This hike celebrates the people from our
mountains who ran in the Big Sur marathon, walks, and relays.
Although I was a week late, it was far less crowded. Instead of
thousands of determined runners and walkers, I saw a few couples
ambling along shady trails. I did see one runner. Perhaps she was
training for the next Big Sur or October’s 10K Big Sur River Run. It
was blissfully quiet. No bands. No cheers. No cries for mercy.
It’s a long drive down to Big Sur—almost one
hundred miles—but after you pass Monterey, the spectacular scenery
makes for a pleasant trip. Each curve brings new natural beauty. The
rocky coast of Point Lobos State Reserve. Yankee Point. Abalone Bay.
Garrapata Beach. Rocky and Bixby Point. Rocky and Bixby Bridges,
both built in 1932, are still beautiful. The mouth of the Little Sur
River. The strange lighthouse on the giant Point Sur rock. The broad
expanses of Andrew Molera State Park. And then, the protected valley
of Big Sur, the little town of Big Sur, and Pfeiffer Big Sur State
Park. It’s tempting to keep right on driving to Morro Bay, but it’s
good to stretch your legs at Pfeiffer.
Here at Pfeiffer you’ll find the rustic Big Sur
Lodge. Reasonable rates include free admission to five Big Sur
parks. A small store sells food and tourist stuff. Before taking a
hike, a short walk takes you to the Proboscis Grove of
1,200-year-old redwoods. Or wander over to the group picnic ground
to see the 27-foot-around Colonial Tree.
My first choice for a hike in this park is the
Pfeiffer Falls-Valley View Loop. You’ll find the trailhead a short
walk up the road to the left of the lodge. You’ll see a sign. The
trail begins with a long series of steps, then up a more gradual
slope through a classic redwood forest. The path zigzags upstream
over four footbridges. At the intersection with Valley View Trail,
take the right hand trail and two sets of stairs to the sixty-foot
high Pfeiffer Falls. If you look carefully, you’ll see a second
waterfall above. A large platform with a long bench provides a
comfortable site for resting, viewing, eating, and taking pictures.
After your easily-earned rest, return to the
junction, and follow the Valley View Trail over two bridges, up a
series of switchbacks to another signed junction. Stay right to
ascend to the Valley View Overlook. The grade is relatively moderate
but occasionally rocky. You’ll see a few nice views, but keep going
to the top where you can sit on a bench and enjoy a view of the Big
Sur Valley. To the north, you should be able to see the Point Sur
A very short loop takes you back down the trail
to the junction where you bear right to reach the canyon floor. You
soon reach the Pfeiffer Falls Trail that takes you back to the
Behind the lodge, you’ll find the poorly marked
Nature Trail. Although it is supposed to be self-guided, no printed
guides or maps are available. A few steps take you to some big
redwoods. The trail is flat, smooth, and less than a mile long, but
it isn’t very exciting. When you reach the end, you can only retrace
your steps or walk back on a parallel road.
Two other trails are available on the other side
of Highway 1. Hike past the trail sign, then cross under the Big Sur
River Bridge. A short way downstream, you’ll find a tunnel that
crosses under the highway. Follow the river past large redwoods to
an unsigned junction. The left fork goes up the hillside while the
right fork takes you along the river. A set of steps rejoin the two
forks. A short walk takes you to another junction.
Turning left takes you to Buzzard’s Roost. You
climb a switchback up to a hillside ledge where the trail splits,
creating a loop to Buzzard’s Roost. You end up on a ridge with an
overlook. This walk is about 2.5 miles, round trip.
If, instead of taking the left to Buzzard’s
Roost, you take the main trail, you’ll go north to a group
campground and still another junction. The left fork takes you above
the campground to Liewald Flat, an open meadow with oak groves. This
is a shorter walk with a round trip of less than two miles.
Other short trails I haven’t explored include the
Gorge Trail to swimming holes on the Big Sur River and the Oak Grove
Trail. A much more challenging hike of over ten miles takes you up
to a vista point near the 4,379-foot summit of Mount Manuel. It
looks like a tough, sparsely shaded climb through chaparral, but the
view could be worth it.
By this time, you’ll want to cool off. Drive out
of the park, and turn south. When you see the Big Sur Ranger
Station, drive a half mile south, and turn right on Sycamore Canyon
Road. The narrow road ends in about two miles, but you can follow a
short trail through a canopy of cypress trees to a sandy beach,
complete with large rock formations, natural arches, and sea caves.
One of the most photographed beaches in the world, Pfeiffer Beach
was made famous by the film The Sandpipers starring Elizabeth
Taylor and Richard Burton.
If all this walking has made you hungry, the road
south of Pfeiffer features many good restaurants. The Big Sur
walkers from Summit Whole Body Fitness recommend Deetjens Big Sur
Inn. They enjoyed their breakfast and dinner. Even if it is a
cliché, the cliffside restaurant Nepenthe is my choice. The views
south along the coast are magnificent, and the Ambrosiaburger is