Holy Jim Falls

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As seen in the Nobody Hikes in L.A. guidebook!

Holy Jim Falls

Text and photography copyright 2010 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Holy Jim Falls

  • Location: Trabuco Canyon, eastern Orange County.  From I-5 in south Orange County, take El Toro Road northeast for 6 miles.  At Cook’s Corner, take a hard right onto Live Oak and drive four miles.  Shortly past O’Neill Park, right after Rose Canyon Road, take a left on Trabuco Creek Road, an unmarked dirt road.  Note that 4-wheel drive vehicles with high clearances are recommended.  Drive for 5 miles on this rough dirt road and arrive at the Holy Jim parking lot just past the volunteer fire station.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 2.7 miles (out and back)
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Santiago Peak”
  • Recommended gear: Insect Repellent
  • Bragging rights swag: here
  • More information: here; to “like” Holy Jim Falls on Facebook, click here.
  • Rating: 7

In the early 1900s, bee keepers lived in Trabuco Canyon in the eastern foothills of Orange County.  One, James T. Smith, was nicknamed “Cussin’ Jim”, presumably because of his use of language that would not be permitted on the radio.   When the area was mapped, the canyon and waterfall was given the more politically correct handle of Holy Jim.  The trail is one of the more popular ones in the area, providing great scenery and a waterfall for a modest effort.  It is one of the few truly year-round hikes in the Santa Ana Mountains, and with the heavy rains of this past winter, the waterfall’s flow is still quite strong.   Wildflowers are also in bloom right now, so the next couple of weeks are an ideal time to visit.   Do, however, take care in planning for this hike:  Temperatures are likely to be quite hot mid-day, and toward the evening, the trail can get quite dark.   The bugs can be pretty bad too–perhaps that was what made Jim Smith curse as he did–so remember to wear repellent.

From the parking lot, follow the signs for the trail, heading up a short staircase and along a dirt road.  You will pass by several cabins, cross the stream a couple of times, and pass a few intersections (the trails are well signed, so route finding won’t be a problem).  Arrive at the Holy Jim trailhead after a half a mile.  The trail continues along the creek through the canyon, with views of the hills above, beneath oaks, fig trees and maples.  There are also interpretive exhibits with vintage pictures of the cabins, including Cussin’ Jim and some of his contemporaries.  After several creek crossings, the Holy Jim Trail reaches a hairpin turn, and heads up toward Santiago Peak.  A signed spur to the right leads 300 yards to the falls.  The going gets a little tricky here, with several more stream crossings and climbing over rocks, but before long you will arrive at Holy Jim Falls, which flows 15 feet down a rock surface into a clear pool.   Check out a video of the waterfall, here.


  1. We did this hike today and it was beautiful! I wish I had read carefully about the bug spray. Holy smokes they don’t leave you alone! It was definitely hot today but the passing over of the streams provided ample opportunity to cool down. The shading of the trees were also heavenly. With the exception of the road getting there, I would say this is the best hike I have been on in Orange County.

  2. Hey, I am just wonderin, do ya all or would ya give me some info on HOLY JIM? I want to move away from this crap b-4 2012. Is it as beautiful as it seems? I was born in O.C. and had a few good years thier, but was up-rooted to S.F.. Please do not think I am one of them!!!!! I am a happy 420 5=yr old who loves the earth and everything that goes with her. Please email me with any and all info on My HOLY JIM

  3. We completed this hike yesterday; it was such an incredible and beautiful day. I think this is a good short hike for anyone’s ability, roughly about 2 ½ miles. But, families with small children need to be a little more courteous of other hikers along the trail. With that said the creek, the small rapids, and the waterfall made my wife and I feel like we were in some sort of a small version of Kings Canyon. I recommend this hike for all locals who don’t have the time to hike along Kings Canyon. Finally, there were a few passenger vehicles, low to the ground cars, which I think should have not been on the road. Due to the rather large dips, the many rocks and several times we crossed the creek, vehicle ground clearance should be considered before venturing out to Holy Jim Falls. We witness one vehicle stuck along the banks of the creek, front end over. Don’t ask me what were they thinking of or doing, but again I think some familes need to think a little more before venturing out.

  4. We hiked to the falls today in the afternoon and it was gorgeous indeed. The hike is super-easy; our a year and a half old kid was capable of walking in most of the parts of the trail. The falls themselves are not half as picturesque as they look in the photo, but the trail itself is beautiful.

    When the road is dry it does not take a Jeep to reach the last parking lot at the very trail head. If your car is not a low-rider and enough caution is exercised, you can reach the lot easily without scratching the car’s bottom against the ground. There will be many parking spots on the way, but be patient and drive till you pass the volunteer fire station.

  5. We really enjoyed this hike; however, the dirt road to get there is extremely rough. We drove out in my Ford Fusion, and quickly found that we couldn’t drive much farther–we ended up hiking an extra 1.5 miles in to the trailhead because the car bottomed out in a couple places and just couldn’t handle all the potholes and rocks. So, it ended up being a 7 mile hike for us. The only cars that made it to the actual trailhead were trucks or Jeeps. Smaller cars all ended up parking along the road and hiking on. The trail itself is pretty though, with lots of shady trees. It sloped uphill the whole way to the falls, but wasn’t terribly steep in any one place. There were a number of times we had to cross streams or scramble up a couple of rocks, so very small children who are not being carried might have a tough time. According to the GPS trail tracking on our phones, it was more like 4 miles round trip, not 2.8. It took us around 2 hours for the trail, plus another hour for the extra walk to and from the car. The waterfall was pretty, but not all that big, so while we enjoyed it, we wouldn’t go back without a truck, unless we feel like doing a 7 mile hike!

    1. Thanks for the update, sorry it ended up being so difficult. The 2.8 mile distance is quoted in several guidebooks, although guidebooks aren’t always accurate. Glad you at least made it to the falls.

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