Hike Holy Jim Falls Trail

Hike Holy Jim Falls Trail

In This Guide
  • How to Get to Holy Jim Falls Trailhead
  • Holy Jim Falls Trail Maps
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • What You Need To Do the Hike
Distance2.8 miles (4.5 km)
Time1:30 Hours (Total Time)
Total Climbing650 feet (198m)
Dog FriendlyOff Leash Okay
Park NameCleveland National Forest
Park Phone951-736-1811

The Holy Jim Falls Trail hike is an easy hike to a small waterfall tucked into the heart of the Santa Ana Mountains. The hike follows Holy Jim Creek, which is one of the pristine mountain tributaries of Trabuco Creek, and eventually flows out to the ocean at Dana Point. Today the Holy Jim Falls Trail is family friendly, relatively easy, and well marked hike.

Why is this area called Holy Jim Falls? Well, in the 1870s this area was popular with beekeepers, and there was one called James T. Smith, who evidently was a bit of an unsavory character. He earned the nicknames of “Cussin’ Jim”, “Lying Jim” and “Greasy Jim.” To irritate him, his neighbors started calling him “Salvation Jim” or “Holy Jim.” When government surveyors came through and asked who owned the land, Jim’s clever friends said “Holy Jim,” forever etching this joke into geographical history.

Last Grizzly Holy Jim
Holy Jim Canyon used to be full of grizzly bears. Local hunters, ranchers, and beekeepers actively hunted the grizzly to extinction.

There’s also some sad history at Holy Jim Canyon. It was here on January 5, 1908, that the last confirmed grizzly bear kill in California occurred. The California Grizzly adorns the state flag today, but they are extinct (in CA). It wasn’t always that way. Grizzlies used to roam all of the lower areas of Cleveland National Forest up to the 1860s.The government put a bounty of $10 a head on the grizzly, and by the 1870s, they were mostly gone.

The hike to Holy Jim Falls is a nice, easy hike. If you want to hike to the top of Saddleback Mountain, it’s a serious effort and best left to hikers with experience and fitness. Here’s what’s involved with the hike to Saddleback Mountain. These two hikes share the trail for a while, so you’ll see signs for Saddleback / Santiago peak as well.

Getting to the Holy Jim Falls Trail

Getting to the Holy Jim Falls Trail is half the fun. First off, use this as your Google Maps address: Main Parking for Holy Jim Falls and Trail, Corona, CA, 92883, USA

The last 5 or so miles are on a dirt road that’s best done with a higher-clearance vehicle, but I’ve seen cars do it before. Just take it slow and beware of potholes. I’ve seen really low cars do this, it’s doable.

trabuco canyon road
The drive to the trailhead address brings you on Trabuco Canyon Road, which is dirt. This is the start of Trabuco Canyon Road, coming from the paved road. The beginning of Trabuco Canyon is gravel, and it gets more rutted the farther in you go.

You need a parking pass for the Cleveland National Forest. I use the affordable National Parks Pass, which gets me in every national park, national monument, and national forest. You can also use an (Southern California only) Adventure Pass, or buy a $5 day permit from the Trabuco General Store.

Gear for the Hike

This is a pretty easy hike that you can do in fitness clothes. Here’s what I recommend:

There can be poison oak along the last section of the hike, so you should either be careful or wear long pants.

My Top Gear Picks

Garmin inreach review

Do you have the right hiking gear? Will it stand up to the test? I waste lots of money testing hiking gear every year so that you don’t have to. My gear picks are solid choices that will serve you well on the trail. I don’t do sponsored or paid reviews, I just the share actual gear that I use all the time that’s made the cut. Here are my top picks:

  1. Garmin InReach Mini Emergency Beacon – Hiking out of cell phone range? Make sure you have one of these two-way satellite texting devices in case your hike doesn’t go as planned. You can read my full review here.
  2. Injinji Sock Liners With Darn Tough Hiking Socks – This combo is a great way to avoid blisters out on the trail. I have some insider-hiking tips for avoiding blisters here. Pair them with modern, high-tech hiking boots (for women and men) and your feet with thank you.
  3. Garmin Fenix 5x Plus – It’s a little pricey, but man do I love this thing. Not only does it have all the topo maps and navigation tools on my wrist, but it also acts as a long battery life, rugged, outdoors version of an Apple Watch. Track your workouts, sleep, heart rate, all that stuff.

I have lots of other great, sponsor-free, trail tested gear picks on my “best gear” page.

See My Full Gear List

Holy Jim Falls Trail Maps

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

I highly recommend bringing a good paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x Plus and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.

Many people also print out this web page for the turn-by-turn images. And if you really want to get tricky, YouTube Premium lets you download videos for offline use, so you can download the hike video and save it.

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Hike Holy Jim Falls Trail 3d map
The hike to Holy Jim Falls follows the valley floor, making an easy hike.

Holy Jim Falls Hike Directions

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Turn by Turn Directions

holy jim falls trail parking
Park in any of the spots in the lot. The parking area has basic ports-potties.
Holy Jim Trail sign
Read the Holy Jim Trail sign in the parking lot for any notices.
holy jim trail sign
If you’re looking at the sign in the last picture, you go behind it on the dirt road to the left. There are signs to help you get started, including this metal one.
sign for the Holy Jim Trail
The start of the dirt road also has this big sign for the Holy Jim Trail.
holy jim trail
The beginning of the hike goes along a dirt road.
cabins on holy jim trail
After a few minutes on the road, you’ll go through a section of private cabins. Respect the private property and keep going straight on the dirt road.
peacock on holy jim trail
Some of the folks have free-roaming peacocks as pets. Keep your eyes open, they’re a hit with the kids.
holy jim falls trail sign
As you hike through the cabins, the direction to the trail proper is marked by signs.
official Holy Jim Trail trailhead
At about 0.6 miles, you reach the official Holy Jim Trail trailhead. Go straight through.
holy jim trail stream crossing
The trail is well defined and crosses some streams. If it’s been raining heavily, you might have to rock hop across the stream.
holy jim falls trail
The trail climbs gradually, and is well defined. You might see some side trails to the right leading down to the creek. Stay on the main trail.
alders and oak on holy jim trail
The most photogenic spot occurs on this part of the hike. The trail goes through a circle of alders and oak.
view of Saddleback Mountain
Look up to the left as you hike for a glimpse of the peak of Saddleback Mountain.
historical marker on holy jim trail
You might come across some historical markers on the trail too, keep your eyes open.
holy jim trail
Eventually the trail drops down to the creek and then climbs back up.
holy jim falls trail split
Right after that last trail drop, the trail splits. Head right to Holy Jim Falls.
holy jim falls trail
This part of the trail is much less developed, but still well marked.
holy jim trail
There are sections of the trail that are overgrown. Just move the branches and keep going.
holy jim falls trail
Eventually the trail will come out to and follow the rocky stream bed. It’s not well marked here. In general, stay to the left and keep your eyes open for the trail along the rocks.
holy jim falls
You made it! If there hasn’t been a heavy rain, the falls can be on the light side or even dry. If the trail dead ends at a cliff and you don’t see any water, the Holy Jim Creek is dry.
cris hazzard at holy jim falls
Grab your selfies and head back the way you came. Happy hiking!

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