Note: (January 2018) Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is open, but due to the 2016 Soberanes fire and extreme rain in the 2016-2017 winter, many trails remain closed. Check here for the latest information on all fo the Big Sur parks and trails.
Pulling into Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is actually a bit of a hazard. You drive from the bright open skies above Hwy 1 into almost total darkness in about 20 yards. As your eyes adjust you realize with delight why it’s so dark. It’s the trees, stupid. Really big trees.
There they are, right outside the windows, the bases of the redwood trees that are nearly the size of our car. Of course, you want to stop and look, but that’s probably not smart because the next guy right behind you is also pulling off Hwy 1, and he’s about to be thrust into darkness too. Will he see our brakes lights? Not if he’s busy looking up.
So with that in mind we pulled ahead to the official park entrance, paid our 10 bucks, and another dollar for a map and began our visit to one of the nicest state parks you’ll ever run across. It was me, Susie and Nellie (one of our rescue Chihuahuas) who got out of the trusty Honda, and began our visit to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park with the obligatory trip to the facilities.
Now normally I wouldn’t start one of these pieces with details about park facilities, but it’s one of the first things I noticed when we arrived. The facilities are really new and… clean. So are the parking lots. The signage. The ADA trails. The bridges that cross the Big Sur river. The park has created an accessible deck around the bases of one of the cluster of trees which puts them in touching distance to even those with very limited mobility. Someone has been putting money and thought into the park and it shows.
This is my second trip here. The first trip was about 10 months ago, before the drought had really settled in. I hiked up to Pfeiffer Falls and then backtracked a bit to the Valley View Trail.
The hike up to Pfeiffer Falls is only about 300 feet or so of vertical climb, but at times it seems a bit more than that. The trail is well traveled, and took me through stands of smaller Redwoods, with a few nice photo ops along the way. The falls itself was a little underwhelming with a stifled flow and a limited view. Even though it has finally been raining the last few days, I would imagine it will be quite a while before this humble cascade has enough flow to make a great photo or warrant the hike up there. I’ll check with the park office about the falls before I hike up there again.
The Valley View trail does just that; near the end of the trail you’ll be able to see the entire valley all the way out to the Pacific. You might want to make this an early morning or late in the day venture, as the light in midday makes everything look a little flat.
Due to the fire that tore through the area on the west side of Hwy 1 a few months ago, the park west of Hwy 1 is closed to the public. Entering this area will result in a ‘criminal citation’ so consider yourself warned. Some clown went on that side of the park a few months ago, set out a campfire in spite of signs warning otherwise, and in a few minutes started a fire that burned through 30+ homes in the next few hours and almost a thousand acres in the next few days.
So knowing that we wouldn’t be doing any new forest hiking, we decided to get Nellie out for some fresh air and fitness. With dogs restricted to ‘developed’ areas of the park, we put her on the leash and let her sniff her way through the fantastic ADA pathways, around the campgrounds and on the bridges over the Big Sur River. We used these bridges to cross over to the campsites.
Even the most reluctant of hotel room adventurers will be inspired to give camping a go here, as many of the campsites are an experience unto themselves. Small clearings lined with a layer of pine needles and clusters of 1000 year old trees that enclose the campsites and put a polite but formidable barricade between you and your neighbor.
It’s startling and sobering to stand here. Startling because I finally realize standing here in a cluster of two or three, just how big these things are. They come straight out of the ground and grow straight up for a couple of hundred feet. They spread out to take all the sunshine they want leaving you and your feet in the blue shadows on the ground.
It’s also a sobering cathedral-like experience and being so, I’m given to a few moments of silent reflection: Holy smokes, I reflect. These things are simply unbelievable.
But I also reflect on the fact that I’m standing in one of a handful of remaining stands of sequoia sempervirens. The other 98% have been cut down.
But that was then, and this is now.
I put those thoughts behind me as we watch Nellie marking her turf with a thimble full of pee at the base of a redwood that’s six stories high and about 32 chihuahuas across. But she’s doing her part: It is, after all, a 500 year drought and every thimble-full helps.
I don’t want to keep harping on the trees, but like so many things around here, until you see them in person, you haven’t really seen them at all. And with the excellent access and fresh, updated facilities, you’re pretty much out of excuses for not having had your own reflective, holy smokes moment standing among the redwoods.