Black Swift Falls ("Ragged Point Waterfall")

Ragged Point / San Simeon, California, USA

About Black Swift Falls (“Ragged Point Waterfall”)

Hiking Distance: 1/2-mile round trip; dropoff and erosion hazards
Suggested Time: about 1 hour

Date first visited: 2018-11-17
Date last visited: 2018-11-17

Waterfall Latitude: 35.78193
Waterfall Longitude: -121.33096

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The Black Swift Falls (or “Ragged Point Waterfall” as we tended to refer to it) was an intermittent waterfall on Young Creek that we had an opportunity to visit on our very first trip to Big Sur back around the late March 2001 time frame. Unfortunately, we were neither well-researched nor well-prepared on that trip so we wound up not doing it.

It wasn’t until over 17 years later that I finally had the opportunity to do this hike. However, it was at the end of a particularly vicious Dry Season (yielding California’s deadliest and most damaging wildfires to date statewide) so it had no chance of flowing on this visit.

Ragged_Point_109_11172018 - Looking up at the main drop of Black Swift Falls
Looking up at the main drop of Black Swift Falls

The course of the intermittent Young Creek actually went through the grounds of the Ragged Point Inn Property. The trail leading down to the base of the waterfall began from a wedding gazeebo and lookout, then steeply clung to the crumbly and rugged sea cliffs all the way to the small beach at the very bottom.

The falls was not visible from the property nor its cliffside lookouts. Therefore, in order to experience it (let alone see it), I had to make the hike to the bottom where it was possible to look directly up the gully carved out by Young Creek.

Experiencing Black Swift Falls

Speaking of the trail, even though it was short from a distance standpoint (merely a quarter-mile or so in each direction), it was not easy by any stretch of the imagination!

Basically, after the first few wooden steps from the lookout, the trail quickly degenerated into a steep, slippery, and very rugged and worn path that seemed to haphazardly traverse eroding slopes.

Ragged_Point_061_11172018 - Looking up at old trail infrastructure that was now no longer in use since the current 'trail' bypasses it. I'd imagine it's a constant tug-of-war between human access and Nature reclaiming it
Looking up at old trail infrastructure that was now no longer in use since the current ‘trail’ bypasses it. I’d imagine it’s a constant tug-of-war between human access and Nature reclaiming it

In some parts, the trail even undulated to get around small landslips. And it was clear that there had been past evidence of trail infrastructure (e.g. a railing on a small bridge) that the current trail now avoided.

I got the feeling that the trail will continue to be a haphazard path where Nature will reclaim some parts thereby resulting in new trails being formed. And this pattern will persist until the trail itself will become impassable from a safety standpoint; at which point Nature for sure will reclaim it.

In any case, after getting past a shaded section where I ducked under the branches of a windswept tree, the path then descended directly to the rocky base. That was where the hike went from a rugged cliff-hanging hike into a degenerating four-limbed scramble down rocks with minor dropoffs.

Ragged_Point_126_11172018 - Full context of the Black Swift Falls or the 'Ragged Point Waterfall'
Full context of the Black Swift Falls or the ‘Ragged Point Waterfall’

It took me about 25 minutes to do this descent with a pair of hiking boots and hiking pants (as I was brushing up against some craggy bushes).

While I took my time and other people took less time than I did on this descent, I was definitely glad in hindsight that we didn’t attempt to do this hike in Chacos or beach sandals on our first stay in this part of Big Sur back in 2001.

Once at the bottom, I did some rock scrambling to check out the small beach, where the lack of dry sand was an indicator that this area can be under water in high tide. I also did other scrambling further upstream on the rocky gully towards a pond, where I’d imagine the base of the Black Swift Falls (or “Ragged Point Waterfall”) would be.

Ragged_Point_169_11172018 - It was actually a little bit easier going back up than it was going down to the bottom of Black Swift Falls
It was actually a little bit easier going back up than it was going down to the bottom of Black Swift Falls

Further up the jumble of rocks (making the lower portions of this waterfall more of a cascade), there was a more classical vertical drop near the top of the cliffs. The only evidence of the watercourse was a noticeable vertical trail of dry grass growing on the cliff itself.

It looked like a rather steep and dangerous scramble to even make it up that high to the base of this main drop so I was content to imagine the waterfall from the rocky pond just upstream from the beach.

