Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

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Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
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Pfeiffer Beach at the mouth of the Big Sur River in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur, California
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Location Monterey County, California, United States
Nearest city Big Sur, California
Coordinates 36°15′N121°47′W / 36.250°N 121.783°W / 36.250; -121.783 Coordinates: 36°15′N121°47′W / 36.250°N 121.783°W / 36.250; -121.783
Area1,000 acres (4.0 km2)
Governing body California Department of Parks and Recreation

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a state park in Monterey County, California, near the area of Big Sur on the state's Central Coast. It covers approximately 1,006 acres (4.07 km2) of land. The park is centered on the Big Sur River. It has been nicknamed a "mini Yosemite." [1] Redwood trees are known to live up to 2,200 years. A tree in the park nicknamed the Colonial Tree is estimated to be between 1,100 and 1,200 years old. [2]



John Pfeiffer's cabin, 2006 Pfeiffer homestead.jpg
John Pfeiffer's cabin, 2006

The first known European settler in Big Sur was George Davis, who in 1853 claimed a tract of land along the Big Sur River. He built a cabin near the present day site of the beginning of the Mount Manuel Trail. [3] :326 In 1868, Native Americans Manual and Florence Innocenti bought Davis' cabin and land for $50.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is named after John Pfeiffer, who lived in a cabin on the property beginning in 1884. He was the son of Michael Pfeiffer and Barbara Laquet. The Pfeiffer family immigrated from France. Their son and his family were among the first European settlers in the area. In the winter of 1869, Michael and Barbara Laquet Pfeiffer were on their way to the south coast of Big Sur when they were forced to stop for the season in the Sycamore Canyon area near present-day Big Sur Village. They liked the area so much they decided against moving south again the following spring. They brought four children with them: Charles, John, Mary Ellen, and Julia. They later had four more: William, Frank, Flora, and Adelaide. After the Homestead Act of 1862 was passed by Congress, he filed for patents on his land in 1883 and 1889. [4] [5] Many features in Big Sur are named for the descendants of the Pfeiffers.

In 1930, John Pfeiffer was offered $210,000 for his land by a Los Angeles developer who intended to build a subdivision. Pfeiffer wanted to preserve the land he and his family had grown to love, and instead sold 700 acres (2.8 km2) to the state of California in 1933. [6]

In 1934, the Monterey Bay Area Council built a makeshift Camp Wing within the park, but it was abandoned after the 1937 summer camping season. The next year the Boy Scouts built Camp Esselen at another location within the park. This site was improved until 1945, when limitations of the site, closeness to public camping facilities, and jurisdictional conflicts between the Scouts and the state forced the council to request reimbursement from the state for $8,000 in improvements. The council continued to use the camp until 1953. In 1952, the Scouts began building Camp Pico Blanco, and when that camp was opened in 1954, Camp Esselen was finally closed. [7] [8]

Overnight stays

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park has both a hotel (the Big Sur Lodge) and a campground within its boundaries. The campgrounds were closed in the winter of 2008–2009 due to the Basin Complex Fire. The campgrounds have coin-operated showers, bathrooms and a convenience store. [9] The convenience store also offers WiFi access. [10]


Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is known for its redwood groves [11] and trail to Pfeiffer Falls. Mud slides caused by the Basin Complex fire necessitated rerouting the Pfeiffer Falls Trail. Reestablishing the old trail, with the wooden foot bridges, was scheduled to begin in 2016.

Fire impact

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park was damaged by the Basin Complex Fire during June and July 2008, which burned 162,818 acres (658.90 km2) in California. [12] Much of the damage was to the outskirts of the park, however, and the campgrounds were able to reopen at the end of July. The Chalk Fire of September and October, which burned an additional 16,269 acres (65.84 km2), did serious damage to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which was largely closed from September 2008 to May 2009. [13]

Related Research Articles

Big Sur Region of California in the United States

Big Sur is a rugged and mountainous section of the Central Coast of California between Carmel Highlands and San Simeon, where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. It is frequently praised for its dramatic scenery. Big Sur has been called the "longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States", a sublime "national treasure that demands extraordinary procedures to protect it from development", and "one of the most beautiful coastlines anywhere in the world, an isolated stretch of road, mythic in reputation". The stunning views, redwood forests, hiking, beaches, and other recreational opportunities have made Big Sur a popular destination for about 7 million people who live within a day's drive and visitors from across the world. It is among the top 35 tourist destinations world-wide. The region receives about the same number of visitors as Yosemite National Park, but offers only limited bus service, few restrooms, and a narrow two-lane highway that for most of its length clings to the steep coastal cliffs. North-bound traffic during the peak summer season and holiday weekends is often backed up for about 20 miles (32 km) from Big Sur Village to Carmel. Due to the large number of visitors, congestion and slow traffic between Carmel and Posts is becoming the norm.

