McWay Cove: Pearl Of Big Sur

January 31, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

McWay Cove & FallsMcWay Cove & FallsMcWay Cove, Big Sur Coast, California. "McWay Falls is an 80-foot waterfall located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park that flows year-round," according to Wikipedia.

"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{,} ... 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'.

"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."

High and flood tides can also make the beach extremely hazardous. On one of the days I photographed, two men were on the beach and within five minutes after they left, the entire beach was covered in an angry tidal flow ~ complete with waves. They would have easily been swept out to sea.

"Just upstream is 30-foot McWay Creek Falls, and on a smaller tributary is Canyon Trail Falls," Wikipedia notes. "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."


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