Harding Falls Hike – Orange County

Summary for Harding Falls Hike

– Difficulty: Strenuous Adventure Hike Read Adventure Hiking Page
– Length: 7.5 Miles Round Trip
– Time: 6 Hours
– Elevation Gain: 1,500′
– Summary: Deep in a tranquil riparian canyon lies a hidden Shangra-La of sparkling pools and lush forest, leading to a majestic 60′ twin-tier waterfall. Decent use trail for some of the hike, but off trail boulder hopping/bushwhacking for at least half the hike.

Harding Falls is hidden in the pristine depths of Harding Canyon. The canyon itself is a sylvan gem – a tranquil riparian wonderland that gets relatively few visitors, especially as you travel further back. Reaching the falls is not a trivial effort – dangers include lots of boulder hopping, some climbing over larger boulder sets, poison oak, and although there is a use trail for some of the hike, eventually there is no trail at all. However, if the going gets too tough you can always back out at any point, and the canyon is lovely anyway. Note that water flow is dependent on season (winter and spring are best) and annual rainfall totals, so that while the falls typically run strong in season, there may be only a trickle later. The trail head begins at the Harding Truck Trail entrance near the tucker Wildlife Sanctuary close to the end of Modjeska Canyon Road, so it’s easy to find. Park in one of the two parking areas on the side of the road outside the Wildlife Sanctuary and display your adventure pass.

Harding Falls IMG_4336

Crystalline pool in lovely Harding Canyon

Directions to Trailhead for Harding Falls Hike

Map of Harding Falls Hike with Downloadable GPX File

Detailed Description for Harding Falls Hike

Harding Falls IMG_4306

After you have found the Harding Truck Trail entrance across the road from the Wildlife Sanctuary, proceed up the dirt road past the locked metal gate about 1/3 mile ,  until you see the road branching to the left which drops into Harding Canyon, just past a set of conglomerate cliffs and before the Cleveland National Forest sign.

In an interesting historical anecdote, these cliffs – or perhaps those just across Harding Canyon – were the location where a posse trapped the colorful and notorious bandit Juan Flores in 1857. He escaped with two of his homies by riding their horses down the cliffs. Regrettably for Juan, he was caught a few days later and hanged.

 

Harding Falls IMG_4308

 

 

Descend the road to the bottom of the canyon and head up canyon, attempting to follow the sometimes faint use trail.

The water rarely flows here because of the wide boulder field, but the somewhat dry and unappealing look of the canyon here belies the verdant sylvan paradise that lies ahead, especially in the rainy season.

 

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After about 1/2 mile the canyon becomes much different in character, and normally water flows this far down throughout the rainy season. The canyon is usually rather green, with old growth oak groves. Watch for the abundant poison oak, however, so long pants are a must for this hike. As the season progresses, the water flow recedes further back into the canyon.

 

 

Harding Falls IMG_4323

The use trail is sometimes difficult to follow as it winds its ways through the forest and crosses the stream, but try to stick with it as it makes the going much easier, After about 2.5 mile the canyon changes character as it turns into a narrower gorge with more elevation gain. Now you enter a remarkably beautiful wonderland of crystalline pools, small waterfalls, and lush forest.  However, the going is more demanding now because you must negotiate and climb over and around numerous obstacles like those same small waterfalls, a many boulders, and fallen trees. But this is a true paradise, and if you are shorter on time this destination itself is well worth the effort.

 

Harding Falls IMG_4326

 

Note that in the GPX track on the map above I set a way point called large pool. Here is a photo of the pool so you know where you are, and how much further to go. It completely blocks the canyon and is unique so you can’t miss it, but you can climb around it easily on a ledge to the right. This is at about 3.2 miles, and you are 6/10 mile but still about 3/4 hour from the falls, because now the going gets even tougher.

 

 

 

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But keep going, because the canyon is an extraordinary treasure, and something to be savored. Here is another decent sized waterfall that is immensely appealing with its large deep pool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If you persevere, after about 3 hours from the start you should turn a corner and see the bottom 35′ – 40′ tier of Harding Falls about 200 yards away. Congratulations – this is not an easy one to see! There is an expansive but shallow pool at the base  of the falls. It’s hard to see from here, but there is a higher tier, with a wonderful intermediate bench between the two tiers. Note that it is possible to climb up the left side of the falls if you are careful, but do not attempt this unless you are an experienced climber.

 

 

 

 

Harding Falls IMG_4353

 

 

 

Here is the lovely upper tier, which is about 15′ in height.  Truly a beautiful place!

 

 

 

 

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And here the intermediate ledge, one of the great relaxation and mediation spots in all Southern California when the water is flowing.

After enjoying this magnificent and tranquil Shangra-La, simply retrace your steps back down the canyon to your car.

Video of Harding Falls

Harding Falls on 3/4/2014. Note that the 2013-2014 rainy season was exceptionally dry, but the preceding weekend had produced a large rainstorm, and the falls were flowing rather nicely.

 

 
    
  1. bgnewords Reply

    Made this hike today, all the way back to the falls. There was a nice amount of water coming down, as well as in the other places mentioned above. I could see some people reaching the short intermediate falls (less than 10 feet), and think they might have arrived at the end, especially since the water completely disappears further up the canyon for a bit. This was a difficult, tiring hike, but I found ample stretches of trail (or at least signs of other hikers), which helped my progress. Hiking boots/shoes with sturdy soles are far more helpful than water-friendly light-weight shoes, as you will be walking on a lot of smal, sharp rocks. Definitely will make this a recurring hike, especially in Spring.

    • Explorer Jim Reply

      Thanks for the report! Nice to hear the water is still flowing. This is a great hiking season because of the above average rainfall we had. Keep getting out there!

  2. Kelli Doan Reply

    Hello!
    Thanks for sharing this hike! I would love to try it but I’m concerned about how strenuous it is. I have done the Black Star Falls with my husband helping me up the boulders! How does this hike compare to Black Star Falls as far as being strenuous?

  3. riley Reply

    would this place be good for a multi day hike and a small camp out?

    • 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. There are some places you could camp, but because there is no trail for much of the hike I think you would want to scout it first.

  4. Tuanson Reply

    I attempted Harding Canyon twice last year and never made it to the falls. 1st time around, we didn’t want to hike in the water so we turned around. 2nd time around I went solo and got a further and booked it through a lot faster until I almost stepped on a red/orange rattlesnake. It was a very tight area and there was no way around it so I wussed out and turned back. This is an amazing canyon though full of wildlife. Returning to this hidden gem for sure someday 🙂

    • Explorer Jim Reply

      Hi Tuanson, In these wild aquatic canyons you often can’t help from getting wet. Since we’re in SoCal, unless it’s a really cold day your feet generate so much heat from hiking that wet feet aren’t usually a serious problem. Keep exploring!

    • Kelli Doan Reply

      Tuanson, Did you get a photo of the snake? Pretty cool that you saw it even if it did end your hike!

      • Tuanson Reply

        Hi Kelli. No I didnt. It backed up under a rock after it rattled at me and I jumped like 5 feet back with my heart pounding LOL. This hike is similar to Black Star in that you follow a creek with no trail. There’s no constant boulder climbing like Black Star, but the terrain feels more rugged and overgrown since a lot less people go here. Sometimes its not very clear how to even proceed forward at parts, but whatever looks somewhat like a path is the one you should proceed with. Also this is a much longer hike than Black Star in my opinion and the off-trailing goes on for longer stretch than at Black Star. Give yourself a lot of time and daylight if you attempt this one.

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