Andrew Molera State Park State park in California, United States

Andrew Molera State Park is a relatively undeveloped state park on the Big Sur coast of California, United States, preserving land as requested by former owner Frances Molera. Situated at the mouth of the Big Sur River, the property was part of the Rancho El Sur land grant, and later owned by Californio pioneer John Bautista Rogers Cooper and his descendants. Cooper's grandchildren Andrew and Frances Molera inherited the property from their mother in 1918. Andrew popularized the artichoke in California in 1922, and died in 1931. In 1965, Frances sold the property to The Nature Conservancy, stipulating that the park to be created should be named for her brother.

Limekiln State Park

Limekiln State Park is a state park of California, United States, on the Big Sur coast. It contains four lime kilns from an 1887–1890 lime-calcining operation, plus a beach, redwood forest, and 100-foot (30 m) Limekiln Falls. It is located 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Lucia on State Route 1. The 711-acre (288 ha) park was established in 1994.

Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council

Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council (#055), the result of a council merger between the Santa Clara County Council and the Monterey Bay Area Council, is a Boy Scouts of America council headquartered in San Jose, California. In 2004, the previous two councils served over 11,000 youth in over 400 Boy Scout troops, Cub Scout packs, Venturing crews, and Explorer posts. In 2012, the Monterey Bay Area Council announced that after 89 years as a separate council, it had agreed to merge back into the Santa Clara County Council. As of 2013, the council served 13,000 youth in four different counties.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park State park in California, United States

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a state park in the U.S. state of California, located in Santa Cruz County, about 36 km (22 mi) northwest of Santa Cruz. The park contains almost all of the Waddell Creek watershed, which was formed by the seismic uplift of its rim, and the erosion of its center by the many streams in its bowl-shaped depression.

Flathead National Forest

The Flathead National Forest is a national forest in the western part of the U.S. state of Montana. The forest lies primarily in Flathead County, south of Glacier National Park. The forest covers 2,404,935 acres of which about 1 million acres (4,000 km2) is designated wilderness. It is named after the Flathead Native Americans who live in the area.

Big Sur River River in California, United States

The Big Sur River is a 15.7-mile-long (25.3 km) river on the Central Coast of California. The river drains a portion of the Big Sur area, a thinly settled region of the Central California coast where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. The upper river and watershed lies within the Ventana Wilderness and encompasses the headwaters downstream to the area known as the Gorge. The lower river flows roughly northwest through Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, the Big Sur village, several private camp grounds and Andrew Molera State Park where it flows through a lagoon and sandbar into the Pacific Ocean at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Major Tributaries of the river include, in order: Redwood Creek, Lion Creek, Logwood Creek, Terrace Creek, Ventana Creek, Post Creek, Pfeiffer-Redwood Creek, Juan Higuera Creek, and Pheneger Creek.

Little Sur River River in California, United States

The Little Sur River is a 25.4-mile (40.9 km) long river on the Central Coast of California. The river and its main tributary, the South Fork, drain a watershed of about 40 square miles (100 km2) of the Big Sur area, a thinly settled region of the Central California coast where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. The South Fork and the North Fork both have their headwaters in the Ventana Wilderness, straddling Mount Pico Blanco. Portions west of the national forest and Old Coast Road lie within the El Sur Ranch. Some portions of the North Fork are on land owned by Granite Rock Company of Watsonville, California, which has owned the mineral rights to 2,800 acres (1,100 ha) on Mount Pico Blanco since 1963. The North and South forks converge about 2 miles (3.2 km) from the coast where the river enters the Pacific Ocean.

