Falls Canyon Falls ("Hidden Falls")

Cleveland National Forest / Rancho Santa Margarita / Lake Forest, California, USA

About Falls Canyon Falls (“Hidden Falls”)


Hiking Distance: 1.2 miles round trip; scramble
Suggested Time: 90-120 minutes

Date first visited: 2016-02-21
Date last visited: 2016-02-21

Waterfall Latitude: 33.67906
Waterfall Longitude: -117.53474

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Falls Canyon Falls (also known as “Hidden Falls”) was an elusive waterfall that nearly defeated us as I’m sure it probably had done to many others.

In fact, we weren’t even aware of the existence of this 40ft falls until Julie stumbled upon an OC hiking blog as well as a photo showing that it had pretty good flow just two days prior to our late February weekend visit in 2016.

Falls_Canyon_Falls_061_02212016 - Falls Canyon Falls
Falls Canyon Falls

It was definitely not in any of our waterfalling hiking guides.

And yet it was through those vague directions given on that blog that led us to some moments of frustration and even having a GEICO commercial moment.

In case you don’t know about that GEICO commercial, it was about Tarzan and Jane arguing amongst themselves about where to find the waterfall.

Of course, with that struggle, that made the elation of finally reaching the Falls Canyon Falls that much sweeter.

The Breakthrough at finding Falls Canyon Falls

Falls_Canyon_Falls_009_02212016 - Julie and Tahia aimlessly looking for the Falls Canyon Falls thinking there might be signage or something that might hint at the existence of its trail
Julie and Tahia aimlessly looking for the Falls Canyon Falls thinking there might be signage or something that might hint at the existence of its trail

I guess there was a reason why they called this falls “Hidden Falls”, and this was despite the amount of vehicular traffic going right past the mouth of the canyon containing this waterfall.

Ultimately what did the trick for us was that we studied the topographic maps prior to making our visit.

Once we correlated the map with what we were observing in the field did we finally realize how misleading the internet literature could be (note the irony as I say this since this website is technically part of the internet literature).

So was the effort and moments of mental anguish worth it?

Falls_Canyon_Falls_075_02212016 - Tahia pointing at the Falls Canyon Falls after we were finally able to figure out how to get there!
Tahia pointing at the Falls Canyon Falls after we were finally able to figure out how to get there!

Well, as you can see from the photo above, when it’s flowing, this waterfall was probably more scenic than the nearby Holy Jim Falls.

Timing Falls Canyon Falls

However, in addition to the rather obscure and hidden nature of this falls, we suspect that it might also have a short season.

What you see pictured above was merely three days after the last fairly significant rain storm that hit this part of Orange County in February 2016.

Granted, we had a rather unusually dry month of February where that storm was the lone one that replenished the watershed of Falls Canyon for the moment.

Falls_Canyon_Falls_057_02212016 - Context of the Falls Canyon Falls just a couple of days after seeing someone else's photos that had a little more flow than how it's shown here
Context of the Falls Canyon Falls just a couple of days after seeing someone else’s photos that had a little more flow than how it’s shown here

However, Julie said she saw a photo on the internet taken just two days prior to our visit showing even more waterflow than what we were able to witness.

Therefore, we suspect that unless there had been a bit of snow accumulation in the Santa Ana Mountains, this waterfall probably wouldn’t have much flow beyond a week of no rain after the last significant rain.

Experiencing Falls Canyon Falls

Our “hike” (which was more of a scramble) began from the hidden mouth of Falls Canyon.

The nearest pullout to the start of the scramble into Falls Canyon is given in the directions below.

Falls_Canyon_Falls_017_02212016 - Julie and Tahia watching this group in front of us that already knew how to get to Falls Canyon Falls, and they led us down this steep scramble from the Trabuco Canyon Road
Julie and Tahia watching this group in front of us that already knew how to get to Falls Canyon Falls, and they led us down this steep scramble from the Trabuco Canyon Road

You really have to pay attention to the canyon walls within Trabuco Canyon, and keep an eye out for a opening where a side canyon (Falls Canyon itself) would confluence with it.

Once that confluence is found, that was when we looked real hard for clues as to where to make the scramble to enter Falls Canyon.

Luckily, once we found the correct path, Julie spotted a steep gully that led down from the rough Trabuco Creek Road down to a log crossing traversing Trabuco Creek.

Immediately beyond the log crossing of the creek, we then spotted a trail-of-use that went over another fallen log before we were able to spot a small cave to our left within the mouth of Falls Canyon.

Falls_Canyon_Falls_116_02212016 - The cave at the mouth of Falls Canyon that was kind of a tell-tale sign to us that we were indeed in the right place
The cave at the mouth of Falls Canyon that was kind of a tell-tale sign to us that we were indeed in the right place

The cave wasn’t deep, and there really wasn’t a whole lot to see in there, but it was the key landmark that indicated to us that we were in the right place.

At this point, we pretty much followed the trail-of-use that was obvious in spots and tricky in others as we meandered along the seasonal stream responsible for Falls Canyon.

