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The Big Sur coastline in central California is known throughout the world for its confluence of massive redwood trees, dramatic coastal cliffs, waterfalls, and beautiful beaches. There are numerous great RV campgrounds along this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, and one of the most popular is Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, one hour south of Monterey. Visitors to this park will find hiking trails paralleling a cool river, thick forests, wildlife, waterfalls, and overall peacefulness, despite the park’s popularity.
The land that is now Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park started as a 160-acre homestead in the late 19th century, after this part of California was ceded to the United States from Mexico. John Pfeiffer later had some lucrative offers from urban developers for this land, but he instead sold it to the state of California for a park. The current park is now just over 1,000 acres and includes an infrastructure of trails and buildings constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and 40s. Archeological evidence also shows signs of native peoples inhabiting this land 8,000 years before John Pfeiffer settled here, some of which can be seen in the visitors center.
Hiking is a favorite activity in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Every visitor should see Pfeiffer Falls via the two-mile round-trip Valley View Trail, which also offers many other great views. For something easier and shorter, the half-mile River Path is a wheelchair-accessible loop trail along the Big Sur River, where you’ll see a great variety of the park’s ecosystem. More adventurous hikers can check out the strenuous hikes of the eight-mile Mt. Manuel Trail and the three-mile Buzzard's Roost. Both of these trails provide excellent views of the surrounding area; Buzzard’s Roost is shaded by redwoods along the river, while Mt. Manuel is more exposed. Many of these hiking trails lead into the even more expansive Los Padres National Forest, which adjoins the park.
The Big Sur River is a central feature of the park, winding throughout the park and stands of redwoods, maple, and alder. It makes an excellent spot for cooling off on hot days. The water is too shallow to dive headfirst, but you'll be able to wade in and swim through the cool water throughout the park. The river is steelhead trout habitat and swimmers are advised not to alter any rocks or logs in the river. There is a very restrictive catch-and-release fishing program within the park and other areas nearby, but it’s not outright prohibited.
Numerous guided interpretive walks are offered throughout the summer, as well as fantastic campfire programs led by knowledgeable rangers. You’ll learn much about the history and features of the park, and get some tips about spotting the park’s diverse wildlife. These include the endangered California condor, spotted owl, bobcat, gray foxes, and a variety of other bird species.
The very popular RV campground at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park features 189 sites in a forested area near the Big Sur River. Some of these sites front the river while others front beautiful meadowlands. Its location will really help keep you cool on hot days. Each campsite includes a fire ring with grill and a picnic table. Shared facilities include hot showers, flush toilets, and drinking water. There are no hookups at the Pfeiffer Big Sur campground, but there is a dump and water fill station.
Most of the campsites and facilities at the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park campground are wheelchair-accessible. Dogs are also allowed at this campground, but they must be kept on a leash at all times; they are not permitted on any of the trails with you. Unfortunately, this park is prone to occasional wildfires, heavy rains, and mudslides, so be sure to check on its current status before you book an RV in Monterey County for coming here.
There’s a lot to see while you’re camping in an RV at Big Sur. Be sure to visit Big Sur Station just south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, where you can learn about all of the other great parks along this coastline. Favorites include Andrew Molera State Park, Limekiln State Park, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
You won’t find any beach access directly from Pfeiffer Big Sur, but there's plenty of it nearby, Pfeiffer Beach being the closest. You'll find more beaches heading south, and be sure to pull off to the side of the road to view McWay Falls, the famed Pacific Coast Highway waterfall. This stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway is dotted with numerous other scenic pull-offs.
Two must-see California attractions within an hour north include Carmel and Monterey. Carmel is home to Pebble Beach, and Monterey hosts Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Both of these towns offer delicious restaurants serving fresh seafood, tender steaks, and excellent comfort food. If you're running low on fuel and food, there are some options in the vicinity of the park, but your best bet is to proceed north to Carmel. Taking your rental RV past Monterey will lead you to the San Francisco Bay area; San Luis Obispo is the closest city two and a half hours to the south.