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McWay Falls In Big Sur At Sunrise – The Perfect Time For Photos!


by Krissie Mcnaughton



Welcome to the breathtaking beauty of McWay Falls in Big Sur, California. Nestled along the Central Coast, this captivating waterfall attracts visitors from around the world. With its picturesque setting and awe-inspiring views, McWay Falls is not just a natural wonder but also a photographer’s dream.


Located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, McWay Falls is renowned for its unique feature – a waterfall directly cascading onto the sandy beach below. This stunning sight is both enchanting and mesmerizing, drawing in nature enthusiasts, hikers, and photographers alike.


The area surrounding McWay Falls is renowned for its untouched coastal wilderness and rugged cliffs, making it an idyllic setting for outdoor activities and exploration. Whether you’re a professional photographer seeking the perfect shot or simply a nature lover in search of tranquility, McWay Falls will enchant you with its natural splendor.


When it comes to timing, one particular moment stands out as the perfect time to witness the true beauty of McWay Falls – sunrise. The soft hues of dawn and the interplay of light and shadows create a magical atmosphere that is truly unparalleled. As the first rays of sunlight grace the scene, the water glistens, and the surrounding landscape comes alive with vibrant colors.


In this article, we will delve deeper into the allure of McWay Falls at sunrise and discover the best spots to capture its mesmerizing beauty. We will also provide valuable tips to help you take stunning photos that will perfectly showcase the charm of this natural wonder. So grab your camera and let’s take a journey to McWay Falls, where the magic of sunrise awaits!


About McWay Falls in Big Sur

McWay Falls is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of Big Sur, a region known for its rugged coastline and breathtaking natural beauty. Located within Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, this enchanting waterfall is a must-see attraction for visitors exploring California’s Central Coast.


What sets McWay Falls apart is its unique geographical feature – a waterfall that flows directly onto the pristine sandy beach below. With a height of approximately 80 feet, the waterfall elegantly descends from the cliffs, creating a stunning visual spectacle that is both serene and captivating.


Due to its secluded location, McWay Falls remains relatively untouched and untamed. The surrounding coastal landscape boasts dramatic cliffs, lush vegetation, and crystal-clear turquoise waters, adding to the allure of this natural wonder. As you stand in awe of the cascading waterfall, you’ll be mesmerized by the picturesque beauty of the scene.


McWay Falls owes its name to Christopher McWay, an early settler and homesteader in the area during the late 19th century. Julia Pfeiffer Burns, an influential environmentalist, later donated the land to the state in honor of her late friend, and it was officially established as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in 1962.


Aside from the iconic waterfall, the park offers a variety of hiking trails that showcase the diverse flora and fauna of the region. The Overlook Trail is a popular choice, providing a vantage point to admire the panoramic views of the coast. Another trail, the Partington Cove Trail, leads you through a lush canyon and offers an insight into the area’s rich history and marine life.


It’s important to note that access to the beach beneath McWay Falls is restricted to protect the delicate ecosystem and preserve the area’s natural beauty. However, a viewpoint located on Highway 1 allows visitors to admire the waterfall and capture its beauty from a safe distance.


Whether you’re a nature lover, an adventure seeker, or a photography enthusiast, McWay Falls promises a truly unforgettable experience. The pristine surroundings, the ethereal waterfall, and the unspoiled beauty of Big Sur will leave you in awe and make you appreciate the wonders of nature.


The Beauty of McWay Falls at Sunrise

There’s something truly magical about experiencing McWay Falls at sunrise. As the first rays of sunlight illuminate the coastline, the waterfall takes on a whole new level of beauty. The soft, golden light casts a warm glow on the water, creating a mesmerizing scene that is both tranquil and breathtaking.


One of the most captivating aspects of McWay Falls at sunrise is the interplay of light and shadows. As dawn breaks, the sunlight dances through the surrounding cliffs, casting enchanting patterns on the cascading water. The contrast between the illuminated portions of the falls and the shaded areas adds depth and drama to the composition, resulting in stunning photographs.


