About Andrew Molera Falls
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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