Black Star Canyon Falls

Silverado / Santiago Canyon / Irvine / Cleveland National Forest, California, USA

About Black Star Canyon Falls


Hiking Distance: 7.2 miles round trip (boulder scrambling for about 2 miles)
Suggested Time: 5-7 hours

Date first visited: 2020-01-04
Date last visited: 2020-01-04

Waterfall Latitude: 33.79788
Waterfall Longitude: -117.66743

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Black Star Canyon Falls (I’ve also seen it spelled Blackstar Canyon Falls as well as just Black Star Falls) felt to us like one of those waterfalls where we showed up late to the party when it came to witnessing it in person.

Ever since a website visitor submitted a write-up about it back in April 2011, Julie and I waited patiently for an opportunity to pursue this rather hidden and elusive waterfall.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_241_01042020 - Black Star Canyon Falls
Black Star Canyon Falls

Unfortunately, for one reason or another (e.g. raising our daughter, prioritizing other waterfalls abroad, waiting out climate-changed-induced droughts, honoring prior commitments, etc.), we’ve never had that opportunity until the first weekend of the year 2020.

By that time, it appeared that much had changed about the Black Star Canyon Trail over the years, including its popularity as well as its accessibility.

Speaking of accessibility, we consider this waterfall as really more of an adventure considering Black Star Creek’s fickle flow combined with the trail’s physically demanding nature.

Nevertheless, by my estimation (based on assuming the height of people standing at the falls), Black Star Canyon Falls dropped around 60ft over a pair of tiers separated by a tunnel through which Black Star Creek flows.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_169_01042020 - The hike to Black Star Canyon Falls involved a lot of physical exertion, which was one big reason why we had to wait until our daughter was nimble enough to give it a try
The hike to Black Star Canyon Falls involved a lot of physical exertion, which was one big reason why we had to wait until our daughter was nimble enough to give it a try

That said, for all the trouble it took to get here, I guess you can decide for yourself whether or not it’s worth pursuing.

Therefore, we’ve detailed our experiences below in this write-up to fill in the blanks of the summary we’ve provided above.

Timing A Visit To Black Star Canyon Falls

Since Black Star Canyon Falls resided in the typically-dry foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains bordering the far northern end of Irvine, I didn’t find it surprising that this falls had a very short and fickle flow.

In years past, I’ve seen websites or social media pictures where the falls had much more flow than what we witnessed.

Conversely, I had also seen plenty of other accounts or photos in the literature where the falls either trickled or didn’t flow at all!

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_192_01042020 - Our visit to Black Star Canyon Falls happened when the creek was in light-moderate flow. Under higher flow, the stream scrambling would be much more difficult than what we had to experience
Our visit to Black Star Canyon Falls happened when the creek was in light-moderate flow. Under higher flow, the stream scrambling would be much more difficult than what we had to experience

Thus, In my mind, seeing the falls in a satisfactory state was pretty much a coin flip (or a 50/50 affair), and that’s if you show up during the Winter or early Spring.

We faced such odds when we made our visit, which followed about 10 days of dry weather after the last intense rain storm, which dumped a lot of snow in the local mountains and local street flooding in the city on Christmas night.

The water table may have also been further aided by earlier rain storms that started in late November and sporadically happened in early December.

As a result, if you combine the waterfall’s fickle nature with the difficulty of the stream scrambling involved (which we’ll get more into in the trail description below), we have a catch-22 situation regarding the Black Star Canyon Falls experience.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_207_01042020 - Context of Black Star Canyon Falls, where you can see the tunnel between the upper and lower tiers as well as the streaks beneath the upper drop showing where Black Star Creek could spill over during high flow
Context of Black Star Canyon Falls, where you can see the tunnel between the upper and lower tiers as well as the streaks beneath the upper drop showing where Black Star Creek could spill over during high flow

If there’s too much water, then the hike could be very slippery, very wet, and downright dangerous.

However, if there’s not enough water, the stream scrambling may be much easier and less slippery, but the waterfall itself wouldn’t put on a show.

Nevertheless, as you can see in the photo above, the waterfall does possess an intriguing tunnel between its upper and lower drops, which provided a rather unique character about it.

The tunnel was said to be an old mine shaft so the current shape of the falls has a man-modified aspect to it.

