Black Star Canyon Falls Hike

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.

Black Star Canyon Falls IMG_4364

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.

Black Star Canyon Falls IMG_4318

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.

Black Star Canyon Falls IMG_4326

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.

Black Star Canyon Falls IMG_4327

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.

Black Star Canyon Falls IMG_4343

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 IMG_4365

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!

Black Star Canyon Falls IMG_4368

Video of Black Star Canyon Falls Hike

Photo Gallery of Black Star Canyon Falls Hike

  1. Danny Reply

    A fun and challenging hike, but worth every step. A bit disappointed when arrived at the fall to only find a “small trickle.” I was forewarned, but what the heck. Anyone, hiked out to the ancient village 3 miles further back? Love to see some pics?

    • Explorer Jim Reply

      Hi Danny, yeah there’s not much water now but it’s fun anyway. I’ve been to the village site. The only remaining signs of habitation are the holes in the rock slabs that were created by grinding acorns over many years. But it’s a beautiful spiritual place anyway, with oak trees for shade. A long grind up the fire road to get there.

  2. Danny Bishop Reply

    Went there today and it was gorgeous, my only tip is make sure people understand what off trail means, a girl took a fall and had broken her leg today and had to be air lifted out. Worth every step of the way once you are there, dogs have a hard time on this as an fyi.

    • Explorer Jim Reply

      Hi Danny. Glad you made it to the falls – yes, it’s always a beautiful place, especially now that the falls are flowing. For any off trail hike I always put Adventure Hike in red in the description, and include the link below, so that people realize some of the dangers. Hiking is an inherently dangerous activity especially if one goes off trail, so a person has to be aware of their limits. For anyone contemplating doing the hike please read

      • Danny Bishop Reply


        I would like to thank you for this website, it is amazing–I happened to find it after the hike so we did go up there but did not know what to expect. My group is really excited about trying some of your other challenging hikes you have—thank again for all the time you take detailing all of them. Have shared it with many friends already!

    • Shamila Reply

      It was an amazing hike, one of the best local hikes…the waterfall was gorgeous.

      By the way, I was there to witness the helicopter rescue… 🙂 Good hiking boots a must for this hike.

  3. ET Reply

    Going to try it this Sunday! With recent rains the falls should be full. Should we be concerned with the stream possibly being too full as well and not usable for walking?

    • Explorer Jim Reply

      When you see the flow in the stream you will have to make a decision then. I haven’t been up there recently. But I would guess that the flow while good will not be unsafe. Black star Canyon drains a relatively small area so unless you go right after large rains the flow is normally moderate. You may get your feet wet as the canyon gets narrow in certain places but you should be fine. Let me know how it is!

  4. riley Reply

    is this a good place to backpack and make a small camp for a night?

    • Explorer Jim Reply

      I would recommend you try the hike as a day hike first and then decide before you bring lots of gear along. This canyon once you get off the road is pretty narrow without much flat ground, and while you could probably find a place to camp, I think you would want to check it out it first.

  5. Grace Reply

    I was wondering if there is water at the water fall at this time. If not is it worth hiking the trail

    • Explorer Jim Reply

      Hi Grace! At this time there is usually only a trickle at the falls, but it is always a beautiful and tranquil place anyway. Once you get into the stream bed portion of the hike it’s always pretty fun because you are off trail, and it’s a fun adventure. You might not want to do it on a really hot day though, even though there is a reasonable amount of shade. Let me know if you go and what conditions are like!

  6. Peter E. Reply

    Are there hours that this trail is closed?

    • Explorer Jim Reply

      Hi Peter! As far as I know, Black Star Canyon Road is always open and there are no restrictions as to access. If you check out the hike, let me know how you like it!

      • Peter E. Reply

        OK great! Yes we are planning on going Friday morning, have bookmarked the page and will report back on our day hike.

        • Explorer Jim Reply

          Have fun and be safe Peter!

          • Peter E

            Great hike and following your directions getting there and hiking were PERFECT!! Will definitely do this hike with 1st timers in the future. Will be bringing a large trash bag as well. Was surprised to see so many empty water bottles and other litter at the end of the hike…

  7. James L Reply

    I looked this hike up on your site two days ago. Yesterday a friend and I made it to the falls. We enjoyed the hike and the directions were spot on. This site is my go to for any Southern California hiking trail.

    • Explorer Jim Reply

      I’m glad you enjoyed the hike, James! Thanks for supporting The Hikers Way and let me know if you have any questions about any other hikes, either on or off this site.

  8. Anthony Sugel Reply

    Awesome and beautiful

    • Explorer Jim Reply

      Thanks Tony! Yes, we have some amazing hikes here in Southern California, and many more than people realize right here in Orange County!

      • Richard Grant Reply

        It’s September 10th 2016 , does anyone have info on current water flow at the falls … Thanks

        • Explorer Jim Reply

          Hi Richard! I have not been up there lately, but it’s late in the season so you can expect no water flow in the stream and perhaps only a slight trickle at the falls. But it’s a fun adventure hike anyway. Once you get into the stream bed portion of the hike you are off trail on boulders. It’s a dry time of year though, especially in the Santa Ana Mountains, which get less precipitation anyway than the larger ranges like the San Gabriels. If you go let me know what you encounter.

          • Richard Grant

            Thanks Buddy , Im going to wait , get some climbing buddies up there in the peak of a big rain fall this spring. Ill make you proud and send the pics. You have a great site , and your a great guide… take soon, Richard Grant

          • Explorer Jim

            Thanks Richard, I’m glad you’re enjoying the site, and I really appreciate it! I look forward to your report, and as always, have fun and stay safe out there!

  9. Gwen Reply

    Beautiful, special place!

    • Explorer Jim Reply

      Absolutely Gwen, it’s a remarkable location. Every hiker in Southern California – especially Orange County residents – should experience this hike at least once!

Comments are welcome below!

        Copyright @ 2017 All rights reserved. Please read this disclaimer before using any information on this site.