Leaving Cambria on the coast of California early to hike at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, we have the highway to ourselves. With its hairpin turns and spectacular vistas to the west, the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) provides us with an amusement park ride of hairpin turns and steep drop-off thrills.
Think about it. By heading north on the PCH, we are always nearest the mountainside of the highway and away from the plunging cliffs that the southbounders must deal with. That is a good thing for the slightly acrophobic in the front seat next to Hannah. After driving just 33 miles in the first hour, we take a quick break to change drivers at Gorda Springs. There, we see, despite falling gas prices across the United States this winter of 2015, Gorda Springs has the same price that it had a year ago.
On our way to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, we pass the entrance to the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (JPB); Hannah reads aloud about this park and we learn that a fifty foot waterfall overlooking the ocean, a stunning redwood grove and a 200 foot tunnel leading to the beach through the cliffs are just a taste of what awaits you…
Making a u-eee (U-turn) immediately, we change plans on the spot and drive four to five miles back to the park entrance at JPB. At 930A, the drop dead gorgeous ranger suggests the Ewoldsen Trail. The juxtaposition of a natural beauty among such natural beauty makes this trail an obvious choice
Hiking under the redwood forest canopy, we start off in sweatshirts. The Ewoldsen Trail is a 4.5 mile loop with an invigorating 1300’ gain in elevation. Today redwoods are like the Beatles – here, there, and everywhere. Redwoods are found in deep valleys and gullies where the coastal fog bathes the towering redwoods in moisture.
Rising above the river bed, the trail has us in redwood heaven. A cool, moist climate is needed for the redwoods to thrive in this, one of the southern-most groves of redwoods. We find redwoods along the stream bed or up the north facing mountain slopes.
I have to say that any day in the redwoods is a great day. Ken Burns of PBS fame calls our National Parks America’s Best Idea. Well, California has its own best idea, too, with its spectacular Big Sur State Parks here on the Pacific. As we hike, I hum Woody Guthrie’s classic This Land is Your Land. This land is your land, this land is my land. From California to the New York Island, from the redwood forests…
After two miles of hiking beneath this redwood paradise, we take to the recently blazed Waters Trail under a full California sun. Here the chaparral vegetation dominates as we see sage, coyote brush, and gooseberry; there is now a high desert vibe to our hiking adventure today.
The trail is cliffside and gives us a view of Pacific Ocean miles away. Lunching on a park bench near the summit of the trail, we deboot and desock and revel in how damn fortunato we are to be here in January while Mainers are preparing for Snowmageddon.
Upon our descent, we return to the shaded redwood forest and spot a baby redwood. As the tallest trees, redwoods are found on a very narrow coastal band from here at JPB to the extreme southwestern corner of Oregon. The thick bark and the soaring foliage protects the redwoods from both fire and insect damage.
Descending, we pass many hikers on this holiday Monday in January wondering about the next turn and how long it would take to finish the loop trail. We love the trails with the buzz of hikers. One, we love the interaction, and two, it’s less likely we’ll get lost on popular trails. Though the trail guide says the Ewoldsen Trail could take a full day for an average hiker, we found its 4.5 mile loop with the additional 2.4 miles going up and back on the Waters Trail has taken just over three hours.
Once back at our rented Toyota Corolla, we know that there is just a quarter mile walk to the Overlook Trail above the Pacific cliffs. Through the 200 foot metal culvert under the Pacific Coast Highway, we see the aforementioned waterfall, which falls quietly to the beach at McWay Cove.
Due to the unstable cliffs, the beach is not open to the public; as such, the Observation Deck is overrun with touristos. Spent from the three plus hours of hiking and knowing we have at least two hours of driving ahead to Santa Cruz for the night, we know it’s time to boogie.
Nothing like the majesty of the redwoods! The redwood forest trails not only puts the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park at the top of our list of hiking destinations on the coast of California, but anywhere from California to the New York island.