Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Guide

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Introduction

For anyone that 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 full of amazing water views and towering redwood trees 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. 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.

RV Rentals in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Transportation in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Driving

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is almost halfway in between Los Angeles and San Francisco. So, the region is about as rural as California gets. The aforementioned Cabrillo Highway (State Highway 1) is about the only way to get in and out of the park.

From Los Angeles, take the Cabrillo Highway north from Santa Maria past Cambria, Ragged Point, Lucia, and Loma Vista. Then, go into the park. From Santa Cruz, take the Cabrillo Highway south past Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Notley’s Landing. You’ll then go through part of the park until you reach the main campground. In either direction, but especially from the north, it’s a very nice drive. As they say, getting here is half the fun.

Parking

There is ample parking in the main campground, and almost all the major hiking trails originate from this area. Additional parking is available around the nature center, Big Sur Lodge, and group camping areas.

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Campsites in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Reservations camping

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Campground - South Camp

The South Camp at Big Sur offers a total of 78 sites for campers with various needs. it's possible to get a river front or river view campsite here too. There are no hookups, but both shower and restroom facilities are available within a very short walk.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Campground - Weyland Camp

The Weyland Camp also features 50 campsites without hookups, some of which are river front, or at least have river views. Take the seasonal footbridge across the river to the trail that leads to the Homestead Cabin right from your doorstep. The laundromat and camp store are located here, too.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Campground - Main Camp

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 onsite restrooms and showers. Walk from your campsite to one of the recreational hiking trails or picnic areas.

First-come first-served

Alternate camping

Big Sur Lodge

There are 62 cottage-style guest rooms in the lodge for visitors wanting a break from their RV. Enjoy the convenience of an outdoor pool and bar as well as the lodge's restaurant.

Seasonal activities in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

In-Season

Valley View Trail

This 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 moderate-strenuous. There are some steep, sustained parts that may require some special equipment and/or experience. At one point, the trail forks to the left and right. The left fork leads to the Valley View Overlook, which offers a nice view of the entire Big Sur River Valley. The right fork ends near the six story high Pfeiffer Waterfall.

Big Sur River Gorge

This 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-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 or reckless hikers may continue past the trail and into the cool waters of the Big Sur River.

Birding

The closer you get to Point Sur, which is in the northern area of the park, the better the bird-watching becomes. The Big Sur region is the primary California Condor foraging and roosting area. Closer to the coastline, there are several Peregrine Falcon families. Other notable birds include Western Snowy Plovers, Pelagic Cormorants, Ashy Storm-Petrel, and Tufted Puffin.

River Path Loop

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 actually a wheelchair-friendly walkway, follows the Big Sur River’s banks. Don’t miss a 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.

Buzzard’s Roost Trail and Overlook

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 scenic overlook that affords one of the few ocean views at this park. Make sure you pack you camera because this point also overlooks the Santa Lucia Mountains along with Sycamore Canyon.

Off-Season

Big Sur Station

Begin or end your stay at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park with a trip to this spacious and modern visitors’ 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.

Big Sur Lodge

According to her diary, one day in 1908, Florence Pfeiffer became agitated when a guest mistreated his mule. “From now on,” she declared, “I expect to charge you so much for each horse, so much for each bed, and so much for each meal every time you stop here.” And so, what became Big Sur Lodge was born. Today, the Lodge is a very serene place that still maintains that frontier spirit. In addition to places to eat, there’s also a grocery store and some other amenities. There are a number of scenic overlooks, and many people call this part of the park a mini-Yosemite.

Nature Trail

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 Park system.

Day Use Area

The snows come in late fall and often linger until late spring So, many of the mountain trails are inaccessible during this period. But, the park’s Day Use area is still 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 Colonial Tree.

Mt. Manuel Trail

This trail may be one of the most challenging eight-mile hikes in the state. Bring lots of water 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. However, the risk is worth the reward - the end of the trail offers amazing views of both the mountains and the ocean.

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