For anyone who thinks that California lacks undeveloped wilderness, they probably haven't visited Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. It’s one of the largest and most rustic state parks in the entire system. Centered on the Big Sur River, this 1,000-acre park is full of amazing water views, and towering redwood trees, and has everything for lovers of the outdoors.
The park has a long and rich history starting with the donation of the land to the state by John Pfeiffer in 1933. Rather than selling to land developers for the lofty sum of $210,000 in 1930, this park remains accessible and wild to its visitors thanks to the park's namesake. Construction of many of the park's natural and rustic facilities began in the 1930s, but there were very few visitors. The park increased in popularity when the Cabrillo Highway was built in the early 1950s and broadened the access.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park has no beach access, so it’s almost like you are staying in another world. However, the Big Sur River gives you plenty of water to play in when the season is right. This park is a hiker's haven and presents wonderful landscapes around almost every corner. Staying within the park won't be a problem either. There are around 180 campsites available, many of which are RV-friendly. You'll have everything you need for a wonderful vacation right in one place.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is almost halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Cabrillo Highway (CA-1) is about the only way to get in and out of the park. About 26 miles south of Carmel, you can get to the park from many different highways, depending on where you are coming from. If you are headed in from the north, take I-280 to US-101 until it meets up with CA-1. From the east, take I-5 to CA-152 or CA-198. And from the south, you can take I-110, I-605, or I-5 to US-101.
Just 8.5 miles from Andrew Molera State Park in Monterey County, you can take a day trip to this park for some other recreational fun such as the swimming beach on the Pacific Ocean, interpretive exhibits, or their museum and other historical sites. Another park nearby with a beach is Limekiln State Park, which is just 27 miles down CA-1. Driving along CA-1 is a scenic route that has some fantastic views. In fact, you may even want to pull over for photos. No matter which way you come in on CA-1, you will see a lot of beaches and parks that you can stop and take a break at. As they say, getting here is half the fun.
Around the park, the roads can be narrow and difficult to maneuver with a large rig. The largest RV site in the campgrounds is 30 feet, and even that is a struggle for many of the sites. If your rig is bigger than that, you may want to park the RV and stay at the lodge or check out some of the other parks in the area. You can always drive back to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park from whatever campground you find that can accommodate your needs.
The South Camp at Big Sur offers a total of 78 sites for campers with various needs. Nine of these sites are right on the banks of the river while others have a river view and just a short walk to the water. These are not large campsites for big RVs. Most of the sites can only handle an RV or trailer up to 24 feet in length. They each have a picnic table that seats eight people and a campfire ring with a grill.
There are no utility hookups for your RV here, but there are several modern restrooms with running water and a shower house with hot water near campsite 44. It is important to reserve your campsite early because these spots tend to fill up about six months in advance. Your furbabies are welcome to come along, but you need to keep them supervised and on a leash or otherwise restrained during your stay at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
The Weyland Camp has 50 spacious campsites that can accommodate rigs up to 27 feet in length. Each site has its own campfire ring with a grill and a large table that seats eight people comfortably. You’ll also have three contemporary restrooms with flushable toilets and running water, and a shower house with hot water. Fifteen of these campsites are waterfront spots, and the rest have water views with just a short stroll to the river.
There is also a footbridge across the river to the trail that leads to the Homestead Cabin right from the campground. The laundromat and the camp store are located right near this campground, too. Pets are welcome at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park as long as they are properly restrained and accompanied at all times. Reservations are encouraged as these spots fill up fast, especially on weekends and holidays.
More than 50 sites nestled along the Big Sur River form the Main Camp at Big Sur State Park Campground. Although there are no hookups here, there are four modern restrooms with running water on-site and hot showers nearby. All sites have a fire pit with a grill to cook on and a picnic table big enough to seat eight people comfortably. The sites vary in size, but the largest can accommodate RVs and trailers up to 27 feet.
Eleven of these sites are waterfront with the river right at your front door. The remaining sites have a view of the water and are only a short distance away. You can also walk from your campsite to one of the recreational hiking trails or one of several picnic areas in the field nearby. You can bring your pooch but keep it restrained and supervised at all times. Make sure you book a spot early, especially during the busy season, from May until September.
It’s easy to relax and unwind in one of the 62 cottage-style guest rooms in the lodge if you are a visitor who wants a break from your RV for a night. You can choose from a family cottage with two twin beds, a king bed, and a large queen sofa bed, a room with a king bed and a comfy couch, or a fireplace cottage that can accommodate four adults. There are also kitchenette cottages with fully equipped kitchens and dining areas as well as two private bedrooms with queen beds.