The early morning hours also offer a sense of serenity and solitude. With fewer crowds and a peaceful ambiance, you can truly immerse yourself in the beauty of McWay Falls. The gentle sound of the crashing waves, the cool breeze in the air, and the stunning vista before you create a serene atmosphere that is perfect for contemplation and reflection.


Photographers especially appreciate the ethereal quality that sunrise brings to McWay Falls. The soft colors of the sky, the glowing water, and the dreamlike atmosphere combine to create a surreal and otherworldly scene. It’s during this time that you can capture truly remarkable and unique shots of the falls, showcasing its beauty in a way that is rarely seen.


Not only does the sunrise enhance the aesthetic appeal of McWay Falls, but it also evokes a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world. As you witness the unfolding of a new day and the awakening of nature, you can’t help but feel a deep connection to the environment and a renewed sense of awe.


Whether you’re an avid photographer or simply a lover of nature’s beauty, witnessing McWay Falls at sunrise is an absolute must. It’s a time when the world is bathed in a soft, golden light and the beauty of the waterfall is elevated to a whole new level. So rise early, embrace the tranquility of the morning, and experience the captivating allure of McWay Falls at sunrise.


Best Spots for Photographing McWay Falls

When it comes to capturing the beauty of McWay Falls, choosing the right vantage point is crucial. Here are some of the best spots for photographing this breathtaking natural wonder:

  1. The Highway 1 Overlook: This viewpoint offers a panoramic view of McWay Falls from a safe distance. Located along Highway 1, it provides a clear line of sight to the waterfall as it cascades onto the beach below. The elevated position allows you to capture the grandeur of the falls against the backdrop of the stunning coastline.
  2. The Canyon Trail: For a unique perspective, take the short hike along the Canyon Trail. This trail will lead you closer to the base of the waterfall, allowing you to capture the intricacies and details of the cascading water from a different angle. Keep in mind that access to the beach is prohibited, but the viewpoint along the trail offers remarkable photo opportunities.
  3. The Partington Cove Trail: While the main attraction of this trail is Partington Cove, it also offers a fantastic view of McWay Falls. As you make your way along the trail, keep an eye out for openings in the foliage that provide glimpses of the waterfall. This hidden gem offers a more secluded and intimate setting for photographing McWay Falls.
  4. The Waterfall Cove: This spot requires a more advanced level of hiking and might not be accessible to everyone, but it offers a unique and up-close view of McWay Falls. By descending a steep trail, you can reach the shoreline and stand directly beneath the cascading waterfall. This perspective allows you to capture the sheer power and beauty of McWay Falls from an extraordinary angle.

When photographing McWay Falls, it’s essential to consider the lighting conditions. As mentioned earlier, sunrise is a prime time to capture the falls in all its glory. Additionally, overcast days can create a soft and diffused light that adds a serene and ethereal quality to your images. If you prefer capturing the movement of the water, a slightly longer exposure can create a dreamy and flowing effect.


Don’t be afraid to experiment with different compositions and viewpoints to find your unique perspective. Play with framing the falls using the surrounding cliffs, rocks, or vegetation to add depth and context to your photographs. Incorporating elements in the foreground can also create a sense of scale and enhance the overall composition.


Remember to be respectful of the natural environment and adhere to any park regulations. Avoid stepping on delicate vegetation or disturbing wildlife in your quest for the perfect shot. By following these guidelines, you can capture the beauty of McWay Falls while preserving its pristine state for others to enjoy.


So grab your camera, explore these best spots, and let your creativity soar as you immortalize the captivating beauty of McWay Falls in your photographs.


