McWay Falls

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McWay Falls
McWay Falls Big Sur May 2011 001.jpg
McWay Falls
Location Big Sur, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Monterey County, California, USA
Type Plunge/Tide fall
Total height 80 feet
Number of drops 1
Longest drop 200 feet

McWay Falls is an 80-foot waterfall located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park that flows year-round. This waterfall is one of only two in the region that are close enough to the ocean to be referred to as "tidefalls", the other being Alamere Falls. The source of the waterfall is McWay Creek and is one of the few waterfalls that empty directly into the ocean. Originally the waterfall cascaded directly into the ocean but after a 1983 fire and 1985 landslides, the topography of McWay Cove was altered, forming an inaccessible beach. The waterfall now meets the ocean when the tide is in.

On the edge of McWay Creek is a small building which houses a Pelton wheel, with signs that provide historical facts. Christopher McWay homesteaded the canyon in the late 1870s and eventually McWay's Saddle Rock Ranch was sold in the 1920s to Lathrop Brown and his wife, Helen Hooper Brown, who built two houses at Waterfall Overlook. In 1961 the approximately 1,800 acre property was donated by Helen Hooper Brown to the state for a park, to be named for Julia Pfeiffer Burns. The Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is located 37 miles south of Carmel. Near its parking lot begins the half-mile Waterfall Trail, a dirt path heading westward toward the ocean, to a short tunnel under Highway 1, a right turn to a trail in the cliffside overlooking a small cove, to the sign "Overlook".[1]

Although it can be viewed via a trail from above, the beach and scenic cove below are difficult to access by land, however, they can be easily reached by boat. Even with this possibility, it is not recommended that people visit the beach as a safety precaution due to crumbling cliffs and to preserve the environment. Just upstream is 30-foot McWay Creek Falls, and on a smaller tributary is Canyon Trail Falls.

McWay Falls is clearly visible from the roadside of Highway 1, but not from driving on the road itself.

Although a detailed history of the falls has yet to be completed, walking the creek from the highway culvert to the falls indicates that the last portion of the channel to the lip of the falls is artificial. It appears that the natural creek channel was along the lower declivity to the north (left) of the falls, which would have made a lower and less vertical cascade to the water in the cove. It appears that the re-routing of the creek to the present fall site was among the landscape changes made by the Browns in the building of the Waterfall House and grounds.

McWay Falls featured in the music video I Need a Doctor by Dr. Dre.[2]


Coordinates: 36°09′31″N 121°40′18″W / 36.15861°N 121.67167°W / 36.15861; -121.67167

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