As the afternoon light began to fade we opted to take another hike but remain in the immediate area. I suggested that we back track to a fork in the path I had seen earlier that lead to a bluff overlook trail. We gathered our packs and were soon hiking once more. I must reiterate that I had seen elephant seals just off the shoreline where we rested, however once we reached the viewpoint I was astonished to find dozens of them, popping their heads up out of the water, then diving back down to feed I assumed. I’ve never seen such large seals, nor have I seen them in such large numbers. We were surprised to find the entire area full of them as far as the eye could see. We continued on the trail around the headlands to find a fence rising up against us. This is the Big Sur Ranch, a working cattle ranch from times long forgotten, still continuing to till the land and herd cattle. We made haste as daylight was receding. I must add. Please remember that in Big Sur, sunset is the magic hour. You’ll understand more if you ever visit. The dying light burns red and paints the landscape in a golden cascade of color. Believe me, anywhere you go will be breathtaking, but none more so then our McWay Falls.
Like a fresco rising out of ancient Greece, McWay Falls presides as a bastion of beauty. We stumbled upon a serene, almost heavenly landscape shaped for the gods themselves. The only major waterfall in California to cascade into the Pacific Ocean, McWay Falls is one of the most beautiful places I have ever set eyes on. It’s magical, enchanting, and mesmerizing to the senses. One is simply overwhelmed at the sight of it. We weren't the only ones who knew of this place. Photographers leaned from the edge of cliffs perched at decisive points to snap landscapes and panoramas. Couples stood arm in arm sharing in its beauty. The path leading up to the overlook takes you through a tunnel underneath Pacific Coast Highway. As light beams ahead of you like a light beam from the heavens, the rest of the world quietly slips away. Like much of the Big Sur points of interest, McWay Falls is not visible for the highway so be sure to look for signs on the roadway.
Once on the trail there are two options to take: west toward the beach and the falls or east following the creek into the mountains under the cover of Pacific Coastal Redwood groves. I've done both and suggest the same for anyone who has time. The waterfall is what attracts everyone but, high on the ridge near the north point of the cove lies the foundation of the ranch house that was home to the areas inhabitants during the turn of the century. Visit this while walking parallel to the ocean below.
It was from this point that we watched the sun set over the horizon and dip slowly into the depths of the vast Pacific Ocean. We stood at the foundations of the old McWay House watching the amber and red fade in the distance before following our path back to the overlook. The last rays of light had slipped away as the waterfall dropped away from us.
At the opening for the passageway leading under Highway One continue to the south instead of heading back to the parking lot. It will lead along the backside of the waterfalls to the south side of the creek. There are two environmental campgrounds near the Cliffside. If you can get a booking here do it, but be warned it’s very popular for a reason. It sits on the edge of sheer granite outcroppings that overlook the great Pacific Ocean and offers 180-degree panoramas of the sea to the horizon line. This is a great place to boulder and climb if feeling brave. I don’t recommend it mind you, coming from a purely legal objective, but you’ll find a jagged coastline of rock for as far as the eye can see.
After your outing to the southwest corner of McWay State Park head back towards the entrance. You’ll pass through the tunnel corridor once more and head towards the parking area. Continue on the path to the west to pick up the trail that parallels McWay Creek and meanders back up into the mountain side. I'll leave you with one last picture before this ends. The trail is a loop approximately 1.5 miles long. Do yourself a favor. Take the time to explore the backcountry.