McWay Falls, California

McWay Falls in November 2010

I have this fascination with waterfalls that fall into lakes and oceans. There’s something so scenic about water falling into water. In California, there are a number of waterfalls that fall into the Pacific Ocean. Alamere Falls is one, and it is very beautiful, but because it requires a rather long hike, you’re likely to be one of just a few people visiting the falls. On the other hand, McWay Falls doesn’t require much of a hike, and is therefore far more popular. And understandably so, the California coastline is stunningly beautiful.

McWay Falls is approximately 80′ tall, but it is a rather narrow waterfall. This can tend to make the waterfall look small, and this is partly because you’re not exactly close to the waterfall. At the viewpoint, you’re standing above the waterfall maybe a few hundred feet away. So while it’s a beautiful view, it may not be one of the most intimate waterfalls I’ve seen. I actually found Canyon Falls, McWay Fall’s smaller upstream relative, to be more intimate, as I think I was the only one visiting the falls, and you’re only feet away. And there are other waterfalls in the area you should check out. I haven’t visited many of those waterfalls.


  1. From Monterey, drive south on CA-1 for approximately 40 miles. The parking area for Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park should be on the left, if I remember correctly.
  2. After paying the state park entrance fee, follow the trail to McWay Falls. The signs make it very clear what to do. If you head in the opposite direction, you’ll find Canyon Falls.

Accessibility: 9/10 (easy)
Height: 80′
Length of Hike: 0.5 miles round-trip

A small drop above McWay Falls (as you’re hiking to the falls)

Where in the World is McWay Falls?


Canyon Falls, California

Canyon Falls in early November 2010

McWay Falls is clearly the main attraction at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park on the Pacific coastline of California. It’s very clearly marked and can be seen from the trail leading to a viewpoint.

But there’s another waterfall hiding in the park. Canyon Falls is overlooked. McWay Falls is beautiful, but I felt detached from it. You’re standing at a considerable distance from the falls. On the other hand, Canyon Falls is much more intimate. You can walk right up to the falls, and while it might not be as scenic, it is still beautiful.

Hiking to the falls is relatively easy. The Canyon Trail leads directly to the falls. The other trail that you might get lost on was closed when I visited, so I didn’t have to worry about that. The only tricky part is crossing McWay Creek. Now it’s not even that deep, but it’s just wide enough that you could easily get wet. If you’ve got the right shoes, then that shouldn’t be a problem. Just be aware that it is slippery crossing the makeshift log “bridge” (and I mean bridge very, very loosely).


  1. From Monterey, head south on CA-1 to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
  2. Turn left into the entrance for the park. There is a state park day fee per vehicle.
  3. Instead of heading toward McWay Falls, head in the opposite direction toward the picnic tables and the Canyon Trail.
  4. You’ll cross McWay Creek on the way to the falls. When I visited, there were borders directing us to the falls (though there are no signs indicating it’s there). I’m not sure if those makeshift fences are always there.

Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate)
Height: 30′
Length of Hike: 0.6 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Canyon Falls?