Some of the trickier moments involved scrambling over log jams, over rocks with dropoffs as well as narrow ledges, and all the while we were doing our best to minimize skin exposure to the ubiquitous poison oak.

That said, our five-year-old daughter was able to make it through most of this trail on her own, and she only required a little assistance from us in the trickiest spots.

Falls_Canyon_Falls_022_02212016 - Julie and Tahia overcoming some log jam obstacles near the mouth of Falls Canyon
Julie and Tahia overcoming some log jam obstacles near the mouth of Falls Canyon

Falls Canyon was remarkably quiet as it was apparent to us that this place was not that well-discovered.

So unlike some of the other local hikes we’ve been to where graffiti and litter would be a major problem, these eyesores were noticeably absent during our visit.

Let’s hope it stays that way, but I do fear that it’s only a matter of time before this place becomes a social media darling.

When that happens, then you’ll start to get people with little regard for Nature and start trashing the place (as had many other places that wound up in Yelp).

Falls_Canyon_Falls_045_02212016 - Julie and Tahia negotiating another log jam or dead-fall obstacle in Falls Canyon in pursuit of the Falls Canyon Falls
Julie and Tahia negotiating another log jam or dead-fall obstacle in Falls Canyon in pursuit of the Falls Canyon Falls

In the end, we spent about 45 minutes to get from Trabuco Creek Road to the dead-end right at Falls Canyon Falls, which according to our trip logs was roughly 0.6 miles in each direction.

We took a little less time on the way out (about 35 minutes; mostly because we knew where we were going) so I’d allow at least two hours for this excursion for both the hiking as well as some time spent just enjoying the waterfall.

We definitely wouldn’t attempt this hike if there was any threat of rain given how flooded Trabuco Creek can get.

The evidence of flash flooding from log jams within Falls Canyon itself attested to the inherent dangers here.

Falls_Canyon_Falls_085_02212016 - Finally making it to the Falls Canyon Falls
Finally making it to the Falls Canyon Falls

And speaking of safety around the falls, we noticed that there were some rope tied to hanging limbs against the nearly vertical cliffs surrounding the waterfall.

I’m sure some people have probably managed to throw caution to the wind and climb the ropes to continue further up Falls Canyon.

However, I shuddered to think how weather worn these ropes would be so we ignored them.

In any case, we were pretty content with experiencing the Falls Canyon Falls from its base before we headed back.

Authorities

Falls Canyon Falls resides in the Cleveland National Forest near Trabuco Canyon in Orange County, California. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website or Facebook page.

Falls_Canyon_Falls_012_02212016 - This hiking group was also in search of Falls Canyon Falls, and they were armed with a guidebook from Jerry Schad. I think that was the same group that ended up being right in front of us when we pursued the falls together, but this group actually walked the 3/4-mile along Trabuco Canyon Road
Falls_Canyon_Falls_015_02212016 - Once we parked the car closer to the mouth of Falls Canyon, we then walked backwards along Trabuco Creek Road in search of the right place to scramble into Falls Canyon
Falls_Canyon_Falls_126_02212016 - Julie making her scramble down towards Trabuco Creek and the mouth of Falls Canyon
Falls_Canyon_Falls_019_02212016 - Looking back up at the steep scramble beneath the banks of the Trabuco Canyon Road as we pursued Falls Canyon Falls
Falls_Canyon_Falls_020_02212016 - Julie and one of the guys from the hiking group assisting Tahia on the log crossing of Trabuco Creek
Falls_Canyon_Falls_024_02212016 - The hiking group scrambled around the mouth of the small cave, which indicated to us that we were indeed in the right place for Falls Canyon Falls
Falls_Canyon_Falls_025_02212016 - Once we were in Falls Canyon, the trail-of-use was fairly obvious enough to follow that Tahia didn't have too much difficulty doing the hike on her own
Falls_Canyon_Falls_029_02212016 - Julie and Tahia scrambling along this fairly moderate-used trail-of-use within Falls Canyon
Falls_Canyon_Falls_034_02212016 - Julie and Tahia continuing to follow the hiking group in front of us to help make any route-finding or navigating much easier
Falls_Canyon_Falls_035_02212016 - Julie and Tahia negotiating some dead-falls and logjams within Falls Canyon, which the group in front of us kind of helped provide us hints at problem solving to get around these obstacles in Falls Canyon
Falls_Canyon_Falls_036_02212016 - One thing we did have to be careful about was the ubiquitous poison oak within Falls Canyon
Falls_Canyon_Falls_037_02212016 - Julie and Tahia continuing their scrambling within Falls Canyon
Falls_Canyon_Falls_042_02212016 - Initially at the mouth of Falls Canyon, there seemed to be hardly any water in the creek, but the further up we went, we started to see stagnant pools, then we started to see flowing water like this mini-cascade
Falls_Canyon_Falls_047_02212016 - Julie and Tahia negotiating the increasingly rough scrambling the deeper within Falls Canyon we went
Falls_Canyon_Falls_049_02212016 - This was another tricky obstacle where we had to use our hands as well as our legs to get over this rock wall en route to the Falls Canyon Falls
Falls_Canyon_Falls_052_02212016 - The nice thing about Falls Canyon was that there was a decent amount of shade so the hike didn't feel terribly hot
Falls_Canyon_Falls_056_02212016 - Julie and Tahia finally starting to see Falls Canyon Falls up ahead after about 45 minutes of scrambling
Falls_Canyon_Falls_062_02212016 - Standing right in front of the Falls Canyon Falls
Falls_Canyon_Falls_066_02212016 - Tahia doing in victory pose in front of the Falls Canyon Falls
Falls_Canyon_Falls_084_02212016 - Broad look at the Falls Canyon Falls and some of its surrounding vegetation
Falls_Canyon_Falls_086_02212016 - Looking up towards the top of Falls Canyon Falls while examining the algae-colored wall more closely
Falls_Canyon_Falls_091_02212016 - Looking up in the other direction towards the top of Falls Canyon Falls
Falls_Canyon_Falls_100_02212016 - Julie and Tahia making their way out of Falls Canyon after having had their fill of the Falls Canyon Falls
Falls_Canyon_Falls_103_02212016 - Julie and Tahia making their way out of Falls Canyon as they're back to negotiating obstacles on the return hike
Falls_Canyon_Falls_106_02212016 - Julie and Tahia scrambling over some tricky obstacles including this one with a slight dropoff within Falls Canyon
Falls_Canyon_Falls_111_02212016 - Julie and Tahia still scrambling downstream Falls Canyon as we weren't out of the clear of the obstacles quite yet
Falls_Canyon_Falls_120_02212016 - Tahia and Julie back at the log crossing of Trabuco Creek
Falls_Canyon_Falls_121_02212016 - Tahia and Julie making the final climb back up to Trabuco Creek Road
Falls_Canyon_Falls_127_02212016 - I couldn't help but notice that someone placed this ribbon (or was it litter?) nearby the steep scramble descending beneath Trabuco Canyon Road towards the mouth of Falls Canyon

