Holy Jim Falls Hike – Orange County

Summary for Holy Jim Falls Hike

– Difficulty: Easy on good trail
– Length: 3 Miles Round Trip
– Time: 1.5 Hours
– Elevation Gain: 700′
– Summary: Easy hike to lovely 18′ waterfall in a beautiful mountain canyon, but a rough road to the trail head.

Holy Jim Falls IMG_5476

Holy Jim Falls is a well known hike and is suitable for beginning hikers. The fall is not spectacular at 18′ tall but has its own special charm and tranquil beauty, and the canyon is wonderful, especially when the water runs strongly. Regrettably though, the only access is to drive 7 miles down Trabuco Creek Road, which is maintained gravel for the first five miles, but deteriorates dramatically at the Cleveland National Forest boundary, so the next two miles are very rough and high clearance vehicles are suggested. It can be done if you’re careful in a passenger car and people do it, but I would not recommend it, especially if you really like your car.

The canyon is sardonically named for “Holy” Jim, an early settler who was renowned for his skill at profane verbiage, and apparently utilized it via cussing at anyone he encountered.  Another sad bit of history is that close to this trail head is the spot where the last California Grizzly Bear in Southern California – known as ‘The Honey Thief” – was killed in 1908 after ransacking some of the numerous man-made beehives which were once common in the canyon. Most people don’t realize that the animal on the California State flag is a Grizzly Bear, which should be cause for contemplation as to our relationship with nature, since they have been extinct in California for many decades. Note also that the Santa Ana Mountains were well known for the large number of grizzly bears that once roamed the range – apparently they really liked the terrain particularly well in these mountains – and the Native Americans here settled primarily in only certain canyons, like Black Star Canyon, where there were fewer bears.

Directions to Trailhead for Holy Jim Falls Hike

Map of Holy Jim Falls Hike with Downloadable GPX File

Detailed Description for Holy Jim Falls Hike

Holy Jim Falls IMG_5454
After completing the bone-jarring and teeth-rattling drive to the trail head, park your car in the good-sized parking area and make sure to display your adventure pass.



Holy Jim Falls IMG_5457





Now walk up canyon via the dirt road. Soon you will encounter some picturesque cabins that line the road, many of which are normally occupied.



Holy Jim Falls IMG_5459



After about 1 miles you will encounter a gate with another trail head sign. Proceed through the gate and then onto a good trail which winds through a lovely riparian forest.


Holy Jim Falls IMG_5467




From this point on you will feel a great sense of tranquility, joy, and communion with nature as you enjoy the path shaded by numerous oaks and maples, and the multiple crossings of the lovely sweet-voiced stream. This is a good trail for beginners because it becomes a bit more adventurous past the gate and is a good introduction to mountain hiking, but is also an enjoyable hike for any skill level. You will soon encounter a trail junction that is signed – the falls are straight ahead and the Holy Jim Trail to the left continues all the way up to Main Divide Road, and it is possible to reach the summit of 5684′ Santiago Peak that way. But that’s another adventure, so stay straight ahead to reach the falls.

Holy Jim Falls IMG_5474



Soon ahead and to the right you will see the tranquil grotto in which reside lovely Holy Jim Falls. The falls are not spectacular at 18′ or so, but the intimate fern-lined grotto has a lush semi-tropical ambiance that works a subtle magic on the over-civilized human psyche. Hopefully you will have the falls to yourself, as I did on this beautiful weekday afternoon, but in any event this is a good place to relax and enjoy the soothing voice of this diminutive yet soothing fall.




Video of Holy Jim Falls

Holy Jim Falls on 5/16/2014. Note that the 2013-2014 rainy season was exceptionally dry, and the flow in the falls was minimal, but this is always a joyous place.


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