Summary: This may be Orange County's most popular family hike despite the washboarded road leading to it.
Nature was profaned here by the swear words flooding from the mouth of "Cussin' Jim" Smith or "Holy Jim" as he was renamed by tightlaced government surveyors who mapped the canyon in the early 1900s. Another bit of history marks the place: the last wild California Grizzly -- an old bear named "the honey thief" -- was killed at the mouth of Trabuco Canyon after robbing beehives here in 1907.
Heavy winter rains are essential to a pleasant journey. Along the way, you will see many small cascades and cross the stream several times before you reach the split where the main trail ascends to the Main Divide Road to the left and the trail to the waterfall shoots off to the right. Watch for poison oak as you scramble over the last quarter of a mile to the twenty foot falls. This may not sound like much, but I assure you: Holy Jim Falls is a chapel in the brush.
Trailhead: The road journey is half the adventure. The road to the falls parking lot has potholes that eat trail bikes and washboarding that will make you sing like a jaw harp. Please go no faster than 20 mph: flying rocks from your tires can seriously harm others.
From Interstate 5, get off at El Toro Road. Head north on El Toro to the point where the road forks at Cook's Corner. Take the right fork (Live Oak Canyon Road) past O'Neill Park. A quarter mile past Trabuco School, you will pass over Trabuco Creek. Turn left onto the dirt road. Some people park here and hike in: this adds 4.45 miles and 840 feet to your hike. Most continue on the road for another 4.45 miles and park in the Holy Jim lot. Though washboarded in parts, the road is usually passable for most passenger cars. The trail ascends the canyon on the left side of the parking lot.
Trail guides are available from the Traubo Ranger District or at the trailhead. (Lat:33.677 Lon:-117.5162)
Trail Guides for Holy Jim Falls, Cleveland NF:
Afoot & Afield in Orange County
by Jerry Schad (Wilderness Press)
Easy Hiking in Southern California
by Ann Marie Brown (Foghorn Press)
The Definitive Guide to the Waterfalls of Southern & Central California
by Chris Shaffer (Shafdog Publications)
Best Seasons: Spring, Winter,
User Groups: Hikers, Dogs,
Ranger Contact: Trabuco Ranger District, Cleveland NF (951) 736-1811
Localhikes Reporter: This hike was submitted by Joel Sax, who has posted 51 other hikes on this site. To visit this reporters web site, click here.
Trail Reviews Page 1 of 17 Submit your own review
Reviewed by HikingGuy.com on 3/24/2016
Great family friendly hike to the falls, tucked into the Santa Ana Mountains. I have full hike directions on my blog here.
Reviewed by John on 4/1/2013
Santiago Peak using Holy Jim trail on 3/29/13. Be advised that Bear Creek is very low with just a few pools deep enough to pump some water from. By summer it will probably be dry. Holy Jim falls are about normal for this time of year. Fresh grafitti at the falls. All in all no big change from my last time (2 years ago), but much drier this year.
Reviewed by RG on 2/27/2012
Hiked to Santiago Peak yesterday. Agree with Deano...last 3 miles to parking area is VERY rough. I recommend taking an SUV. The hike was challenging but worth the view. The only annoying part of the hike was sharing the last stretch of the trail with motorcycles & 4x4s.
Reviewed by Deano on 2/4/2012
This has just gotten sooo much easier to get to now! They've graded the road almost all the way up! I've been going back here for 17 plus years and I'm very impressed with the changes! Of course the last mike or so is very rough. Our 4 year old loves this hike.
Reviewed by Jerm on 1/26/2012
My wife and I did this in January. I would not advise anyone with a small car to go past the fist gate before the 1st cemented water passing. The gate is exactly three miles after the road into Holy Jims. Park off to the side and hike the rest of the way. Beautiful sites.
Reviewed by Nico on 12/29/2011
I love this hike. We did it Christmas day and thought it was one of the best Orange County Trails. Easy hike, but the scenic views are awesome once you get past the old rentals that are at the start of the trail. The ride is was interesting but doable. I dont think I would drive a regular car through it, but people were doing it and getting to the destination no problem. The water fall at the end was cool and a nice place to relax till you head back. A little crowded and that is the only reason it did not get a 5 star. Kids ages 7-12 had no issues whatsoever.
Reviewed by KP on 9/9/2011
I loved this trail! It's the first one I did as a "serious" hike. It's fairly easy however there are some intense parts especially since when I went in the spring it had just rained and everything was slippery. We took a 1 year old puppy and a 3 year old boy, I am happy to report both made it in and out in one piece.
Reviewed by SW on 8/20/2011
to the person who gave Holy Jim one star: of course there were bugs, youre hiking on a trail outside! and also you are supposed to park at the head of the trail which is why you had to walk through DESERT! this is a very nice hiking trail considering its surrounded by urban cities.
Notice: Traveling in the backcountry can be hazardous. You are responsible for informing yourself about these hazards and taking necessary precautions. Information on this web site comes from volunteer reporters and may contain errors or omissions. A current guidebook and proper equipment are essential for safe enjoyment of the hikes posted on this site.
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