Summary for Black Star Canyon Falls Hike
– Difficulty: Moderately strenuous Adventure Hike – Read Adventure Hiking Page
– Length: 6.5 Miles Round Trip
– Time: 5 Hours
– Elevation Gain: 900′
– Summary: Hike to a wonderful 65′ tall waterfall in a beautiful wooded canyon. Easy fire road for first 2.5 miles or so, but then off trail boulder hopping up the stream bed .8 mile to reach Black Star Canyon Falls.
Black Star Canyon Falls is one of the lesser-known natural gems of Orange County. This is in part because there is no defined trail to the falls, and thus directions can sometimes seem sketchy. But another reason is that even though the falls are “only” .8 miles off an easily traversed road this .8 miles can be relatively tough for those uninitiated in off trail hiking, and many hikers give up before they reach the falls. It typically takes around 1 hour or so to do the easy first 2.5 miles on a dirt road, but then expect to take another 1 to 2 hours to reach the falls from there up the stream bed, depending on conditions and how adept you are at off trail hiking. If you go in with these expectations you can reach Black Star Canyon Falls and enjoy this amazing adventure. The falls drain only about 3 square miles of territory so high flow is usually only in the rainy season. In most years the fall is just a trickle in the summer and fall, but it’s a fun hike and a tranquil, beautiful spot nonetheless.
Directions to Trailhead for Black Star Canyon Falls Hike
Map of Black Star Canyon Falls Hike with Downloadable GPX File
Detailed Description for Black Star Canyon Falls Hike
Park at the end of Black Star Canyon Road in the dirt parking area before the locked vehicle gate. Now walk through the gate – which has openings for hikers and bikers – and down the paved road straight ahead. This is the most uninteresting part of the hike, so don’t get discouraged yet. After .5 mile the road turns abruptly east (right) into Black Star Canyon. The canyon is named after the Black Star Coal Mine, which was worked for only a short time more than 100 years ago. Note that much of the land on both sides of the road is private property until you hit the national forest boundary, which is about where you drop off to go off trail. However, Orange County retains right of way so this road is open for public use.
The hike along the road is still relatively nice, with sycamores, oaks, and willows forming shaded areas along the stream bed, and interesting cliffs and rock formations from time to time.
After about 2.5 miles the road doubles back as it makes a sharp hairpin away from the stream to begin ascending the steep ridge. You can see this hairpin turn clearly on the hike map above if you zoom in. This is your drop-in point, as you will continue straight ahead up the stream bed. Descend the short slope down into the stream bed. Now the fun begins! There is no trail now, so just head upstream as best you can.
Depending on water flow you can sometimes walk right in the stream bed which makes things easier. Watch out for poison oak, which can be plentiful, like in many Southern California riparian environments. However, while the banks are brushy, the stream bed itself is not because of the plentiful boulders.
You will note the dramatic sedimentary cliffs that tower over the canyon, and the stream bed offers lots of shade, as it is lined for the most part with mature trees.
After about .5 mile you will arrive at a smaller canyon tributary that comes in from the right – stay straight ahead up the left fork here to head towards the falls. Now the canyon walls close in, and as the stream descends more sharply from above, you encounter many large boulders, shallow pools, and small waterfalls that you have to scramble around or climb over.
This part of the canyon is a lot of fun if you enjoy this type of adventure. Continue forward until you arrive at lovely Black Star Canyon Falls. The falls flow over a sculpted cliff about 50′, then through an old mine shaft about 15′ off the canyon floor. When flowing nicely there’s a 1′ to 2′ deep pool at the base. If you arrive at the right time of year you will also find interesting and docile newts in this pool as well, as evidenced in the photo gallery.
Black Star Canyon Falls is situated in a lush, dramatic, cliff lined, shady grotto – a natural cathedral of sorts. Enjoy your time in this magical place. This canyon has a long history of Native American habitation, and note that not far above the falls is the site of an ancient village that can be reached if you had continued another 3 miles on the road. A future write-up will cover this additional Black Star Canyon Hike. I find this canyon – especially because of Black Star Canyon Falls and the Native American village – to be a highly spiritual place. After you have enjoyed this magical locale, simply retrace your steps back to your vehicle.
Update 10/15/2015: Note that because of the long drought there was very little water in the falls this year, except for a few brief periods early in the year after strong rains. But now it looks like we will have an El Nino winter, so the upcoming spring should be excellent, and you may be able to see the falls by February or March is a strongly flowing state, similar to the video below. Let’s keep our collective fingers crossed because if we get a wet winter all our Southern California waterfalls will be clean and beautiful!