Getting there: 37 miles south of Carmel, on Highway 1 in Big Sur

Hours: Open daily a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset

Cost: $8 for day parking, $15-20 for camping

More information: 667-2315 or www.parks.ca.gov. To reserve campsites call 1-800-444-7275 or go online at www.reserveamerica.com

This jewel of the state park system stretches from 3,000-foot mountain ridges to underwater canyons, taking in majestic redwoods, dense chaparral and rocky seaside cliffs along the way. Oh, and, did we mention the 80-foot-long McWay Falls, tumbling down from granite cliffs into the cove below?

The friendship between a coastal pioneer and the wife of a congressman brought the gem to the public. Julia Pfeiffer grew up in a patch of this Big Sur country, roaming the terrain and developing a legendary knowledge of the land. She married John Burns in 1915 and the couple managed a cattle ranch. They also struck up a friendship with some newer settlers from New York, former Congressman Lathrap Brown and his wife, Helen.

Helen Brown in 1962 donated her Saddle Rock Ranch to be used as a state park, named in memory of her friend Julia Pfeiffer Burns, a true pioneer.

The stunning beauty of the park gives it natural appeal, but its accessibility is also a draw. It's an easy walk, and also wheelchair accessible, to get from the main parking lot to overlooks that take in the waterfall, the rugged cliffs, the sandy beach, even the remnants of the home of Helen and Lathrap Brown.

For the more able or intrepid visitor, there are more challenging hikes, a couple of rustic campsites and even a 1,680-acre underwater portion of the park, open to experienced divers.