A Guide To Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, California

Pfeiffer State Park
Pfeiffer State Park | © Harold Litwiler/Flickr
Courtney Holcomb

Big Sur, California is a popular spot for day trips and camping, known for its sublime beauty and incredible outdoor opportunities. If you’re in the area, be sure to check out Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, filled with gorgeous plant life and a huge number of recreational activities.
Located in Monterey County on the central coast of California, Pfeiffer spans over 1,000 acres. The park stretches across the Big Sur River, sloping down the west side of the Santa Lucia Mountains filled with redwoods, conifers, oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, maples, alders, and willows. These features make Pfeiffer a beautiful spot for visitors to explore while camping in Big Sur and keeping on the lookout for animals such as bobcats, deer, squirrels, and colorful birds.

Pfeiffer Beach

The park was established in the 1930s, when John Pfeiffer sold the land to the state of California. Among the first of the European settlers in the area, Pfeiffer had owned the land for decades, living in a cabin there since the 1880s. The park was named in his honor after he rejected an outstanding offer of $210,000 to sell the land to a subdivision developer, opting to sell it to the state instead. The park has suffered through a number of fires over the years, including the Basin Complex Fire and the Chalk Fire of 2008, which caused most of the park to close until mid-2009.

Park entrance

Today, the park is best known for its camping facilities and hiking trails. For more of a ‘glamping’ experience, visitors can stay in the park’s Big Sur Lodge, a hotel featuring 61 guest rooms, a conference center, a café, and a grocery store. There is a large campground within the park’s boundaries, featuring accommodations for tent camping, car camping, and RVs, with over 175 campsites stationed along the Big Sur River. Within the campgrounds there are bathrooms with coin-operated showers, metal rings for building fires, a convenience store with wifi access, and the Campfire Center that hosts programs for visitors on busy weekends. These campsites are extremely popular, so advance reservations are necessary. Reservations can be made seven months in advance on the first day of the month, either online or by phone.

Hiking options at Pfeiffer range from .5 miles to 23 miles long. The most intense trail is the Pine Ridge Trail, 23 miles long one way and often crowded in nice weather. Other favorite trails include Buzzard’s Roost, a three-mile loop following the river through the redwoods to a panoramic ocean view; Pfeiffer Falls Trail, a 2-mile, round-trip trail leading up a moderately strenuous 750 feet through the woods to a 60-foot waterfall; and Mount Manuel Trail, an eight-mile, round-trip, strenuous climb through the forest to reach sweeping views of the Santa Lucia Mountains and a glimpse of the ocean. Some hikes will even lead you to swimming holes in the Big Sur River Gorge where you can take a dip.

Pfeiffer State Park

The park is open for day use from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset. Plenty of picnic areas are available featuring charcoal grills, some of which are reservable. Dogs are allowed in the campgrounds and picnic areas, but not on the trails, and fishing is highly restricted in the area.

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