I’d imagine that when Black Star Creek would have high flow, enough water could flow to the point that the falls it would take on a “backwards h” shape.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_187_01042020 - Our hike to Black Star Canyon Falls did involve a good deal of getting dirty as we scrambled around and over boulder obstacles though these would be much more difficult if Black Star Creek had even more water
Our hike to Black Star Canyon Falls did involve a good deal of getting dirty as we scrambled around and over boulder obstacles though these would be much more difficult if Black Star Creek had even more water

Indeed, the stains and streaks to the lower right side of the apparent tunnel attested to the waterfall’s former trajectory before the creation of the mine shaft, which would now only occur under higher flow.

Of course, the “trail” conditions tend to degenerate a lot more under such high flow conditions.

The Black Star Canyon Falls Hike

In summary, we considered the Black Star Canyon Falls hike to be very difficult.

When we finally managed to complete this hike, our GPS logs suggested that we hiked 7.5 miles round trip.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_011_01042020 - The Black Star Canyon Falls hike began from this road closure where only residents and authorities could get through with their vehicles
The Black Star Canyon Falls hike began from this road closure where only residents and authorities could get through with their vehicles

However, given the spotty reception along with route-finding and backtracking within Black Star Canyon, I’ve estimated the distance was distance was closer to 7.2 miles round trip (though it could be as little as 6.6 miles round-trip).

With our daughter doing the hike with us (she was 8 years old at the time), the entire adventure took us 6.5 hours though we did spend about a half-hour enjoying our well-earned sighting of Black Star Canyon Falls.

As for the hike itself, the first 2.5 miles involved following the Black Star Canyon Road.

The remaining mile or so required us to follow Black Star Creek upstream until we’d eventually reach the main waterfall itself.

Black Star Canyon Falls Hike: Black Star Canyon Road

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_024_01042020 - Hiking on Black Star Canyon Road involved dealing with lots of sun exposure as well as mountain bikers
Hiking on Black Star Canyon Road involved dealing with lots of sun exposure as well as mountain bikers

Beyond the gate, we followed a wide and mostly flat unpaved road.

Even though we did our hike in the Winter, the relative lack of shade caused us to surprisingly warm up very quickly.

Had we taken on this hike in the late Spring, Summer, or even early Autumn, the sun exposure and heat could have easily caused us to exhaust the water we brought very quickly.

For example, I brought 2 40 ounce water bottles and consumed all the water by the time we finished the hike on a sunny day where the high temperatures topped out just under 70F.

That said, this 2.5-mile stretch was very straightforward (with the exception of getting out of the way of mountain bikers), and it took us a little over an hour with minimal breaks along the way.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_034_01042020 - This bend in the Black Star Canyon Road was where we encountered a white sign saying Black Star Falls was another 3 miles from here
This bend in the Black Star Canyon Road was where we encountered a white sign saying Black Star Falls was another 3 miles from here

As far as some noteworthy landmarks go (just to keey yourself occupied due to the relative lack of features here), at about the 0.5- or 0.6-mile point (shortly past the Silmo Trail junction), we encountered a gate accompanied with a sign.

The sign said Black Star Falls was 3 miles away as well as the Cleveland National Forest boundary being just couple of miles before it (which suggested that the falls belonged in the national forest boundary even though the trailhead was not).

Anyways, if we did the math based on this sign, then I could see why some might suggest that the overall hiking distance would be between 7-7.2 miles round trip.

Black Star Canyon Road also crossed over three bridges, where we got a preview of how much water flowed in Black Star Creek.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_073_01042020 - This was one of the bridges where Black Star Canyon Road crossed Black Star Creek
This was one of the bridges where Black Star Canyon Road crossed Black Star Creek

We encountered these bridges at about 1.4, 1.7, and 2.3 miles into the hike.

Shortly after the third bridge, we noticed what seemed to be a “backyard” fronted by electric wire fencing.

I believe this might have been the “squatter’s camp” according to the website submission in April 2011.

In fact, I had recalled in the literature that people used to drive further into Black Star Canyon Road, where cars would get vandalized.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_104_01042020 - Looking back at the last private property before the signed trail junction for the Black Star Creek scramble to the falls. I suspect this spot used to be an old squatter's camp
Looking back at the last private property before the signed trail junction for the Black Star Creek scramble to the falls. I suspect this spot used to be an old squatter’s camp

As far as our recent experience, visitors must walk this 2.5-mile stretch of Black Star Canyon Road as it appeared that the road was now flanked by various private properties where only locals may drive this road.

That would explain the presence of fencing and gates for much of this first part of the hike.

