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 3 of 17 Submit your own review
Reviewed by David on 12/10/2010
I'm not sure why everyone rates this hike so high. Even if you have a high-clearance vehicle, getting to the parking area is a pain in the butt. Then, the high is woodsy, shaded and near a creek so it's pleasant, but the waterfall is anti-climactic and there's virtually no challenge in this hike. It's also very crowded and there are a ton of bikers on the trail that you have to keep stepping to the side for. I like better challenges than this...or at least a better water fall.
Reviewed by Mike on 11/15/2010
hiked the trail on Nov 13 for the first time. Delightful! I'm sure the falls are bigger in the spring/summer but it was a rewarding treat at the end of a beautiful hike. LOVE the markers with local history (many thanks to the Eagle Scout who installed those) The dirt road... we had a little compact car and it took 45 minutes to drive it. Next time, I'll take something with a little higher clearance.
Reviewed by John on 9/12/2010
We hiked to the Holy Jim 4 weeks ago and the dirt road was horrible. I saw many kids with beer next to the Fall. The waterfall is kind of very small to compare Sturtevant Fall, Eaton Fall or San Antonio Fall. The trail was shady that that is all. No special for this waterfall.
Reviewed by Alex K on 9/1/2010
First of all the road is passable to all cars just some may have to go slower than others. Personally I found that the faster you go the less you feel the bumps, 20mph was a good speed in my toyota highlander. Once you get to the parking it says you need a adventure pass although I don't think they check. The trail to the falls is very serene and the falls at the end are surprisingly still running even though its the end of summer and there hasn't been any rain in a long time. So overall its a nice hike, nothing too special though, great for a small getaway from city life. The best part is the road though!
Reviewed by David L. on 6/22/2010
Made my third trip today, pleasantly surprised at how strong the flow of the waterfall is. This is a very nice hike through a beautiful, serene part of O.C., and it is worth the long drive. Check out my photos here.
Reviewed by mikey1two on 5/23/2010
Hiked this trail with my wife and little nephew today. The boy did the hike to the fall and up toward the peak (additional mile) as well with no problem. Waterfall was great, lots of water. Noticed a few extra trails compared to previous hikes to Holy Jim Falls, but was pretty disappointed with the extra trail going to the falls on the left. It seems way too open at the waterfall now. Try to keep to the right when you hit the stream after passing the trail leading to the summit. It gets a little confusing at that point, hence the extra trail on the left leading to the waterfall. Keep right on the original trail, it will get you there.
Reviewed by KW on 4/26/2010
Was a very nice trail however there were so many people there it was hard to enjoy it. I ran into a few people that had there dogs off leash which was very Irritating because my dogs are very protective of me and the people thought it would be ok to let them run up to other dogs. This could be dangerous so if you do decide to bring your dog PLEASE keep it on there leash for the safety of the other hikers.
Reviewed by Laura (part 2) on 4/20/2010
Also, I would never ever attempt to drive to the parking lot in anything other than a 4x4 or SUV. We saw a few sedans making the attempt and we thought they were crazy. And indeed it is a VERY LONG walk from the beginning of the dirt road if you decide to hike in. Biking wouldn't take too long but to hike in wouldn't be worth it unless you're up for an additional 8 miles of walking just to hike where you want to go.
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.
Keys: California Hiking, California Trails, California Hikes, Orange County Hiking, Orange County Trails, Orange County Hikes