Limekiln Falls

Limekiln State Park / Big Sur, California, USA

About Limekiln Falls


Hiking Distance: 1 mile round trip; 1.5 miles round trip (to Lime Kilns)
Suggested Time: 1 hour

Date first visited: 2003-03-29
Date last visited: 2015-04-02

Waterfall Latitude: 36.01429
Waterfall Longitude: -121.51544

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Limekiln Falls (I’ve also seen it spelled Lime Kiln Falls) was a pretty neat diversion along the rugged Big Sur coast.

Sitting in the Limekiln State Park, we thought this waterfall was perhaps the most compelling attraction in the reserve.

Limekiln_Falls_003_03292003 - Limekiln Falls
Limekiln Falls

However, it also featured impressively tall coastal redwoods, a dark-sanded beach, and a set of historic kilns that gave the park its name.

As for the waterfall itself, we thought of it as the Big Sur version of a limestone waterfall since we had seen quite a few of them further south in Southern California.

In addition to its limestone characteristic, Julie and I were quite impressed by its size.

I’m guessing that its height was on the order of 75-100ft (though our Ann Marie Brown book said it was on the high end of that range).

Limekiln_054_04022015 - Limekiln Falls in low flow in the Spring of a drought year in April 2015
Limekiln Falls in low flow in the Spring of a drought year in April 2015

We had visited Limekiln Falls in both high flow and in the early Spring during the fourth year of a multi-year drought.

When Limekiln Falls had good flow (as pictured at the top of this page), Julie and I were treated to an impressive display of a large limestone wall draped with water as it nourished the moss growing from it with its moisture.

That said, when it had low flow (like in our April 2015 visit; see photo above), the falls had a split appearance that kind of reminded me of Burgess Falls in Tennessee.

Limekiln Falls Trail Description – hiking to the waterfall

Our Limekiln Falls excursion began from a well-established parking lot behind a payment kiosk (see directions below).

Limekiln_013_04022015 - Hiking beyond the Limekiln Campground
Hiking beyond the Limekiln Campground

From there, we walked towards the end of the short lot then passed through a campground nestled beneath towering coastal redwoods while flanked by Limekiln Creek.

Beyond the campground, we crossed the first sturdy footbridge.

This was where the trail then branched off from the Hare Creek Trail (we took the fork labeled “Kiln Trail” and “Falls Trail”).

We then meandered beneath more coastal redwoods (some showing evidence of a fire that had been through here) while flanked by poison oak.

Limekiln_019_04022015 - Julie keeping Tahia close as we hiked between a grove that could contain poison oak en route to the Limekiln Falls
Julie keeping Tahia close as we hiked between a grove that could contain poison oak en route to the Limekiln Falls

I understand that the trail had been improved (i.e. somewhat widened with bridges across parts of Limekiln Creek) since the fire.

Meanwhile the abundant poison oak was something Julie and I had to be real cognizant of since we had brought our four-year-old daughter along on our April 2015 visit.

Continuing on the well-shaded trail, we passed one or two more sturdy footbridges before reaching a signed junction.

At this junction, the Kiln Trail continued straight while the Falls Trail descended to our right.

Limekiln_027_04022015 - Julie and Tahia hiking along Limekiln Creek en route to the Limekiln Falls
Julie and Tahia hiking along Limekiln Creek en route to the Limekiln Falls

As we turned right to go onto the Falls Trail, the trail narrowed and became more primitive as we immediately crossed the first of three unbridged creek crossings.

I had recalled in our visit back in 2003 that some of the crossings might have been tricky (in terms of trying to keep our socks dry) due to a higher flowing stream.

However, in our 2015 visit, it seemed like logs and planks were thoughtfully placed to make the crossing easier.

That said, we still had to help our daughter across those sections.

Limekiln_047_04022015 - Julie helping Tahia negotiate deadfall and boulder obstacles at the creek crossings near the base of Limekiln Falls
Julie helping Tahia negotiate deadfall and boulder obstacles at the creek crossings near the base of Limekiln Falls

Finally after about 0.5 miles from the trailhead, we reached the base of the impressive Limekiln Falls, where there was a small cascade fronting the base of the main drop.

But in order to access the base of that main drop, we needed to do a little bit of scrambling.

I recalled that back on our first visit in 2003, we had to climb a wet and slippery fallen log on the opposite side of the creek, but this obstacle wasn’t there on our 2015 visit.

