Sunday, July 20, 2008

Holy Jim Trail to Holy Jim Falls (Cleveland National Forest)


Ashley and I did this hike along with our hike to the top of Saddleback Mountain (Santiago Peak 5,687 feet), but many hikers do Holy Jim Falls as its own independent hike. While we were on the trail, there were several hikers and family's on the trail going to view Holy Jim Falls. This hike is a great outing for the entire family. Holy Jim Falls is one of the most well known hikes in Orange County and it lives up to its reputation of being one of the best.

Directions to Trailhead: From Cooks corner take live oaks canyon road heading toward O'Neil Regional Park. Keep going until you pass Trabuco Creek, after which make a left and head up Trabuco Canyon Road (Bumpy dirt road) if you keep going on live oaks canyon road you will run into the back of Rancho Santa Margarita and have gone too far. The trailhead is several miles in on the dirt road. You will cross over Trabuco creek a couple of times via several concrete wash ways. The trailhead is beyond the river crossings and is located just past the volunteer fire house. There is ample parking and there are signs indicating that this is the parking area for the hike. I would recommend a truck with good clearance for the trip out to the trailhead, as some parts of the road are a little rough. A Forest Adventure Pass is required for parking at the trailhead since the falls are located in the Cleveland National Forest. (Note: wait a couple of days after a major rain storm to use the road, as water levels can get high in the river.)


Description of Hike: The trail to the falls is in good condition and on most any day when you go to the falls, you will see someone else hiking on the trail. Roundtrip from the trailhead parking lot to the falls is 2.8 miles and it will take you about 1.5 - 2 hours depending on how long you stay at the falls. The elevation gain for this hike is 650 feet. The trail follows the canyon and there is plenty of shade for this hike which will keep the temperatures cool even during the warm summer months. When we went in July there was still water cascading down the falls. The best time of year to see the falls is during the raining season, but during most of the year there is still water at the falls. It is a great hike for beginners as well as seasoned hikers. The waterfall is about 20ft high.


Further Thoughts: The trail starts off in Trabuco Canyon and you have plenty of shade the whole way to the falls. The official trail does not begin at the parking lot. You follow a single lane dirt road through a community of beautiful mountain cabins in Holy Jim Canyon. At the last cabin is the official sign that signals the beginning of the Holy Jim Trail. Along the trail you have to cross the stream in a couple of places but unless there has been recent rain it should not be a problem to cross. You might want to bring water proof shoes if you are going during the rainy season. Also be on the lookout for poison oak on this trail.

When Ashley and I did this hike we were a little tired from going to the top of Santiago Peak (Saddleback Mountain) and back. But, both Ashley and I were glad that we went to see the falls. We were both surprised that the falls had plenty of water even though it was in the middle of summer. It is amazing at how dense the foliage is in the canyon. This is a great Orange County Hike in the Santa Ana Mountains for anyone to do and the falls lived up to their reputation. As always bring a camera on this hike to take pictures of the falls. Since you are in the Cleveland National Forest you also might be able to photograph wildlife getting water from Trabuco creek.(Picture for this paragraph is of the parking area)

Rating: Elevation Gain: 650 ft. (Easy), Distance: 2.8 Miles Roundtrip (Easy).

Time to Complete Hike: 1 - 2 hours.

View Holy Jim Water Fall in a larger map

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10 comments:

  1. Thank you Brian and Ashley. We just stumbled on your site. My husband and I hiked to the falls yesterday. 1-21. The bumpy muddy swampy road was an adventure in itself. 4wheelers were having a blast. The trail had plenty of fun little stream crossings. We wondered if there might be another fall up higher. The rainy drizzle was a bonus. Kept us cool and the crowds away.

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  2. I love your blog. The pictures and information are always spot on, and are perfect for helping us know what to expect before we get there.

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  3. Hiked to Holy Jim Falls last weekend and had a great time. To help pass the time, we counted the river crossings... I'm pretty sure there were 10. Two little girls and baby in a back pack and we all got our shoes a little wet, but we had a great time doing it.

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  4. Hiked Holy Jim for the first time in 40 years. Still nice but, wish you could have seen it in the 50s & 60s. It has been ruined by over use and urban creep.

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  5. Did this hike today but parked off Trabuco road and hiked in making it about 9 miles. Hoping to find Trabuco canyon falls on the way in but couldn't locate the trailhead, Holy Jim was very green and beautiful lots of water though the whole creek couple feet deep at the falls base! Thanks for the great site!

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  6. Hello there! Me and my boyfriend are planning to hike up to the waterfalls. In regards to the adventure pass, is the daily pass okay or should we get the america the beautiful pass? Not exactly sure. Thanks!

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    1. The day adventure pass is perfect as it is only 5 dollars. The annual adventure pass is 30 dollars, so if you are planning on hiking more than 6 times in our local national forests then this would be your best bet. The america the beautiful pass is 80 dollars but is good at other federal agencies outside of Southern California while the forest adventure pass is good for the national forests in southern California ie: Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres, and San Bernardino National Forests. Hope that helps!

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  7. Is this road passable with a Civic? An Impala? We were wanting to hike it this weekend but hadn't seen all the 'negative' reviews of the road on Yelp until just now!!

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    1. John, we have seen a few cars at the trailhead before, but we will put it this way, we would not do it in our car just due to the risk of bottoming out and scratching the car. We do not want to recommend anything that we would not be comfortable doing ourselves, however, it is possible for a car to make it out there.

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  8. Hi, could I do this hike with a jogging stroller?

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Ashley and I encourage and welcome our readers to submit comments about their experiences on the trails we have posted on our blog or about their own hiking experiences in general.