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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.


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