13 Years After a Fire, This Popular Big Sur Hiking Trail Has Reopened

One of California's worst wildfires destroyed Pfeiffer Falls Trail back in 2008

Pfeiffer Falls Trail
Rahul Popuri / Getty Images

Thirteen years ago, lightning struck along the coast of Big Sur, igniting one of the worst wildfires in California history. Devouring 162,818 acres, the Basin Complex Fire destroyed the area—including much of the bridges, signage, and railings of Pfeiffer Falls Trails, one of the area’s most popular hiking trails. The trail was immediately closed to the public and has been ever since—until recently.

Instead of viewing the casualty as a loss, the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the Save the Redwoods League flipped tragedy into opportunity. Over the last 12 years, the parks department and conservation group have been working together on a $2 million renovation to clean up and reimagine the Pfeiffer Falls Trail in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

“This challenging project, 12 years in the making, is a testament to the great and enduring partnership between Save the Redwoods League and California State Parks,” said Jessica Inwood, senior parks program manager for Save the Redwoods League. "Together, we were able to reimagine a new trail with the long-term protection of this sensitive coast redwood ecosystem in mind."

The project involved replacing more than 4,150 square feet of asphalt and concrete and rebuilding steps, bridges, and railings that were damaged in the fire. They’ve also created a newly-aligned trail that avoids bringing hikers directly through sensitive stream bed areas to restore the natural habitat.

On June 18, their hard work and patience finally paid off. The gorgeous 1.5-mile loop finally reopened, allowing hikers to once again pump their legs through a stunning forest of Coastal redwoods down to a gorge hiding a breathtaking 60-foot waterfall. Hikers will also encounter a new 70-foot pedestrian bridge stretching across the Pfeiffer Redwood Creek ravine.

"We’re thrilled to announce the reopening of the Pfeiffer Falls Trail,” said Jim Doran, program manager of Monterey District roads and trails for California State Parks. “Before the 2008 Basin Complex Fire, this was one of the most popular trails in Big Sur—a destination for California tourists. With the trail’s many improvements completed, we’re happy to welcome visitors once again.”

They say lightning never strikes in the same place twice. Let’s hope they’re right.

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  1. California Dept of Parks and Recreation. "California State Parks and Save the Redwoods League to Reopen Fully Renovated Pfeiffer Falls Trail in Big Sur on June 18." June 14, 2021