Nonetheless, the end of the official trail was also a perfectly fine spot to enjoy the falls.

Limekiln_067_04022015 - Looking straight up towards the top of Limekiln Falls during our visit in April 2015
Looking straight up towards the top of Limekiln Falls during our visit in April 2015

On a sunny afternoon, there were a lot of shadows cast on the lower parts of the Limekiln Falls, which may impact photos.

So I believe this was one of those falls where it would be better on a cloudy day from a photography standpoint.

Limekiln Falls Trail Description – optional side excursions

When I had my fill of Limekiln Falls, I then returned to the Falls and Kiln Trail junction.

Next, I continued for another 10-15 minutes on the Kiln Trail passing through another grove of coastal redwoods before reaching the namesake lime kilns after which the state park got its name.

Limekiln_109_04022015 - One of the namesake limekilns at Limekiln State Park
One of the namesake limekilns at Limekiln State Park

The nice thing about this trail was that it was much quieter compared to the Falls Trail.

In any case, the path ended at a series of four kilns whose heyday had long since passed.

Apparently, these limekilns were used to “kiln” (smelt) limestone quarried from the canyon (note the Limekiln Falls fell over a limestone wall).

The processed limestone would then became cement that ended up being used in many buildings that are standing in Monterey and San Francisco.

Limekiln_115_04022015 - Looking back at the series of Lime Kilns that gave the Limekiln State Park its name
Looking back at the series of Lime Kilns that gave the Limekiln State Park its name

Back at the parking lot (completing an overall hike of about 1.5 miles, of which 1 mile was the Falls Trail), we then walked past the kiosk towards the beach, which sat pretty much directly beneath the Hwy 1.

On the short trail to get there, we passed by more campsites before reaching the somewhat dark-sanded beach with lots of larger smoothed out rocks.

The waves here looked a bit rough as apparently the open ocean might have had swells funneling into the Limekiln Cove.

So it didn’t seem like a sensible place to go for a swim or to let our daughter get near the water.

Limekiln_132_04022015 - Tahia playing in the sand after our excursion to Limekiln Falls and the Lime Kilns
Tahia playing in the sand after our excursion to Limekiln Falls and the Lime Kilns

Nonetheless, our daughter was perfectly happy playing in the sand.

Thus, it was a nice way to spend family time checking out both waterfalls, a little bit of Big Sur heritage, and a beach all in one stop.

Authorities

Limekiln Falls resides in Limekiln State Park in 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.

