the northbound Hwy 1 side roughly 0.2-mile south of the gated unpaved road leading closer to the Andrew Molera Falls

Overall, this drive would take about 30 minutes or so.

For geographical context, Carmel-by-the-Sea was 4 miles (roughly 10-20 minutes depending on traffic) south of Monterey, 47 miles (about an hour drive) south of Santa Cruz, about 77 miles south of San Jose, 116 miles (over 2 hours drive) south of San Francisco, and about 321 miles (5 hours drive) north of Los Angeles.

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Sweep right at the base of the Andrew Molera Falls before scrambling a little further out for a more contextual view


Short sweep from right to left of the Andrew Molera Falls and the deadfalls all around it

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Tagged with: andrew molera state park, big sur, overgrown, hwy 1, california, waterfall



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