join-booking-970x240-1.jpg


The driving directions for Falls Canyon Falls pretty much follows that of Holy Jim Falls.

So see that page for directions on at least getting to Trabuco Canyon and the rough unpaved Trabuco Creek Road.

At roughly 2.8 miles along Trabuco Creek Road from Trabuco Canyon Road, we reached a concrete ford over Trabuco Creek.

Beyond this concrete ford, there’s a reassuring sign saying that the Holy Jim Trailhead was another 2 miles away.

Falls_Canyon_Falls_002_02212016 - This pullout next to the concrete ford of Trabuco Creek was where some hiking blogs suggested we should start hiking; except that we were still 3/4-mile from the mouth of Falls Canyon at this point
This pullout next to the concrete ford of Trabuco Creek was where some hiking blogs suggested we should start hiking; except that we were still 3/4-mile from the mouth of Falls Canyon at this point

Some of the literature from hiking blogs that are out there had us start the hike from here, which would make sense if parking further down Trabuco Creek Road is too limited or unavailable.

That said, I sometimes wonder if such blogs are being intentionally vague to keep the “Hidden Falls” hidden.

In any case, if this was the starting point of the hike, then we would still have to walk another 3/4-mile along Trabuco Creek Road before actually reaching the “hidden” opening for Falls Canyon.

So what we did was we continued driving Trabuco Creek Road for almost that 3/4-mile stretch (the road became even rougher and narrower along the way).

Falls_Canyon_Falls_014_02212016 - This shoulder or pullout on the Trabuco Canyon Road was where we stopped the car and successfully pursued the Falls Canyon Falls
This shoulder or pullout on the Trabuco Canyon Road was where we stopped the car and successfully pursued the Falls Canyon Falls

Paying very close attention to the canyon walls along Trabuco Canyon, I eventually saw the relatively hidden opening of Falls Canyon on the north side of Trabuco Canyon.

This would be where studying the topo maps prior to making the visit helped a lot.

There was another roadside pullout along Trabuco Creek Road a short distance beyond the mouth of Falls Canyon.

Ultimately, this pullout was where we stopped the car and began hiking/scrambling towards Falls Canyon Falls.

Falls_Canyon_Falls_130_02212016 - When we returned to the parked car at the end of our visit, either we started some kind of lemmings effect or these other people must have also already known about the Falls Canyon Falls
When we returned to the parked car at the end of our visit, either we started some kind of lemmings effect or these other people must have also already known about the Falls Canyon Falls

If you somehow find yourself at the Holy Jim Falls Trailhead or even the Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Department, then you’ve gone too far.

Overall, this 58-mile drive from downtown Los Angeles to the mouth of Falls Canyon took us roughly 90 minutes or so.

This did not counting the extra hour wasted arguing about where the correct path to the falls was.

Sweep examining the Hidden Falls from a distance, then examining closely the algae and flowing water as I got right up to it. Finally, the movie ends by examining the surrounding cliffs before focusing back at the waterfall itself

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Tagged with: cleveland national forest, rancho santa margarita, lake forest, mission viejo, irvine, trabuco, orange county, southern california, california, waterfall, hidden



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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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