Tips for Taking Stunning Photos at McWay Falls

Photographing McWay Falls is a wonderful experience that allows you to capture the enchanting beauty of this natural wonder. To help you make the most of your photography journey, here are some tips for taking stunning photos at McWay Falls:

  1. Plan your visit: Check the weather forecast and plan to visit during favorable conditions. Sunny days can provide beautiful, dramatic lighting, while overcast days can offer a soft and diffused light that enhances the waterfall’s ethereal quality.
  2. Be prepared for the sunrise: Since sunrise is a prime time to photograph McWay Falls, plan to arrive early to secure the best spot. Set up your gear ahead of time and be ready to capture the magical light as it illuminates the scene.
  3. Use a tripod: To ensure sharp images, use a sturdy tripod to stabilize your camera. This is particularly important when shooting at slower shutter speeds to capture the movement of the water or during low-light situations.
  4. Experiment with shutter speed: Depending on the effect you want to achieve, adjust your shutter speed accordingly. For a silky smooth look, use a slower shutter speed to capture the flowing water. Conversely, a faster shutter speed can freeze the motion of the waterfall, showcasing its power and detail.
  5. Consider using a neutral density filter: In bright lighting conditions, a neutral density (ND) filter can help balance the exposure and prevent overexposure. This filter reduces the amount of light entering the lens without affecting color and allows for longer exposures.
  6. Look for unique perspectives: While capturing the classic view of McWay Falls is certainly stunning, don’t be afraid to explore alternative viewpoints and compositions. Look for interesting foreground elements or different angles that allow you to capture the waterfall from a fresh and unique perspective.
  7. Use depth of field to your advantage: Experiment with different apertures to control the depth of field in your photos. A larger aperture (smaller f-number) can create a shallow depth of field, drawing attention to the main subject, while a smaller aperture (larger f-number) can ensure greater depth of field, capturing more details in the scene.
  8. Include human elements: To add a sense of scale and narrative to your photographs, consider including human elements in your composition. A person standing or walking near the waterfall can provide a point of interest and emphasize the vastness and grandeur of McWay Falls.
  9. Take your time and enjoy the moment: While capturing stunning photos is a goal, don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate the beauty of McWay Falls. Take breaks between shots to soak in the atmosphere, breathe in the fresh coastal air, and simply enjoy the awe-inspiring scenery.

Remember that every photographer has their own unique style and vision. Don’t be afraid to experiment, trust your instincts, and let your creativity guide you. By following these tips and infusing your personal touch, you can capture truly breathtaking photos that showcase the mesmerizing beauty of McWay Falls.



McWay Falls in Big Sur, California, is a hidden gem that boasts unparalleled beauty and captivating allure. From its cascading waterfall flowing directly onto a sandy beach to the untouched coastal wilderness that surrounds it, McWay Falls is a haven for nature enthusiasts and photographers alike.


Witnessing McWay Falls at sunrise is a truly magical experience. The soft hues of dawn, the interplay of light and shadows, and the serene atmosphere create a scene that is both tranquil and mesmerizing. It’s during this time that the waterfall takes on a whole new level of beauty, captivating the senses and inspiring awe.


When photographing McWay Falls, there are several spots that offer the perfect vantage points. Whether it’s the Highway 1 Overlook, the Canyon Trail, the Partington Cove Trail, or the challenging hike to the Waterfall Cove, each location provides a unique perspective to capture the splendor of the falls.


To take stunning photos at McWay Falls, it’s important to plan your visit, be prepared for sunrise, and utilize a tripod for image stabilization. Experimenting with shutter speed, using neutral density filters, and considering different perspectives can help create unique and visually striking images.


Ultimately, photographing McWay Falls is not just about capturing the perfect shot, but also about immersing yourself in the beauty of nature and connecting with the environment. Take your time, appreciate the serenity of the surroundings, and let your creativity guide you to create photographs that truly showcase the captivating allure of McWay Falls.


So, whether you’re a professional photographer seeking the perfect shot or simply a nature lover in search of tranquility, McWay Falls offers an unforgettable experience. The ethereal beauty of the waterfall, the rugged cliffs, and the untouched wilderness make it a destination that will leave you in awe and inspire a deep appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.