Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Big Sur is a magnificent stretch of coastline in central California just south of Carmel, and although I love all of California’s coastline, the scenery along this particular route is so amazing that it makes me constantly sigh from pure contentment at seeing all the surrounding beauty. Five state parks anchors this area, including Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park which has the largest campground out of all the parks. Although located centrally in Big Sur, Pfeiffer SP has no beach or coastal access. Instead this park features lush oak and redwood forests, the Big Sur River, and expansive coastal views from the mountain peaks in the park. We spent a night at Pfeiffer Big Sur campground as part of our 2018 Thanksgiving getaway (the previous night was spent at Kirk Creek campground further south, previous post here).

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park campground
The predicted rain most likely played a role in the cancellation of a “premium” river site ($50/night), which we were able to snag the week before Thanksgiving. The campground has 189 sites and all were reserved way in advance for the Thanksgiving weekend. Camping in the rain at this campground is definitely doable, but after the heavy rain during the night I saw many sites with large pools of water the next morning, so reserving a site with paved parking makes things much less muddy.

Campsite #95, “Premium” river site
The paved parking made it much less muddy
Pathway to river area (looking back)
River area in the back of the campsite
Calm, shallow rocky river allowed for exploring IN the river, not just from the shores

Big Sur River Gorge
The entrance to the Big Sur River Gorge can be found at the back of the campground between campsite 111 and 112. A short walk from the sign leads to an opening where you see the gorge. I can imagine this would be a popular place when the weather was warmer to enjoy a nice dip in the “pool.” When we were there, we had the place to ourselves.

Big Sur River Gorge entrance at the back of the campground
Big Sur River gorge with a small pool
Big Sur River Gorge area

The camp host came by and sold us some firewood, which my pyro daughter instantly made into a campfire. We were able to roast marshmallows enjoy a campfire for about 30 minutes before the heavy rains had us running for the awning.

Campfire photo courtesy of my daughter

Buzzards Roost Viewpoint Hike
The actual hike took us from Parking lot #2 to Nature Trail to Buzzards Roost Viewpoint and back (about 3.5 miles)… plus a walk to the lodge to get ice cream of course 🙂 I have to say the hike itself was more interesting than the view of the mountains from the top, so look around during the hike (but don’t trip!) and enjoy the journey. This hike was moderately trafficked, not crowded, but it didn’t feel like we had the trail to ourselves.

Pedestrian Bridge along the Nature Trail
Big Sur River
This one always exploring
Trail through oak forest
View of colorful mountains across the way
Constant uphill climb
Trail through redwood forest
View from the top

We counted 21 banana slugs on the way down, they certainly liked the fresh rains. There were muddy sections, but generally the trail was walkable after the rains. I would rate this as moderate if you go at a fast pace, but on the easier side if you take it slow and stop to enjoy the views. It was a nice hike through different terrain with varying scenery, I would definitely recommend this hike, especially if you want a hike with shade!

I can’t wait to visit this area again, maybe at a different time of year, although we didn’t mind the rains. The Thanksgiving holiday is a busy time of year for Big Sur in general, so come prepared with reservations and also for all kinds of weather.

Farewell Big Sur
Passing by the Elkhorn Slough area on the way home


If you’re interested, check out our camping experience at Kirk Creek campground on Thanksgiving (A Big Sur Thanksgiving).

11 replies to “Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

  1. I really like the idea of celebrating the holidays with an adventure. It makes them more about time together with loved ones, and less about spending a lot of money. I like that. I like the message it gives the kids. Big Sur is a magical place.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m slowing making my way west to visit your part of the country. We will be in Seguaro in March and Seattle in July. I have been taking notes from your posts and others about Seattle but would welcome any help.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, we are planning on hitting all 3 parks over the week. I am open to any suggestions if you have them?
        We are going to end the week down in Astoria, OR to see all the sites from the Movie “Goonies.” I’ll take any tips for that area if you have them?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This is an area that I think of as classic special coast California! And the pictures are a pleasure all by themselves. Seems you have more photo help as well as a firetender. Yes, traveling together is a gift!

    Liked by 1 person

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