McWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

McWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

by | Jul 4, 2019

McWay Falls cascades 80 feet (24 m) directly into the ocean at high tide on the coast of Big Sur in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, about 37 miles (60 km) south of Carmel, California. The beach is inaccessible except by boat due to the high cliffs surrounding the cove. The outlet of McWay Creek at the top of McWay Falls is accessible by a trail that starts at a parking area just east of Highway 1.

In 1924, the wealthy U.S. Congressman Lathrop Brown and his wife Hélène Hooper Brown bought the 1600 acres (650 ha) Saddle Rock Ranch from pioneer homesteader Christopher McWay. The Browns built a rough redwood cabin on a site at the top of the cliffs opposite McWay Falls and in 1940 replaced that with a modern two-story home named Waterfall House. When Lathrop died in 1959 the entire property was donated to the state, stipulating that it be used as a park and named for Julia Pfeiffer Burns, a respected resident and rancher in the Big Sur region in the early 20th century. An overlook of McWay Falls was later built on the site of the former home.

In 1983, Big Sur experienced one of the wettest years on record with 88.85 inches (2,257 mm) of rain. Up to this time, McWay Falls fell directly into the ocean. The record rainfall resulted in several landslides and mudflows, including an extremely large mudslide that entered the ocean immediately to the north of the falls, and Highway 1 was closed for a year while the road was repaired. Reconstruction deposited nearly 3,000,000 cubic yards (2,300,000 cubic meters) of landslide material on the coast at the base of the slope. Wave action then transported some of the debris south to McWay Cove forming a sandy beach beneath the falls. Read more here and here. Explore more of McWay Falls here:

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