Ventana Wilderness

The Ventana Wilderness of Los Padres National Forest is a federally designated wilderness area located in the Santa Lucia Range along the Central Coast of California. This wilderness was established in 1969 when the Ventana Wilderness Act redesignated the 55,800-acre (22,600 ha) Ventana Primitive Area as the Ventana Wilderness and added land, totalling 98,000-acre (40,000 ha). In 1978, the Endangered American Wilderness Act added 61,000 acres (25,000 ha), increasing the total wilderness area to about 159,000 acres (64,000 ha). The California Wilderness Act of 1984 added about 2,750 acres (1,113 ha). The Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act of 1992 created the approximately 14,500-acre (5,900 ha) Silver Peak Wilderness and added about 38,800 acres (15,700 ha) to the Ventana Wilderness in addition to designating the Big Sur River as a Wild and Scenic River. Most recently, the Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act of 2002 expanded the wilderness for the fifth time, adding nearly 35,000 acres (14,000 ha), increasing the total acreage of the wilderness to its present size of 240,026 acres (97,135 ha).

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park State park in California, United States

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a state park in California, 12 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park on California's Pacific coast. A main feature of the park is McWay Falls, which drops over a cliff of 80 feet (24 m) into the Pacific Ocean. The park is also home to 300-foot (90 m) redwoods which are over 2,500 years old. The park is named after Julia Pfeiffer Burns, a respected resident and rancher in the Big Sur region in the early 20th century, who lived in the area for much of her life until her death in 1928. The 3,762-acre (1,522 ha) park was established in 1962.

The Pine Ridge Trail is the most popular hiking trail in the Ventana Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest, California. The 19.5 miles (31.4 km) trail traverses the Ventana Wilderness from the Big Sur Station near sea level to China Camp on Tassajara Road at 5,000 feet (1,500 m). Built in 1916 by the Post family of Big Sur, the Pine Ridge Trail offers hikers and equestrians an array of backcountry camps to enjoy.

Sykes Camp Thermal springs camp

Sykes Camp is located 10 miles (16 km) from the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park trailhead along the Pine Ridge Trail. There were seven campsites along both sides of the Big Sur River, both upstream and downstream from where the trail intersects the river. There was a pit toilet downstream of this intersection.

McWay Creek

McWay Creek is a 2.5-mile-long (4.0 km) coastal stream in Monterey County in the U.S. state of California. It flows steeply west and south from McWay Canyon, high in California's Central Coast Range, and spills into the Pacific Ocean at Waterfall Cove after flowing over scenic McWay Falls. Most of the creek and its watershed are contained within Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, 12 miles (19 km) south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The creek is named after Christopher McWay from New York, a pioneer who homesteaded the property.

Camp Pico Blanco

Camp Pico Blanco is an inactive camp of about 800 acres (320 ha) in the interior region of Big Sur in Central California. It is operated by the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council, of the Boy Scouts of America, a new council formed as a result of a merger between the former Santa Clara County Council and the Monterey Bay Area Council in December 2012. The camp is surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest, the Ventana Wilderness, undeveloped private land owned by Graniterock, and is located astride the pristine Little Sur River. The land was donated to the Boy Scouts by William Randolph Hearst in 1948 and the camp was opened in 1955. The camp was closed following the Soberanes Fire in 2017, and has remained since then after Palo Colorado Road was severely damaged the following winter. Monterey County has been unable to budget the funds required to fix the road.

Basin Complex Fire

The Basin Complex Fire was a massive wildfire near Big Sur that ignited on June 21, 2008, and was the result of a lightning strike. It eventually grew to 162,818 acres (658.90 km2), becoming the second-largest wildfire of the 2008 California wildfire season, and burning most of the Ventana Wilderness. State and federal officials spent more than $120 million to fight the fire, making it is the most expensive fire in California history up to that time, and the second most expensive in U.S. history, exceeded only by the Biscuit Fire in 2002. Eventually, the Thomas Fire surpassed the Basin Complex Fire in firefighting costs as well.

Palo Colorado Canyon, California Unincorporated community in California, United States

Palo Colorado Canyon is an unincorporated community in the Big Sur region of Monterey County, California. The canyon entrance is located 11.3 miles (18.2 km) south of Carmel Valley River at the former settlement of Notley's Landing, 6.5 miles (10 km) north of Point Sur, and at an elevation of 112 feet.