After having my fill of this spot, I ascended back up to the Ragged Point Inn property, where it only took me around 10-15 minutes to finish the ascent. Indeed, this was one of the rare instances where going up seemed easier than going down given the steep ruggedness of this ever-evolving trail.


To my knowledge, Black Swift Falls does not belong to a reserve or some kind of authority overseeing it. However, if you’re looking to do this excursion and want to inquire about current conditions, you might have some success asking someone at the Ragged Point Inn. More information is available at their website.

Ragged_Point_048_11172018 - Approaching the gazeebo and lookout adjacent to the start of the steep trail to the coastal access at Ragged Point
Ragged_Point_049_11172018 - The view of the Big Sur Coastline from Ragged Point Inn's gazeebo
Ragged_Point_053_11172018 - Context of the trailhead and part of the Ragged Point Inn property
Ragged_Point_056_11172018 - Barely a few steps down the trail, the railings were gone and the path quickly degenerated into a very rough and hazard-laden hike down the crumbly cliff
Ragged_Point_171_11172018 - A young couple (who admitted they were unprepared for this hike) making their way down the steep trail to the bottom
Ragged_Point_062_11172018 - At a switchback where I could assess the steepness of the hike just as a pair of guys were catching up to me as they were making their way down to the bottom
Ragged_Point_066_11172018 - Here's another look at the rugged trail showing just how eroded and steep it was
Ragged_Point_069_11172018 - My first glimpse at the little beach at the bottom of the hike from around the half-way point
Ragged_Point_070_11172018 - Roughly two-thirds of the way down, the trail then went beneath this wind-swept tree.  Shortly after this, the trail degenerated even more into a steep and rocky scramble
Ragged_Point_078_11172018 - Amongst the jumble of boulders near the bottom of the steep trail to the Ragged Point Coastline
Ragged_Point_083_11172018 - Just when I made it down to the bottom, a small group of folks were making their way back up the steep trail
Ragged_Point_082_11172018 - I was surprised to see this pond on Young Creek, which meant that this waterfall ought to be flowing way better and last a bit longer in the late Winter and early Spring (depending on precipitation accumulations for the season)
Ragged_Point_084_11172018 - Accessing the small wet-sand beach.  The wetness of the sand hinted that in high tide, this place would probably be under water
Ragged_Point_086_11172018 - Looking in the other direction, the coastline was less sandy and much more rockier and steeper
Ragged_Point_105_11172018 - Context of the Black Swift Falls fronted by a dilapidated bridge
Ragged_Point_114_11172018 - Zoomed in on the main drop of the Black Swift Falls
Ragged_Point_153_11172018 - It's a shame that even in a place as ruggedly beautiful as this, that there's still some degree of litter
Ragged_Point_154_11172018 - Making the steep ascent back up to the Ragged Point Inn
Ragged_Point_158_11172018 - Zoomed in on some of the ongoing trail erosion between Black Swift Falls and the Ragged Point Inn
Ragged_Point_189_11172018 - Making it back up to the Ragged Point Inn Property, where Julie and I swore that they had made improvements to both the facilities and the garden since the first time we were here at around the 2001 time frame


Accessing the Black Swift Falls (“Ragged Point Waterfall”) pretty much amounted to reaching the Ragged Point Inn at the far southern end of the Big Sur Coast (technically in San Simeon this far down the coast). During our visits, there had been enough parking even for day visitors, but then again, we have also seen the lot get quite full on busier weekends and holidays where people were relegated to trying to find parking along the shoulders of the main highway.

The Ragged Point Inn is along the Hwy 1 about 25 miles (over 30 minutes drive) north of Cambria, about 57 miles (over an hour drive) north of San Luis Obispo, 79 miles (well over 2 hours drive) south of Monterey, 151 miles (about 2 hours 45 minutes drive) north of Santa Barbara, 150 miles (about 3.5 hours drive) south of San Jose, and 258 miles (about 4.5 hours drive) north of Los Angeles.

Video showing the coastline and small beach before heading back into the canyon to look at the dry waterfall and pond

Checking out the falls from the small beach before scrambling further upstream to get a closer look at the pond and evidence of the falls

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Tagged with: san simeon, ragged point, san luis obispo, california, waterfall, big sur

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