Note: Because of the 2016 Soberanes fire, this trail, along with all trails on the east side of Hwy 1 in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park are closed until further notice. Check here for more information.
The last time I set out on a Big Sur hike overlooking Hwy 1, I took a beating. The Rocky Ridge Trail at Garrapata State Park winds its way up a steep, open hillside to some pretty spectacular views, but at a price.
This time I got the same spectacular views without the beating and with a much better trail experience.
The Ewoldsen Trail Loop is a part of the trail system at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The park is better known as the home of McWay Falls, one of two ‘tidefalls’ in California where a waterfall empties directly into the Pacific ocean.
Heading upstream from the falls first puts you on the Falls Trail, which after a short distance leads you to the beginning of the Ewoldsen Trail.
The trail immediately sets you on a series of switchbacks, which is the beginning of a 4.5 mile wooded hike with an elevation gain of around 1400 feet, which is high enough to reward you with a pretty spectacular view of the ocean and the shoreline below. It winds it way uphill largely within earshot of the sound of water running through the creek below.
The trail is a loop and I chose to go to the right where it first splits, which was a smart choice as as it turned out the grade going to the right seemed a bit easier uphill then the downhill return where I made good use of the hiking sticks (and reasoned this would be the tougher way up)
Also, the loop trail is fully open, in spite of what the state park web site says. The 2008 Basin fire ripped through the area and it’s taken until recently to restore the trails.
All along the path you pass huge logs that had to be cleared and I suspect it was a reasonable strategy to give the dead trees a chance to fall over before you let visitors back onto the trails.
We know a little something about wildfires and dead trees in California, having a close call with a fire near the ranch in Carmel Valley last summer.
The trail breaks out of the forest with open views of the mountain ranges you’ve hiked through and eventually leads you to a series of Pacific vistas, all very selfie-worthy.
I spent about 3 hours completing the trail, and that’s with stopping frequently for photo and video shooting.
And so, if you find yourself feeling a little crowded at McWay Falls with a few extra hours to spend, some decent footwear and a good supply of liquids, then head upstream from the throngs and make for the Ewoldsen Trail. You’ll capture some solid Instagram moments from high above the frenzy at the falls below.
Kid Factor: (+) Great outdoor trek with moderate grades, wooded trails, great vistas. The average kid shouldn’t have to much trouble with the trail. (-) Respect the ledges at the top and along the way. I didn’t see too much poison oak, but it’s out there somewhere. Bring fluids, especially in the summer.
Fitness Factor: 3 Flight rule. If 3 flights of stairs has you looking for a respirator, better just settle for the ‘Falls Trail’ and call it a day. Trail is considered difficult and according to my GPS has an incline of 1400+ feet and is about 4.3 miles in length. It’s shaded for a lot of the hike. I recommend staying to the right at the loop split and bring hiking sticks if you’ve got them, as the return downhill is a bit of a knee-cruncher.
Photo Factor: (+) As always along any hike in Big Sur, you’ll get plenty of deep woods/big tree shots, crazy Pacific vistas (if there’s no fog) and a selection of wildflowers in the summer. With the fog, time-lapse can be fun. (-) The deep shadows and highlights in the woods are best managed by a tripod and HDR, if you’re serious about your pictures. Crazy good selfie shots from the top, especially on a clear day.