Holy Jim Falls

Cleveland National Forest / Lake Forest / Orange County, California, USA

Rating: 1     Difficulty: 2.5
Holy Jim Falls

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INTRODUCTION

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).




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PHOTO JOURNAL

Not far from Lake Forest and Trabuco Canyon, if you head towards the coast, you get to the 'infamous' (thanks to MTV) Laguna Beach, which is actually a nice place to chill outNot far from Lake Forest and Trabuco Canyon, if you head towards the coast, you get to the 'infamous' (thanks to MTV) Laguna Beach, which is actually a nice place to chill out
Another look at Holy Jim Falls, but this photo was taken when Holy Jim Creek was in high flow during our first visit here back in February 2010Another look at Holy Jim Falls, but this photo was taken when Holy Jim Creek was in high flow during our first visit here back in February 2010
Trabuco Creek Road before it started to get badTrabuco Creek Road before it started to get bad

This was the Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Department, right before the car park for the Holy Jim TrailheadThis was the Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Department, right before the car park for the Holy Jim Trailhead

At the trailhead for Holy Jim FallsAt the trailhead for Holy Jim Falls

Tahia getting onto the Holy Jim Trail. We had to make sure we took this trail and not continue walking east on the Trabuco Creek RoadTahia getting onto the Holy Jim Trail. We had to make sure we took this trail and not continue walking east on the Trabuco Creek Road

At first, the Holy Jim Trail was essentially a high clearance road so sometimes we had to yield to people in trucks or SUVs before continuing on with the hikeAt first, the Holy Jim Trail was essentially a high clearance road so sometimes we had to yield to people in trucks or SUVs before continuing on with the hike

Walking by some cabinsJulie and Mom walking by some cabins

Six years later, Julie and Tahia walked by what seemed like more cabins than beforeSix years later, Julie and Tahia walked by what seemed like more cabins than before

This was one of several stream crossings. Six years prior to this photo taken, each of these stream crossings had a lot more water so they were trickier to cross without getting wetThis was one of several stream crossings. Six years prior to this photo taken, each of these stream crossings had a lot more water so they were trickier to cross without getting wet

Since mountain bikers rehabilitated this area, you'll probably share the trail with themSince mountain bikers rehabilitated this area, I guess it wasn't surprising to see them on the trail

This was the first stream crossing we encountered almost immediately after the gate marking the official trailThis was the first stream crossing we encountered almost immediately after the gate marking the official trail

Beyond the cabins and now hiking in wildernessBeyond the cabins and now hiking in wilderness

Crossing another one of many stream crossings. This photo was taken in high flow so the crossing was much wider than our most recent visitCrossing another one of many stream crossings. This photo was taken in high flow so the crossing was much wider than our most recent visit

Julie and Tahia further along the Holy Jim TrailJulie and Tahia further along the Holy Jim Trail

Yet another one of many stream crossings on the Holy Jim TrailYet another one of many stream crossings on the Holy Jim Trail

This little clearing gave us a little break from having to watch for poison oak growing into the trailThis little clearing gave us a little break from having to watch for poison oak growing into the trail

After another uphill stretch, we encountered this trail junction where the path on the right went to Holy Jim Falls while the path on the left went to the Main Divide RoadAfter another uphill stretch, we encountered this trail junction where the path on the right went to Holy Jim Falls while the path on the left went to the Main Divide Road

This was the last stream crossing, which was a bit tricky due to the necessity of having to scramble over slippery rocksThis was the last stream crossing, which was a bit tricky due to the necessity of having to scramble over slippery rocks

Looking back at that last stream crossingLooking back at that last stream crossing

My attempt at a long exposure shot of Holy Jim FallsMy attempt at a long exposure shot of Holy Jim Falls (without a tripod)

Julie and Tahia getting right up to the base of Holy Jim FallsJulie and Tahia getting right up to the base of Holy Jim Falls

Last look at Holy Jim Falls in low flowLast look at the falls in low flow

Mom and Julie crossing creeks in high flow as we headed backMom and Julie crossing creeks in high flow as we headed back

Julie and Tahia on the mostly downhill return hikeJulie and Tahia on the mostly downhill return hike

Finally back at the car park with some nice scenery surrounding the areaFinally back at the car park with some nice scenery surrounding the area


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Examining the end of the trail where there was the waterfall and some heavily-vegetated surrounding cliffs


Broad L-shaped sweep from the Holy Jim Creek up to the waterfall itself


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

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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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES





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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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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..

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