Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
The Overlook Trail runs only two-thirds of a mile round-trip, along a level wheelchair-friendly boardwalk. Stroll under Highway 1, past the Pelton wheel house, and out to the observation deck and the stunning view of McWay Falls.
The medium-sized waterfall cascades year-round off a cliff and onto the beach of a remote cove, where the water wets the sand and trickles out into the sea. The water of the cove gleams bright cerulean blue against the just-off-white sand of the beach—it looks more like the South Pacific than Northern California.
Anyone with an ounce of love for the ocean will want to build a hut right there beside the waterfall. But you can’t—in fact, the reason you’ll look down on a pristine and empty stretch of sand is that there’s no way down to the cove that’s even remotely safe.
The tiny Pelton wheel exhibit off the Overlook Trail isn’t much unless you’re a huge fan of hydraulic engineering history. It does have an interpretive exhibit (including the old Pelton wheel itself) describing what a Pelton wheel is and what it does. No other museums make their homes here, though there’s a small visitors center adjacent to the parking lot.
If you’re up for a longer hike after taking in the falls, go back the other way to pick up the Ewoldsen Trail (4.5 miles round-trip, moderate–difficult). This trek takes you through McWay Canyon, and you’ll see the creek and surrounding lush greenery as you walk. Then you’ll loop away from the water and climb up into the hills. Be sure to bring water, as this hike can take several hours.
If you want to spend all day at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, drive north from the park entrance to the Partington Cove pullout and park along the side of the highway. On the east side of the highway, start out along the Tanbark Trail (6.4 miles round-trip, difficult). You’ll head through redwood groves and up steep switchbacks to the top of the coastal ridge. Be sure to bring your camera to record the stunning views before you head back down the fire road to your car.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition