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.

Big_Sur_State_Park_035_03192010 - Julie checking out Pfeiffer Falls
Julie checking out Pfeiffer Falls

Not only did we get a pretty nice waterfall, but we also got a nice view of the valley from an overlook, and it was all within a short day hike.

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.

The first time we did this hike in 2001, we actually did it in a three-mile loop that took in the Valley View Overlook (of Big Sur Valley) as well as the waterfall itself.

However, on a separate visit 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.

Big_Sur_State_Park_050_03192010 - The Big Sur Valley Overlook, which was on a spur trail branching off the Pfeiffer Falls Trail
The Big Sur Valley Overlook, which was on a spur trail branching off the Pfeiffer Falls Trail

Given the rather turbulent recent history with drought and fires, I’m sure this situation will remain in flux.

Pfeiffer Falls Trail Description

So on our most recent visit, we had no choice but to take the longer more hilly Valley View Overlook trail.

This made the hike 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 Pfeiffer Falls itself as the adjacent hillsides had been de-stabilized.

Big_Sur_State_Park_005_03192010 - 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 signed trailhead to get up to Pfeiffer Falls, which was actually different from where we started on our first visit here back in 2001

As a result, the wooden viewing platforms that were here when we last came here in 2001 were no longer there in 2010.

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.

Anyways, the hike to the Pfeiffer Falls and back was mostly uphill and narrow in some stretches.

Big_Sur_State_Park_007_03192010 - Julie hiking up the longer trail to Pfeiffer Falls since the shorter trail had fire damage during our March 2010 visit
Julie hiking up the longer trail to Pfeiffer Falls since the shorter trail had fire damage during our March 2010 visit

There was a significant amount of poison oak along the trail so that was always on our minds both times we did this hike.

Indeed, 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 resides in Pfeiffer Big Sur 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 or Facebook page.

Big_Sur_State_Park_006_03192010 - Going up the Valley View Overlook trail towards Pfeiffer Falls during our March 2010 visit
Big_Sur_State_Park_008_03192010 - Looking upstream at Pfeiffer Creek cutting through new grooves within the landslides resulting from the soil destabilization from the 2009 fire that came through here
Big_Sur_State_Park_010_03192010 - Sign confirming that fire damage affected our second visit to Pfeiffer Falls in March 2010
Big_Sur_State_Park_013_03192010 - Looking upstream at the attractive Pfeiffer Falls during our March 2010 visit
Big_Sur_State_Park_020_03192010 - Standing right before the base of the Pfeiffer Falls during our March 2010 visit
Big_Sur_State_Park_030_03192010 - We didn't notice this upper part of Pfeiffer Falls before our March 2010 visit, but this made me realize that this was probably taller than the widely reported 60ft height
Big_Sur_State_Park_044_03192010 - We had to be careful not to rub against poison oak during our March 2010 visit, but this was also true of our March 2001 visit as well
Pfeiffer_Falls_001_scanned_03312001 - This was how Pfeiffer Falls looked in March 2001

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is roughly 12 miles north of Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn 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 we finally started to see the trailhead parking.

It was this lot that was closest to the Valley View Overlook trail, which began near some signage about redwood trees just behind the hairpin turn.

For context, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park was roughly 6 hours drive north of Los Angeles.

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Bottom up sweep of the front of Pfeiffer Falls

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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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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