Eventually at around 2.5 miles into the hike, that was when we encountered a sign right next to a switchback in the road.

It pointed to our right to leave the road and descend into Black Star Creek.

Black Star Canyon Falls Hike: Black Star Creek Scramble

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_107_01042020 - Julie and Tahia approaching a signed trail junction where we left Black Star Canyon Road and entered Black Star Creek
Julie and Tahia approaching a signed trail junction where we left Black Star Canyon Road and entered Black Star Creek

After leaving the road and reached the banks of Black Star Creek, we then followed trails of use upstream alongside the creek itself.

While these “trails” typically followed alongside one side of Black Star Creek or the other, we could easily imagine how flash floods could rearrange the obstacles and obscure the paths with each passing storm.

In any case, we could follow the narrow paths for the most part and identify the spots where we needed to cross the creek.

In fact, we even noticed graffiti where some people have tagged the rocks and boulders in an effort to perhaps identify where the easiest spots to cross the stream were.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_118_01042020 - Tagging, especially at stream crossings, seemed to be a common feature of the Black Star Falls adventure
Tagging, especially at stream crossings, seemed to be a common feature of the Black Star Falls adventure

Nevertheless, the further up the creek we went, the more Black Star Canyon closed in, and the larger the boulders obstacles became.

Ultimately, we found ourselves using all of our limbs to climb somewhat vertical obstacles, scoot across eroded ledges, and grabbing onto roots or branches to prevent sliding into a dropoff.

Often times, we had to brush up against overgrowth (some of which would bloom into poison oak towards the Spring) as well as push or pull Julie and Tahia to help boost them up the more vertical obstacles.

Indeed, I’d say the final quarter- to half-mile of Black Star Creek alone took about an hour in each direction.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_197_01042020 - The higher up Black Star Creek we went, the more difficult the obstacles we encountered, including this very steep and eroded section to get around large boulders in the creek that we couldn't climb
The higher up Black Star Creek we went, the more difficult the obstacles we encountered, including this very steep and eroded section to get around large boulders in the creek that we couldn’t climb

And according to my trip logs, it took us just under 2 hours to finish our upstream scramble to reach Black Star Canyon Falls.

Moreover, it took a similar amount of time to go back downstream to the Black Star Canyon Road after having our fill of the falls.

The downstream direction of the hike was particularly difficult due to blind dropoffs that often caused us to backtrack and pursue a less-riskier path to continue on.

As a result, even though the creek scramble was only about a third of the overall hike distance-wise, it took two-thirds of the amount of trail time.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_265_01042020 - Context of Black Star Canyon Falls with onlookers, one person sitting at the mouth of the mine shaft, and some graffiti
Context of Black Star Canyon Falls with onlookers, one person sitting at the mouth of the mine shaft, and some graffiti

That said, we did notice plenty of hikers going faster than us so I’d imagine they might shave off up to a half the amount of time that we ultimately took.

Nomenclature and Checkered Past

Black Star Canyon Falls (or Black Star Falls) got its name from the Black Star Coal Mining Company, which used to operate at the mouth of the canyon that now bears its name.

This area has seen its share of violence, especially between fur trappers led by William Wolfskill and the Tongva Native Americans in 1831.

These conflicts resulted in the massacre of the Tongva Native Americans, and such bloodshed and history has apparently caused the canyon to be “haunted”.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_238_01042020 - A closer look at someone able to climb up and down the lower waterfall to reach the mine shaft above
A closer look at someone able to climb up and down the lower waterfall to reach the mine shaft above

While we didn’t personally encounter any apparitions or spine-tingling moments on our hike (other than the tension of some of the difficult parts of the bouldering obstacles and eroded gullies), apparently ghost hunters have come here around Halloween.

Regarding the mine shaft left behind by the mining operation, we’ve noticed some people with sufficient skills to climb vertical and wet rocks reach the mine shaft itself.

It’s not for everyone, and it looked too dicey for me to even attempt.

Authorities

Although Black Star Canyon Falls technically resides within the boundaries of the Cleveland National Forest, its trailhead sits within the jurisdiction of the Irvine Open Space Preserve (of which Black Star Canyon Wilderness Park is a constituent of).

