Camping at Julia Pfeiffer Burns (aka Best Campsite EVER)

This past weekend, a group of 8 of us went camping at Big Sur.  Our friend CR had secured one of two of the most sought-after campsites on the West Coast at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.  This campsite, perched above the gorgeous, rocky shores of Big Sur, was a hybrid of car camping and backpacking: it was far enough down the road to be secluded and surrounded by nature (i.e., not rowdy campers or RVs), but also had a few car camping luxuries, such as a fire pit, picnic tables, trash and recycling bins, and pit toilets.  Just a short 0.1 mile steep hike down the hill from the fire road, we were able to bring in enough water, firewood, and camping accessories for the weekend.  (There is already a very informative article about camping at JPB on the internet, so I won’t repeat the details.  One difference since that article was written is that campsite #2 is no longer overgrown with vegetation.)  One thing I loved about this campsite was sleeping to the sounds of the ocean.  So calming!

CR had the foresight to book 2 nights over MLK Jr. weekend – Saturday and Sunday – which allowed for a leisurely arrival on Saturday afternoon and departure late Monday morning.  On Saturday, we set up and enjoyed our camp and did some exploring around the area.  We climbed on the nearby rocks to watch a glorious sunset and look for whales and dolphins in the distance.

View of the coast from campsite #1.

View of the coast from campsite #1.

Blurry photo of our campsite(#2) in the foreground, with campsite #1 further back towards the hill.

Blurry photo of our campsite(#2) in the foreground, with campsite #1 further back towards the hill.

Sunset over the Pacific.

Sunset over the Pacific.

Dusk on the rocky shoreline.

Dusk on the rocky shoreline.

On Sunday, we did a short, tough hike on the Ewoldsen trail — about 4.5-5 miles roundtrip (out-and-back) and 1500′ climb.  It was hard work but so worth it!  We started off deep in the redwood forest, then kept climbing up single track until we reached the ridge and caught views of the coastline.  For January, it was very warm – probably 70 degrees or so.

Redwood forest on the Ewoldsen Trail.

Redwood forest on the Ewoldsen Trail.

Really thought about running this part of the trail...

Really thought about running this part of the trail… but my legs were dead and I was carrying a bulky backpack.  Maybe next time!

View of the ocean from the Ewoldsen Trail.

View of the ocean from the Ewoldsen Trail.

Wonderful views from the ridge.

Wonderful views from the ridge.

After the hike, we returned to camp for lunch and naps, then went back to civilization for a few hours to watch the 49ers playoff game.  Unfortunately, they lost, but we did catch another magnificent sunset, this time over layers of dense fog from the deck of the Ventana Inn.

Sunset over fog.

Sunset over fog.

One of the features of this campsite is that it’s just a short walk from McWay Falls, one of the must-sees of the Big Sur coastline.  Since California is currently in a bad drought, I wasn’t expecting to see much of a waterfall, so I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t that much different from when I was there last, in 2009.  To me, the color of the water in the cove is the most stunning part — more Caribbean aqua than Pacific coast blue.

McWay Falls.

McWay Falls – you can just barely make it out as the small trickle coming out of the rocks on to the beach on the far side of the cove, to the left of the smaller rock in the water.

Happy campers!

Happy campers!

If you’re planning a trip to Big Sur, I can’t recommend this campsite highly enough!

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Howdy! I'm a 30-something recovering former academic living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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11 comments on “Camping at Julia Pfeiffer Burns (aka Best Campsite EVER)
  1. Cathryn says:

    This looks SO lovely…can’t believe the weather you got as well. A definite perk of the drought, much as we’d want it gone!! Photos are brilliant.

    • Jen says:

      Thank you!
      Yes, we got SO lucky with the weather. In fact, CR’s original email about the camping trip was something to the effect of, “It’s a bit risky to go camping in January, but we could get a crazy warm weekend.” Selfishly, I’d like the drought to be over as soon as Kaiser is over. :)

  2. Mike says:

    Shhhhhhh!!! Are you TRYING to bring every American currently buried under several feet of snow in arctic temperatures rushing to overrun our state?? The scenes you captured above are a huge reason the Envirosports Big Sur Trail Marathon has been on my wish list for some time now, though by the time September rolls around, it seems I’m always busy training for something else. Luckily we do have one Big Sur marathon to run this year!

    I look forward to your next compensatory post, focusing on the terrible drought conditions we currently face in California, and how they’ve made the state fit for neither man nor beast…

    • Jen says:

      I’m still in denial about the drought, and hoping that the meteorologists and Jerry Brown are wrong about us not getting hardly any rain for the next 3 months. So, no, Mike, there will be no compensatory post about the drought – sorry!

  3. That looks like bliss, especially since we are in the midst of two winter weather advisories right now and facing HIGHS of -4 on Monday. I think I need to book a flight.

    • Jen says:

      Wow, I don’t know how you do it. I’ve definitely become the biggest weather wimp since moving to California – the awesome weather year-round is definitely a reason why it’s so expensive to live out here!

  4. Dominick S. says:

    This sounds like an amazing way to spend a weekend, you now have me pondering a trip up for Memorial Day Weekend. I love JPB, I think it is one of the most stunning views in the world and I am with you…it’s because of the water.

  5. Derek says:

    Do you know what the firepits are like? If we want to BBQ some food should we bring our own “grill” to put over the fire pit or do they include a grill to put over it?

    We’re going there this weekend! I can’t wait!!!

    • Jen says:

      I’m not sure, but I think they’re standard state park fire pits with partial grills (covering half the pit).

      Have a great time!!

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