McWay Waterfall drops into a beautiful cove along Big Sur, a rugged and mountainous section along the central coast of California. A short 1km (0.6 mile) walkway goes from the carpark to a viewpoint over the beach and waterfall.
The waterfall is formed by McWay Creek which drops about 25m (80 feet) onto the beach at McWay Cove (also called Waterfall Cove). At high tide, McWay Waterfall is a tidefall, which means the water empties directly into the ocean (the only other tidefall in California is Alamere Falls).
McWay Waterfall dropped directly into the ocean until 1983, when one of the wettest years on record caused several landslides and mudflows along Big Sur. An extremely large mudslide immediately north of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park closed the the Big Sur Highway for a year, and deposited 2.3 million cubic metres) of landslide material on the coast. Some of this was deposited in McWay Cove, forming a sandy beach beneath the falls where none had previously existed. As a result, McWay Falls now meets the ocean only when the tide is in
McWay Falls was referenced in the music video for “I Need a Doctor” by hip-hop artist Dr Dre.
Getting to McWay Waterfall
McWay Falls is on the west side of Highway 1, and is in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. You may be able to park along thhe highway, or enter the park where there is a parking area. The McWay Falls Overlook Trail from the carpark goes under the highway via a tunnel and leads to a lookout over the waterfall (1km return).
McWay Cove and the waterfall are only accessible by boat. (Access from above is both dangerous and illegal, due to the fragile landscape.)
McWay Falls is is most photogenic in the afternoon, when sunlight falls directly on the waterfall.