|Trailhead||Trabuco Creek Rd & Holy Jim Canyon Rd
Trabuco, CA 92883
This past Tuesday, after the rains on Saturday and Monday, I headed out to Holy Jim Falls in the Cleveland National Forest. I’ve been wanting to do this hike for a while now, but I’ve been waiting until after some rain to ensure the falls are at their fullest. This hike did not disappoint, it is by far one of the nicest hikes in Orange County.
Driving to the trailhead takes a little bit of work, but it’s a beautiful drive in itself. Live Oak Canyon Road, which is the turnoff from Santiago Canyon Road where Cook’s Corner is located, is a densely shaded road that winds it way through a forest of live oaks.
From Live Oak Canyon Road you turn off onto a dirt road, Trabuco Creek Road. The first couple of miles of Trabuco Creek Road is well maintained until you hit the gate to Cleveland National Forest. The road through Cleveland National Forest is some of the most challenging off road driving I’ve ever done, I would highly suggest a car with sufficient ground clearance, such as a pickup truck or SUV. I made it out there in my Subaru WRX but I did hurt my front bumper coming over a large mogul. Plan to take a half hour or more to drive the 4.7 miles from Live Oak Canyon Road to the trailhead.
There is a small parking lot on the left hand side of the road as you approach the trailhead. To park here, you’ll need an Adventure Pass, which I picked up at the Silverado Canyon Market next to the Silverado Branch Library, or a National Park Service Golden Access Passport. The road continues for another half mile or so towards the actual trailhead, however this portion of the road is for access to a number of cabins that are located on leased forest land and there is no public parking beyond this point.
From the parking lot, continue to follow the road, being careful not to wander up someone’s driveway. After about a half mile, there will be a slight “Y” in the road, to the right is a newer looking cabin and to the left is the actual trailhead. The trailhead is marked by an open gate and a placard provided as an Eagle Scout project.
From the trailhead, it’s 1.4 miles to the falls along the bottom of a gorgeous canyon. The trail meanders back and forth across the stream a dozen times. Throughout the canyon are native live oaks that are hundreds of years old as well as naturalized fig trees that have spread from early orchards in the canyon 140 years ago. In fact, there were a number of homesteads in the canyon around the 1870s. Originally the canyon was home to tin prospectors but never became a commercially viable mine. Afterwards, a number of people make their living as bee keepers in the canyon, including Jim Smith. The story goes that Mr. Smith had a foul mouth and was often referred to as Cussing Jim. When cartographers came through to make a map of the area, they didn’t find the name Cussing Jim to be appropriate for the name of the canyon or the falls, so they made up the name Holy Jim.
Along the trail there are a number of signs that offer interesting tidbits about the history of the area. The first sign is located at the site of Cussing Jim’s cabin and original orchard, although only a small section of wall remains at the location. Once past the fourth marker and sign, you’ll come to a split in the trail with the falls to the right and Main Divide Road to the left.
From this split the falls are another 0.25 miles further up the trail. Here the trail narrows and is flanked by poison oak, so watch your step. This is actually the hardest part of the trail. It requires scrambling over rocks that have been worn smooth over the years by hikers.
Holy Jim Trail is the nicest trail in Orange County. Even though you’re only a few miles from civilization, Holy Jim Canyon feels as far removed as anything you can find, surrounded by mountains and forests. If you can manage to go out on a week day after a rain, as I did, the falls provide a tranquil spot to enjoy nature. This hike is highly recommended for its remoteness, beauty, and serenity.
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