Or choose a kitchenette cottage with a fireplace for the ultimate in luxury. Each spacious and gorgeous room has a coffee pot, furnished deck, and a table and chairs. You’ll also have access to the pool, restaurant, coffee bar, outdoor bar, and gift shop. Sorry, no pets are allowed in the lodge. Reservations are recommended at least six months in advance.
Begin or end your stay at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park with a trip to this spacious and modern Visitor Center. Get tons of tourist information from this site that also functions as a ranger station. Not many state parks have a facility like this one. Cell service is excellent here, so it’s a great place to upload photos. There is lots of parking at this wheelchair-friendly facility. Take a few minutes to stop by on your way to the park and get some valuable info like maps and trail conditions.
According to her diary, one day in 1908, Florence Pfeiffer became agitated when she witnessed a guest mistreating his mule. After forbidding him from further abusive actions, she decided that from that moment on, she would charge that guest for each bed and meal when he stayed there. And so, the concept of Big Sur Lodge was born. Today, the lodge is a serene place that still maintains that frontier spirit. In addition to places to eat, there’s also a grocery store, bar, pool, and other amenities. There are several scenic overlooks, and many people call this part of the park a mini-Yosemite.
This 0.7-mile trail is a lot like the River Path Loop. Both trails are paved, and both allow leashed dogs. But the Nature Trail is just a bit longer, and it’s also a little closer to the ocean. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park has no beach access, and the adjacent Pfeiffer Beach is not part of the California state parks system. This nice and easy walk is suitable for newbies and gives you some insight into some of the stunning flora in and around the park.
The snows come in late fall and often linger until late spring, so many of the mountain trails are inaccessible during this period. Even in the snow, the park’s day-use area remains in full swing. If you’ve never played softball while there is snow on the ground, the day-use area needs to be on your bucket list. This part of the park is also close to the Pfeiffer Waterfall. The day-use area also includes several large group picnic areas and the photo-op, the Colonial Tree.
This trail may be one of the most challenging eight-mile hikes in the state. If you plan to hike the Mount Manuel Trail, prepare for your trek by packing lots of water, sturdy and dependable hiking gear, and sunscreen, as there is no shade, and hikers are completely exposed during this strenuous trek. It’s not quite mountain climbing, but it's very close. It is not recommended for new hikers or those with any kind of medical impairments. With that being said, the risk is worth the reward if you can hike, as the end of the trail offers impressive views of both the mountains and the ocean.
The Valley View Trail is part of the park that was touched by fire and is almost entirely untouched by development. Part of the trail sometimes closes due to weather even during the warm months, so check with a ranger before you head out. The trail is rated as a moderate-strenuous level trail. Some steep parts may require some special equipment and experience. At one point, the trail forks to the left and right. The left fork leads to the Valley View Overlook, which offers a beautiful view of the entire Big Sur River Valley. The right fork ends near the six-story-high Pfeiffer Waterfall.
The Big Sur River Gorge Trail is noteworthy because, in less than a half-mile, visitors go from one of the most developed areas of the park to one of the most undeveloped areas. So, you get the best of both worlds. The flat and wide boardwalk-style nature trail is stroller and wheelchair-friendly. At the end of the trail, there’s a collection of boulders and other natural obstacles that lead directly to the Big Sur River. Adventurous hikers may continue past the trail and into the cool waters of the Big Sur River.
The closer you get to Point Sur, which is in the northern area of the park, the better the birdwatching becomes. The Big Sur region is the primary California condor foraging and roosting area. Closer to the coastline, there are several Peregrine falcon families, and other notable birds include western snowy plovers, pelagic cormorants, ashy storm-petrels, and tufted puffins. Be sure to pack your binoculars and cameras in the RV before heading out to the park.
One of the most accessible trails in the park, the River Path Loop is also a great place to experience the area’s ecology. This trail, which is also a stroller and wheelchair-friendly walkway, follows the Big Sur River’s banks. Don’t miss the grove of five-hundred-year-old redwood trees, including the distinctive Proboscis Tree. Expect to see and hear lots of woodpeckers and squirrels along the way. This walk is a perfect way to start your day or wrap up a fun day on the water.
This moderately-traveled trail can get busy on weekends, so it may not be ideal if you are looking to get away from it all. The difficulty of the trail is moderate, as well, with some steep ascents and descents, along with some rough parts. Hikers will need hiking boots, and some hiking experience is recommended. At the end of the three-mile trail, there is a scenic overlook that affords one of the few ocean views at this park. Make sure you pack your camera because this point also overlooks the Santa Lucia Mountains along with Sycamore Canyon.