Limekiln_004_04022015 - Julie and Tahia approaching the Limekiln Falls Trail at the end of the day use parking area as seen during our April 2015 visit. This photo and next several photos came on this day
Limekiln_010_04022015 - Julie and Tahia walking past a campground with coastal redwoods towering over the scene en route to the Limekiln Falls
Limekiln_011_04022015 - At the end of the Limekiln campground, we then crossed over this sturdy bridge, where the Limekiln Falls Trail officially began
Limekiln_012_04022015 - Looking upstream from the sturdy footbridge near the Limekiln Campground en route to the Limekiln Falls during our April 2015 visit
Limekiln_014_04022015 - Julie and Tahia keeping left to stay on the Kiln and Falls Trail while ditching the Hare Creek Trail during our April 2015 visit
Limekiln_017_04022015 - Julie pointing out poison oak to Tahia as these nasty plants were all around the Limekiln Falls Trail on our April 2015 visit
Limekiln_020_04022015 - Julie and Tahia walking along Limekiln Creek en route to the Limekiln Falls during our hike in April 2015
Limekiln_030_04022015 - Julie and Tahia approaching another one of the sturdy bridges traversing Limekiln Creek on our April 2015 visit
Limekiln_034_04022015 - Once we got off the Kiln Trail and onto the Falls Trail, we then had to negotiate unbridged creek crossings like this one en route to Limekiln Falls during our April 2015 hike
Limekiln_036_04022015 - Julie helping Tahia on another one of the unbridged stream crossings en route to the Limekiln Falls during our April 2015 visit
Limekiln_041_04022015 - As you can see, the Falls Trail to Limekiln Falls was narrower and a bit more primitive than earlier on in the hike during our April 2015 visit
Limekiln_043_04022015 - Another one of the unbridged creek crossings that we had to take. This was probably the third one of these during our April 2015 visit
Limekiln_052_04022015 - Our first look at Limekiln Falls for the first time in 12 years as seen during our April 2015 visit!
Limekiln_058_04022015 - Focused on the main part of Limekiln Falls during our April 2015 visit, where we saw there were other people chilling out above the lower cascades
Limekiln_072_04022015 - Looking across the base of the main part of Limekiln Falls during our April 2015 visit
Limekiln_083_04022015 - Another contextual look at people chilling out at the partially shaded base of the Limekiln Falls as seen during our April 2015 visit
Limekiln_094_04022015 - Looking towards the right column of the Limekiln Falls when we saw it during our April 2015 visit, where drought definitely affected its flow
Limekiln_096_04022015 - Looking back towards impressive coastal redwood trees as we were hiking away from the Limekiln Falls on our April 2015 visit
Limekiln_097_04022015 - Continuing on the Kiln Trail after making my way back from Limekiln Falls in April 2015
Limekiln_100_04022015 - This narrow part of the peaceful Kiln Trail was just before the lime kilns as seen in April 2015
Limekiln_106_04022015 - Finally at the namesake kilns during our April 2015 visit
Limekiln_110_04022015 - Another look at one of the four kilns making up the namesake lime kilns in Limekiln State Park as seen in April 2015
Limekiln_116_04022015 - As I was hiking back from the Kiln Trail in April 2015, I started paying attention to the trees with black bark on them. This was evidence of the fire that swept through here preventing us from visiting back in 2010
Limekiln_118_04022015 - Julie and Tahia approaching the campground and beach at Limekiln State Park in April 2015
Limekiln_120_04022015 - Julie and Tahia walking beneath the Hwy 1 road bridge and towards the beach in Limekiln State Park during our April 2015 visit
Limekiln_124_04022015 - Context of the beach at Limekiln State Park and some rough waters as seen in April 2015
Limekiln_129_04022015 - Another look at the small beach at Limekiln State Park in April 2015
Limekiln_134_04022015 - Looking back at Hwy 1 and some folks picnicking from Limekiln Beach during our April 2015 visit
Limekiln_136_04022015 - Julie and Tahia heading back to the parking lot after having had our fill of the beach in Limekiln State Park in April 2015
Limekiln_Falls_001_03292003 - Our first look at Limekiln Falls from back in March 2003
Limekiln_Falls_004_03292003 - Closeup look at Limekiln Falls from back in March 2003

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Limekiln Falls is located in the Limekiln State Park not too far south of Lucia on Hwy 1.

We looked for its signposted turnoff to our right just before crossing the bridge roughly 18 miles north of Salmon Creek Falls as we headed north.

Conversely, we also could have looked for the same turnoff to our left just after the bridge about 2 miles south of Lucia.

Once we’ve taken the turnoff, we followed the narrow road as it descended to the payment kiosk (we paid $10 on our visit in April 2015 though I recalled we paid $7 back in 2003).

Limekiln_001_04022015 - Looking back at the entrance kiosk as seen from the day use parking lot within Limekiln State Park
Looking back at the entrance kiosk as seen from the day use parking lot within Limekiln State Park

Just beyond the kiosk, there was day use parking in addition to some campgrounds.

Julie and I did notice that some folks managed to avoid paying the state park fees by parking along Hwy 1 then walking into the state park.

Contextually, Lucia is about 40 miles (1 hours drive) north of San Simeon and 55 miles (90 minutes drive) south of Monterey. Lucia is also about 2 hours drive (80 miles) north of San Luis Obispo and roughly a 5 hour drive (269 miles) north of Los Angeles.

Upstream to downstream sweep following the water from the top of Limekiln Falls all the way downstream to the nice trail we took to get here


Left to right sweep of Limekiln Falls from just above its base while also showing some of the impressive coastal redwoods against the sun


Downstream to upstream sweep from above the lowermost cascades beneath Limekiln Falls. The sweep ends at the top of the main falls under blue skies in the late afternoon

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Tagged with: limekiln, big sur, lucia, monterey, ventana, highway 1, hwy 1, bay area, central coast, california, waterfall



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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Climbing Down Around Lime Kiln Falls June 28, 2013 1:47 pm by Stephen Kovaka - Back in 1969, I was hitching north thru the Big Sur. I ended up at a campground in the mountains within sight of the Pacific. On a whim (I was 21 at the time) I decided to hike cross-country down to the ocean and get on the coast highway, and so I set off with… ...Read More

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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