Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Exquisite stretch of the central California coast
HIGHLIGHTS: Thirty-seven miles south of Carmel, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park showcases an exquisite 2-mile stretch of the central California coast. McWay Creek winds through the main picnic area, which is lined with some of the state's most southerly redwoods. They have big burls and twisted trunks-features that once lowered their commercial value but make them fascinating to photograph and look at today. A half-mile stroll through the redwoods will take you to cascading Canyon Falls. If you're looking for a park with more facilities, the larger, more famous Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is 11 miles to the north.
ACTIVITIES: Hiking, picnicking, camping, wildlife watching. With a permit, scuba divers can explore the park's 1,680 acres of canyons, caves, tunnels and natural bridges.
VISITOR CENTER: No visitor center. But 10.5 miles to the north, Big Sur Station has a Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park trail guide and map, as well as information about other interesting stops along this spectacular stretch of coast.
CAMPGROUNDS: The park has two campsites perched on a wooded, fenced promontory about one-third mile from the parking lot. Each site, which can accommodate up to eight people, has a picnic table and fire pit, but no drinking water. For reservations, call (800) 444-7275 or go to the park Web site.
TRAILS: There's only one way to get to the Pacific Ocean. About 2 miles north of the park entrance (at mile marker 38), you can walk a half-mile down a fire road to the rocky beach at Partington Cove. There's an old-growth redwood grove there that Save the Redwoods League helped add to the park in 1981.
MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: If you have time for nothing else, make the quarter-mile stroll to McWay Falls. From the parking lot, follow an easy trail under the highway. Turn right at the trail intersection. You'll soon see a waterfall that looks like something out of a tropical paradise, and-if you're lucky-possibly a sea otter, harbor seal or California sea lion. If you're visiting December through March, keep an eye out for the migrating gray whales that occasionally explore the cove.
HIDDEN GEM: At this writing in 2010, trails exploring the inland side of the park (Ewoldsen and Tanbark) are closed due to damage from a 2008 fire. But there's still a way to experience the park's upper reaches. Drive to Vista Point, about 1 mile north of the park entrance. From there, hike 2.3 miles up a fire road to Tin House. From there, you can often enjoy gorgeous views of the entire coastline. Look up, too, because California condors sometimes sit atop redwoods and soar along the ridge tops.
MORE INFORMATION: Go to the park Web site, call (831) 667-2315, or write Big Sur Station #1, Big Sur, CA 93920.
Regan Ranoa, Outreach Manager, suggests a stop in at Fernwood Tavern for live music and a good beer.
STOP: Stop and stay in a yurt!
For an amazing experience, Regan recommends making a reservation at Esalen for their hot springs. The cliff-side, outdoor springs are only open to the public from 1am-3am.
FAVORITE HIKE: The Waterfall Trail is very short, only about 1/3 of a mile, and leads from the parking lot to a ledge overlooking a beach and cove below, as well as McWay Falls, where the creek cascades over 80 feet down to the beach below.
FAVORITE PARK ATTRACTION: The 80-foot McWay waterfall!
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HIGHLIGHTS: The slim, 150-foot trees you can see in these two regional parks are a generation removed from those that helped build the San Francisco Bay Area during and after the Gold Rush, but they represent the largest remaining stand of coast redwoods in the East Bay.