For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can try visiting the Cleveland National Forest website as well as the Black Star Canyon Wilderness Park page.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_001_01042020 - The hike to Black Star Canyon Falls began from the end of the public access part of the Black Star Canyon Road
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_031_01042020 - Much of the first 2.5 miles of the hike was along the Black Star Canyon Road
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_033_01042020 - I noticed quite a bit of cacti flanking the Black Star Canyon Road hinting at how hot and dry it can get here
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_036_01042020 - This was the sign we noticed at about 0.5 or 0.6 miles into the hike
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_038_01042020 - An early morning hike (even in the cold of Winter) meant that we didn't have to deal a whole lot with sun exposure for much of the Black Star Canyon Road part of the hike
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_041_01042020 - Black Star Canyon Road showed quite a bit of water erosion as signs did warn that the road was unmaintained
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_045_01042020 - We always encountered people on this trail, which attested to how popular Black Star Canyon was
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_048_01042020 - Here was where we passed by a sign suggesting that we had left the Orange County Parks jurisdiction and into an area flanked by lots of private property
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_057_01042020 - Electric fences and gates prevented trespassing onto private property
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_061_01042020 - This was the first bridge on Black Star Canyon Road that we encountered
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_062_01042020 - Water in Black Star Creek was an encouraging sign that Black Star Canyon Falls would be flowing
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_070_01042020 - Even though the Black Star Canyon Road was mostly flat, hiking it felt long and somewhat featureless
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_075_01042020 - Being so close to the suburban city of Irvine, Black Star Canyon showed signs of urban blight.  This comical graffiti on the second bridge we crossed was quite small compared to the more egregious ones seen within the canyon itself!
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_081_01042020 - We encountered many mountain bikers along Black Star Canyon Road so we generally kept right and let them pass us on the left
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_097_01042020 - This gate was for the last of the private property areas we encountered before descending into Black Star Creek
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_099_01042020 - This was the third bridge that we crossed on the Black Star Canyon Road
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_101_01042020 - This muddy spot was the lone spot of bother along the Black Star Canyon Road
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_106_01042020 - Beyond the last of the private property along Black Star Canyon Road, we noticed more interesting cliff features in the distance
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_110_01042020 - This was the sign that prompted us to leave the Black Star Canyon Road and enter Black Star Creek
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_112_01042020 - Initially, the hike along Black Star Creek involved finding trails of use to maintain our pace
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_113_01042020 - As you can see, the initial part of the stream scramble involved smaller boulders and we were typically able to find a 'trail' on either side of the creek
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_117_01042020 - Unfortunately, lots of rocks had graffiti on them though some of them were actually somewhat helpful in identifying the easiest parts to cross Black Star Creek
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_123_01042020 - As we got further upstream along Black Star Creek, the boulder obstacles started to get bigger
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_134_01042020 - As the boulders got bigger, we had to resort to finding use-trails like this one that went around such obstacles though they also tended to be steep and eroded
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_137_01042020 - A small intermediate waterfall seen near one of the numerous crossings of Black Star Creek
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_138_01042020 - Crossing Black Star Creek was very frequent so I can imagine just how much more difficult this hike would be if the creek had more water
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_151_01042020 - This was one of the more nastier instances of graffiti in the Black Star Canyon hike
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_157_01042020 - The creek crossings of Black Star Creek became increasingly steeper and more slippery
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_165_01042020 - Letting faster hikers pass by us on the boulder scrambles, which also helped us to figure out the easiest routes as well
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_175_01042020 - Black Star Canyon closed in to the point that scaling large boulders became part of the 'trail'
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_176_01042020 - It has been said that the trail gained about 800-900ft, but given the amount of concentration involved with each obstacle we encountered, we didn't really notice the overall climb that much
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_184_01042020 - Another look at the boulder scrambling involved en route to Black Star Canyon Falls
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_194_01042020 - This was an intermediate waterfall almost at the end of our hike to Black Star Canyon Falls
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_202_01042020 - Finally arriving at the Black Star Canyon Falls
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_213_01042020 - Looking up at the mouth of the mine shaft above the lower drop of the Black Star Canyon Falls
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_223_01042020 - Checking out one person scrambling his way around the left side of the lower drop of Black Star Canyon Falls to the mouth of the mine shaft
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_232_01042020 - Focused look up at the notch at the lip of the Black Star Canyon Falls
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_251_01042020 - Despite the difficulty in reaching Black Star Canyon Falls, it was still very popular
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_264_01042020 - Unfortunately, graffiti was definitely a part of the Black Star Canyon Falls experience
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_284_01042020 - Even after having our fill of Black Star Canyon Falls, we still had to scramble our way downstream and negotiate the same obstacles we faced on the way in
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_289_01042020 - A steep descent on the return hike from Black Star Canyon Falls while someone's dog was also looking for a way down
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_295_01042020 - Another steep sit-and-scoot obstacle that our daughter had to negotiate on the way back from Black Star Canyon Falls
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_316_01042020 - Following a large group of hikers that were also leaving Black Star Canyon Falls
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_336_01042020 - Once we made it back to Black Star Canyon Road, we knew that the hardest part of this hike was behind us
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_366_01042020 - It felt sunnier and hotter when we hiked back on Black Star Canyon Road
Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_383_01042020 - Finally returning to the Black Star Canyon Trailhead, where we were quite surprised at how many cars were still here as well as how many people were just starting their hike when there was only 2 hours of daylight left!

