Holy Jim Falls has such a memorable name that every time I think about it, I have this impulse to shout out "Holy Jim!" before the word "Falls." Apparently the name was in honor of a foul-mouthed beekeeper who used to live in the area nicknamed "Cussin' Jim." And I guess conservative governmental types eventually renamed it to "Holy Jim." I also read somewhere that apparently Jim's short temper was said to have resulted in the last known California Grizzly Bear to be shot dead here (for going after his honey). Whether this story was true or not, it did seem like there were plenty of legends and a bit of a colorful past concerning this waterfall and the surrounding area, and with the adventure it took to access the falls, I'm sure we'd be adding our own little twist of personal experiences to all that had been said about this place.
Speaking of which, this was one of the more adventurous local waterfalls we've done, and a big reason why was the condition of the last five miles of driving on the rough unpaved Trabuco Creek Road to the trailhead of the falls (see directions below). Indeed, I'd have to say that the road conditions might be what's going to make you do a "Cussin' Jim" and swear (especially if you've managed to scrape the underside of your car like we did a few times). Indeed, high clearance vehicles are recommended to get to the trailhead though we did see a handful of passenger cars make the attempt. In any case, you'll definitely want to go slow, and going anywhere near like 20mph is probably considered gunning it. Of course, there will be some well-prepared off-roaders who would appreciate the slower drivers pulling over to let them pass where possible.
When we finally made it to the trailhead, the roughly 3-mile round trip hike (though I've seen it reported to be 2.5 miles round trip, which certainly seemed to shortchange it) involved a dozen or so stream crossings. Some of these crossings were over concrete fords while others were the more conventional crossings by foot only. Although the trail itself was fairly obvious to follow, it was these crossings that slowed us down, especially since the Holy Jim Creek was flowing well during our April 2011 visit.
And after all that trouble, when we finally found ourselves right in front of the tiny 20ft waterfall, the thought did cross our minds whether this waterfall was worth the effort or not (especially given its diminutive stature). That said, we noticed that Holy Jim Falls happened to be one of the more popular hikes in Orange County. In fact, we saw numerous families with large troops of children making the hike as well as plenty of others walking their dogs. Moreover, there were plenty of log cabins along the trail near the trailhead that kind of reminded us of the cabins along the trail to Sturtevant Falls.
In addition to all the foot traffic, we also shared this trail with lots of mountain bikers. Although sometimes mountain biking and hiking the same trail doesn't often make for a good mix, we did notice some signage at the trailhead indicating that the rehabilitation of the Holy Jim Trail was largely due to the efforts of a mountain biking club. So if it weren't for their efforts, it could be argued that this trail and waterfall wouldn't even be available!
Finally, I do have to mention that of all the well-known waterfalls in this part of Orange County (others that we're aware of are Blackstar Canyon Falls and Falls Canyon Falls or "Hidden Falls"), it seemed like it was Holy Jim Falls that appeared to have the most reliable flow. That said, we suspect that the springs and streams feeding Holy Jim Creek may have limits to its watersheds as the mountains comprising this part of the Cleveland National Forest doesn't typically get that much snow. Therefore, rainfall-reliant waterfalls like this one would have an even more limited flow life, and given the temperamental nature of rainfall in Southern California, it would appear that Holy Jim Creek may have a few weeks without rain provided we didn't have one of our now-infamous dry California Winters.
Our visit in particular took place during the Spring of a very wet year (2011). While we visited a different waterfall in February 2016, given the volume of people that were driving and walking Trabuco Creek Road, I'm pretty sure Holy Jim Falls was also having decent flow (just not as gushing like it did back in 2011).
We've made it to the Holy Jim Falls vicinity in a couple of different ways, but we'll describe here what we think is the most direct route without incurring fees from toll roads (on the Hwy 133 and Hwy 241) and without too much surface street driving. By the way, if you blindly follow the GPS, they will insist that you take the toll roads, but we ignored it. In any case, the key is to access Trabuco Canyon via Trabuco Creek Road.
So from the Greater Los Angeles area, we took the I-5 south towards Mission Viejo, where we took the Alicia Parkway exit. We then turned left to get onto Alicia Parkway, and we followed this busy surface road for a little over 5 miles through Lake Forest towards Santa Margarita Parkway (going past several traffic lights as well as a stretch where we saw some scenic homes around Lake Mission Viejo). We then turned right onto Santa Margarita Parkway, then followed this busy road for about 3.5 miles (going past the toll road Hwy 241 en route) before turning left onto Plano Trabuco Rd.
Plano Trabuco Rd eventually veered left onto Trabuco Canyon Rd in about 0.5 miles, then Trabuco Canyon Rd wound its way down to Trabuco Arroyo in 0.8 miles. Before crossing the bridge over the arroyo (creek), we turned right onto the unpaved Trabuco Creek Road. Right at the turnoff, there appeared to be an unpaved parking lot, but the unpaved road continued on the far end of the "parking lot". At this point, we were on the Trabuco Creek Road, which was initially rough gravel flanked by some ranches and lots of private property signs.
As we continued driving on Trabuco Creek Road, the gravel slowly gave way to a narrower and a bit rougher terrain full of ruts and deep potholes. It was in this stretch of the road that the clearance of our vehicle was tested.
At roughly 2.8 miles from Trabuco Canyon Road, we reached a concrete ford over Trabuco Creek. Beyond this concrete ford, there was a reassuring sign saying that the Holy Jim Trailhead was another 2 miles away. The road became even rougher and narrower beyond this sign, but there were still pullouts and makeshift shoulders to let oncoming vehicles pass by. Eventually, we'd arrive at the surprisingly busy Holy Jim Trailhead, where we were fortunate to find a parking spot and start the hike. Overall, this drive took us around 90 minutes, where over 30 minutes of it was on Trabuco Creek Road alone.
By the way, since the Holy Jim Falls trailhead was in Cleveland National Forest, every parked vehicle must display an adventure pass. Day and annual passes can be purchased from specific ranger stations as well as from outdoors outfitters like REI.
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What Other Visitors Have Said
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Holy Jim Falls - Solid Hike Went up yesterday 12/10/2010...the drive in is 5 miles...actually the hike is 40 minutes to falls and very pleasant..