This inconspicuous cove is situated at the north corner of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park 2 miles north of McWay Falls in one of the most dramatic sections of the Big Sur coastline. Partington Cove provides an oceanside portal to impressively clear waters on an otherwise inaccessible cliff-lined stretch of coast.
The Partington Cove Trail drops 300 feet from Highway 1 by following the Partington Creek drainage. This short and steep trail descends a quarter mile, crossing a footbridge over Partington Creek and through a small redwood grove before hitting a junction that splits access to the west and east coves.
Heading right, follow the final cascade of Partington Creek to a small rocky beach set in the narrow western cove. Tall granite cliffs lead out to Partington Point and frame the waters of the west cove, which is more exposed to ocean swell than its nearby neighbor. Keep a watch on crashing surf if swell is running.
Retracing your steps to the prior junction, head right through the old redwood lumber-lined tunnel to the east cove. Constructed toward the end of 19th century, the tunnel provides access to what was once Partington Landing, a loading point for coastal schooners transporting lumber down to a booming San Francisco. Rumor has it the landing and tunnel was used to smuggle liquor during the prohibition era.
Remnants of the landing foundation are still visible, but the main attractions are the clear waters, healthy kelp beds, and thriving ecosystem that is present today. Scuba diving in the area is excellent, though access is limited and diving is permitted at the cove by special-use permit only. Permits are administered by California State Parks (call or inquire with Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, 10 miles north). East cove offers some interesting tide pools at lower tide, and the fishing here can also be good.
Drinking water is not available at Partington Cove, so plan accordingly. Outhouses are provided near the footbridge.