Big Sur Village, California Unincorporated community in California, United States

Big Sur is an unincorporated community village in Big Sur, Monterey County, California. It is located along a 1 mile (1.6 km) long stretch of Big Sur Coast Highway in the Big Sur Valley 24 miles (39 km) south of Carmel, California. The village contains the largest collection of shops and visitor services along the entire 71-mile (114 km) segment of California State Route 1 between Malpaso Creek near Carmel Highlands in the north and San Carpóforo Creek near San Simeon in the south. The population is about 1,463. The collection of small roadside businesses and homes is often confused with the larger region, also known as Big Sur. On March 6, 1915, United States Post Office granted the English-speaking resident's request to change the name of their post office from Arbolado to Big Sur. Caltrans also refers to the village as Big Sur.

Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach is located in the Big Sur region of California. It is one of the most popular beaches on the Central Coast and is well known for Keyhole Rock, a popular photography subject. On a limited number of days in December and January each year, photographers crowd the beach to obtain pictures of the setting sun visible through the arch. Due to the steep terrain prevalent along the Big Sur coast, it one of the few ocean access points within Big Sur

Pico Blanco

Pico Blanco is a peak on the coast of Big Sur in the Santa Lucia Range of the Los Padres National Forest. The Little Sur River and its tributaries almost surround the mountain. The North Fork wraps around the northern flank and eastern edge of the mountain, and the South Fork crosses the mountain to the west and south-west. The mountain is known for an extremely high-grade limestone deposit. The peak and surrounding 2,800 acres (1,100 ha), are owned by the Granite Rock Company of Watsonville, California. The lower western slopes of the mountain are the property of the El Sur Ranch. The Old Coast Road built in the early 1900s cuts across its western flank. The view from its summit allows hikers to see Ventana Double Cone and Kandlbinder Peak to the southeast, as well as a host of other Big Sur peaks: Mt. Manuel, Post Summit, Uncle Sam Mtn., and Cone Peak far to the south.

Bottchers Gap

Bottchers Gap is a day use area, campground, and trail head. It is located 7.6 miles (12.2 km) from the Big Sur Coast Highway at the end of Palo Colorado Road on the northern border of the Los Padres National Forest and Ventana Wilderness. It is located between Mescal Ridge and Skinner Ridge. From Bottchers Gap, there is an 3.3 miles (5.3 km) long private access road that leads to Camp Pico Blanco. Beginning at Bottchers Gap, it is a difficult 14.7 miles (23.7 km) hike via the Skinner Ridge and Ventana Double Cone trails to the Ventana Double Cone, making it one of the more distant locations in the wilderness.


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  2. Cannon, Rick. "A peek at the best places to commune with the county's incomparable California redwoods". Monterey County Weekly. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  3. Henson, Paul; Donald J. Usner (1993). "The Natural History of Big Sur" (PDF). University Of California Press. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 17, 2010. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  4. "Micheal Pfeiffer of Monterey County | 2 Land Patents". The Land Patents. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  5. "Hiking in Big Sur - Oak Grove Trail Loop".
  6. Heid, Analise Elliot (2013). Hiking & backpacking Big Sur : a complete guide to the trails of Big Sur, Ventana Wilderness, and Silver Peak Wilderness (Second ed.). Wilderness Press. p. 84. ISBN   978-0899977270.
  7. "2017 Camp Pico Blanco Scout Reservation Leader's Guide". Salinas, California: Monterey Bay Area Council, Boy Scouts of America. Archived from the original on September 6, 2016. Retrieved September 5, 2016.
  8. Young, Alfred (July 1963). "The Making of Men" (PDF). Salinas, California: Monterey Bay Area Council. Archived (PDF) from the original on December 1, 2010. Retrieved August 13, 2009.
  9. "Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park".
  10. "California State Parks: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park".
  11. Fodor's (21 December 2010). Fodor's Northern California 2011: With Napa, Sonoma, Yosemite, San Francisco & Lake Tahoe. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 94. ISBN   978-1-4000-0503-1 . Retrieved 25 December 2011.
  12. "InciWeb the Incident Information System: Basin Complex". Retrieved March 24, 2017.
  13. "InciWeb the Incident Information System: Chalk". October 30, 2008. Retrieved March 24, 2017.