Big Sur is a region along the central Californian coastline and famous for its wonderful coastal scenery, seal colonies, redwood groves, beaches and water falls. Did you know that many car commercials are shot along Route 1 in Big Sur?
It is hard to sum up Big Sur as it has so much to offer. Just driving Highway 1 is a pleasure in itself with many scenic lookouts offering spectacular views of the coast. The area called Big Sur stretches from Carmel to San Simeon (location of Hearst Castle) with the Pacific on the West and the Santa Lucia Mountains on the East.
There are many opportunities for photographers along this 90 mile strip of coastline.
Rugged cliffs, multiple waterfalls, towering redwoods, sandy beaches, the famous Bixby Bridge and Point Sur Lighthouse are but a few of the things to photograph in the area.
For much of the scenery, one barely needs to get out of the car, as the many stopping areas along the road offer wonderful views up and down the coast.
However, for those willing to park and hike a few miles, much more is available. To access any of the waterfalls, a short hike is required, but are all well worth the effort.
There are no less than 5 different waterfalls along this stretch of coast:
From North to South, they are:
- Pfeiffer Falls, located in the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
- Canyon Falls, in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
- The much photographed McWay Falls also at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
- Limekiln Falls, at Limekiln State Park
- Salmon Creek Falls near Gorda, Los Padres National Forest.
Be aware that all locations require a parking fee of $8 so the costs add up if you plan on visiting all waterfalls on a single day (which will be a stretch by the way as they are not all close together and some hiking is required).
Having said that, Canyon Falls and McWay Falls are near one and other so a single fee will cover both.
Of the 5 falls, McWay is the most photographed and most beautiful.
The fall drops about 80 ft off a cliff onto the beach below. The cove is not accessible, but there is a path and a viewpoint along the top which offers stunning views of the scenery below.
The best time to photograph this is late afternoon or even at sunset. In the morning, the falls may be in the shade. Later in the day, the sun moves out over the sea and more light is cast on the waterfall.
The car park is along Hwy 1, in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, some 13 miles South of Big Sur. Follow the Waterfall Overlook Trail, which goes under the hwy and come out above the cove with the waterfall.
From the same car park, you can walk in the other direction to Canyon Falls. Not as beautiful as McWay Falls, but worthwhile and you are parked at the car park anyway. It is a brief hike of about half a mile that winds through a forest. The trail starts at the far end of the picnic area of the car park.
The other waterfall definitely worth seeing is Limekiln Falls, found in Limekiln State Park, about 2 miles South of Lucia. The waterfall is quite spectacular as it drops about 100 ft down a wall of limestone. In spring, when there is more water around due to rain, the waterfall fans out at the bottom, offering quite a view. You can walk right up to the base of the falls. Make sure you bring a wide-angle lens!
The hike up to the falls is no less spectacular. The tail winds through a forested area, full of majestic redwoods. You basically follow the creek all the way up to the falls and need to cross it several times. Along the way there are many great photo opportunities too as the example to the left shows.
The creek was flowing over this fallen tree. A slow shutterspeed (4 seconds in this case) provides this silky smooth flowing effect. As the light in the forest is low anyway, no special filters were needed to get the 4 second setting.
Update: Limekiln State Park was heavily damaged in the Chalk Fire of September and October, 2008. In total, the Chalk Fire burned 16,269 acres in California. As of June, 2009 it is closed to the public.
In the most southern part of the Big Sur area lies Sam Simeon, famous for the Hearst Castle. Hearst Castle has some strict copyright rules with regards to photography, so be forewarned. You can take photos, but only for personal use.
However, there are other things to capture in the area: A picturesque mission and a pier. Both are well worth visiting with a camera. Sunsets can be quite beautiful.