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Black Star Canyon Falls was accessed from the Black Star Canyon Trailhead.

This trailhead is a well-known and well-geotagged landmark so you should be able to route to it on your GPS or smart phone.

The address to use is 13333 Black Star Canyon Drive, Silverado, CA 92676.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_003_01042020 - The gate blocking further vehicular progress at the Black Star Canyon Trailhead (unless you're a local or authority with the means to get past this gate)
The gate blocking further vehicular progress at the Black Star Canyon Trailhead (unless you’re a local or authority with the means to get past this gate)

Since we came from Los Angeles County to visit Black Star Canyon Falls, we’ll describe the driving directions from the I-5 and CA-22 interchange.

At the I-5/22 Freeway interchange (just north of the Discovery Cube Orange County), we then headed east on the 22 for about 15 miles to the interchange with the 55 Freeway North.

Once we kept left to go north on the CA-55, we then took the first off-ramp for E Chapman Ave.

Turning right at the light onto E Chapman Ave, we then followed this street east for about 14 miles (it becomes Santiago Canyon Road after crossing Jamboree Rd) to a turnoff on the left for Silverado Canyon Road.

Then, after another 0.1-mile on Silverado Canyon Rd, we then turned left onto Black Star Canyon Rd, and we drove the remaining mile to a gate blocking further progress.

Black_Star_Canyon_Falls_010_01042020 - Lots of parking spaces flanking Black Star Canyon Road near the Black Star Canyon Trailhead
Lots of parking spaces flanking Black Star Canyon Road near the Black Star Canyon Trailhead

There were lots of shoulders and parking spaces flanking Black Star Canyon Road though this place was very popular so unsurprisingly there were also lots of cars filling up these spaces quickly.

Therefore, it’s conceivable that you might have to park a further back on Black Star Canyon Road thereby increasing the overall hiking distance.

If you’re coming from Irvine or San Diego, then the fastest way to Black Star Canyon Trailhead would be to take the 261 Toll Road or the 241 Toll Road north to Santiago Canyon Road.

Then, you would head east to Silverado Canyon Road and follow the rest of the directions as given above.

For geographical context, Irvine is about 43 miles (about an hour drive depending on traffic) southeast of Los Angeles, 85 miles (about 90 minutes drive depending on traffic) north of San Diego, and 136 miles (over 2 hours drive depending on traffic) southeast of Santa Barbara.

Simple left to right sweep of the falls with zoom in following the trajectory of the falls from top to bottom


Sweep from the edge of the plunge pool below the cave towards the top of the falls, then continuing to shoot the falls from where most of the onlookers were at


Bottom up sweep of the falls while focusing more on the cliffs surrounding the area while also showing the graffiti nearby as well as some hikers looking to climb up to the top of the falls

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Tagged with: silverado, santiago canyon, irvine, orange county, waterfall, california, waterfall, hwy 261, cleveland national forest, santa ana mountains, tustin



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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Black Star June 28, 2012 5:00 am by _Anonymous121 - Went here last year during spring(2012)... Absolute greatness. Nice long hike with a gem at the end(the falls). If you are facing the waterfall, you can get to the top of the falls by hiking up the mountain side to your right. It only takes about 7 or so minutes to do and you will… ...Read More
Blackstar Canyon – Hidden falls of Orange County April 4, 2011 8:25 pm by John Nguyen - About a year ago, I was given a newspaper article describing these hidden falls in Orange County. The article itself did not specify the exact location, so I did some hunting online. Based on random websites and blogs, I managed to calculate the directions to this spot. Let me just say that this was NOT… ...Read More

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