As of August 2016, the Pfeiffer Falls Trail is closed due to the Soberanes Fire. Calfire maps show the entire trail to be within the burned area, which suggests that the trail will remain closed for some time; after the last fire in 2008, the trail was closed until the following May.
The Pfeiffer Falls trail, by far the most popular hike in Pfeiffer Big Sur, starts near the lodge and climbs an oak-wooded hillside to reach a decent-sized waterfall. On the return trip, take a side trail to get a great view of the Big Sur Valley.
The route to Pfeiffer Falls used climb through a redwood-filled gorge alongside Pfeiffer-Redwood Creek. Unfortunately this section, which was the best part of the hike, was closed after two major forest fires in 2008 and never reopened. A hillier, less scenic route with just a few patches of redwoods is now the only way to Pfeiffer Falls. Nontheless, the trail remains popular, and some of the best redwoods can still be seen near the beginning of the trail.
Start at the free parking lot next to the Big Sur Lodge. The well-marked trail to Pfeiffer Falls starts across the main access road and climbs through redwoods and past the little Ernst Ewoldsen Nature Center. After crossing a service road, the trail enters a scenic and open redwood grove on the banks of a small creek. There's a patchy light green carpet of sorrel and a few ferns under the dark redwoods.
The trail, which is wide and dusty due to heavy use, crosses a bridge and climbs out of the canyon, leaving the redwoods behind. The oak woods in this area were heavily damaged by the 2008 fire, but have now completely recovered. After a long climb the trail passes the Valley View spur and then starts to descend back into the gorge, stopping just as it enters the redwoods. A flight of steps leads up to the waterfall viewing platform.
The Valley View spur is less-used and narrower than the main trail, and can get overgrown with poison oak. The trail follows a ridge with occasional glimpses across the valley. Eventually the trail emerges at a viewpoint over the Big Sur Valley, looking toward the ocean. The grand sweep of the valley, fading into the pale blue distance, makes a spectacular view.
Return to the Big Sur Lodge the way you came.
© 2006, 2013 David Baselt