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 2 of 17 Submit your own review
Reviewed by TZ on 5/2/2011
Hiked Holy Jim falls trail on 4/30/11. GREAT hike, especially for beginners. Strongly recommend 4-wheel drive vehicle or offroading vehicle for getting to the parking lot. There are several creek crossings and many pot hole types of holes in the road getting to the lot. I did it in my Prius since i don't have an offroad car and it was pretty hardcore. PLEASE NOTE: YOU NEED TO HAVE A FOREST ADVENTURE PASS to park in the parking lot. They can be purchased at any sporting goods store. If you don't have a forest pass, you'll get a ticket for $5 which is the same cost as a day pass. I will definitely do this hike again.
Reviewed by jerry on 4/29/2011
We hiked it yesterday and it was a great hike. The falls are small and I could see it getting crowded but the hike up is great. Lots of water, very pretty, well marked, and very peaceful. Its a gift to have these spots in OC.
Reviewed by KatieWynner on 4/20/2011
So, we decided to park in the dirt lot off of Live Oak and hike in. The hike was very pretty, and at the end of a 12+ mile-hike my car never looked better. I really wish that the trail proper wasn't so crowded and the multitude of cars cruising down the dirt road was pretty lame. However, don't let that stop you. I would only add that if you do this in the spring following heavy rain, your feet WILL get wet. You cross water many, many...many times.
Reviewed by JRB on 4/18/2011
Hiked Holy Jim on 4/14/11. Continued on upper trail to Santiago Peak. Not bad for a mostly urban hike, Holy Jim canyon is very nice. Used a high clearance 4x4 on Trabuco Creek road, but I think anything would pass it with care. Ruts in center of upper trail from mountain bikes make it a little tough. Peak is nothing to write home about with so much development. I read somewhere that it's about equal to hiking Baldy. No way.
Reviewed by Vic on 4/10/2011
Hiked in from the Holy Jim parking lot today. The road up to the lot was doable in a Corolla, but it needs to be taken very, very slowly. Would definitely reccommend an offroadish vehicle. Seems like a pretty popular place as there were quite a few people out on the trail. Overall a very nice hike that took about 3 hours total at a relaxed pace.
Reviewed by KDV on 2/1/2011
Fun hike. Not too difficult, and lots of people had their dogs with them. We went last Sunday in the pouring rain and still had a blast. Like the others have said, an SUV is almost a requirement on the dirt road.
Reviewed by LMC on 1/15/2011
Get there early or you'll hike back in the dark like we did. Got a late start on the hike and didnt quite make it to the falls. But overall, a great experience for our first outing. There was plenty of water flowing. Bring waterproof shoes or your walking out with wet feet. The road to get there was ROUGH. AWD/4x4 is highly recmonded. We'll definatley make this hike again.
Reviewed by eric p on 1/7/2011
The recent rains have completely altered the canyon. At the first creek crossing, you'll need a serious 4wd short wheelbase vehicle to travel past a mile or so from Live Oak Canyon. There are numerous rock slides and trail washouts. Take two vehicles. Or just hoof it. Temperatures drop quickly in winter and fall , when the Sun goes down.
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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