Holy Jim Trail

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 33.71060°N / 117.5333°W
Additional Information Route Type: Hike
Additional Information Time Required: Most of a day
Additional Information Difficulty: Walk-up
Sign the Climber's Log


If you are approaching from points north you should either exit the 55 freeway at Chapman and head east or Interstate 5 at Jamboree heading north. Where Jamboree and Chapman intersect in east Orange (gas and market) you will either go straight if coming from the 55 on Chapman or turn right if coming up Jamboree on to Santiago Canyon Road. Follow Santiago Canyon Road for just less than 13 miles to Live Oak Canyon Road. You will be turning left here. There is a popular road house for the "Harley crowd" here at this intersection known as Cook's Corner.

If approaching from the south exit off Interstate 5 at El Toro Road and go north for about 7.5 miles to this same interection. You will be turning right here.

From Cook's Corner head east for about 4.4 miles to a fairly obvious wash. You will pass a small store on your left and O'Neill Park on your right. The store is your last chance for supplies. Adventure Passes may be available at the store.

Turn left up on the dirt road (Trabuco Creek Road) immediately after the wash and follow this rough road for 4.7 miles to the trailhead parking area. No services or piped water. The parking area is immediately after the Holy Jim Fire Station (unmanned). Be sure to display your Adventure Pass. Note: After heavy rains this road may be tough to negotiate since it crosses Trabuco Creek several times (no bridges). Other than these times 4WD is not normally required but high ground clearance is recommended. Passenger cars can make the trip with caution.

Trabuco Creek Road continues on to a different trailhead, past some private residences for a couple of miles, at a dead end. Use the fire station as your indicator to stop.

The 241 toll road makes a nice short cut over to Santiago Canyon Road if you are approaching from the Inland Empire on the 91 freeway. From the 91 head south on the 241 to Santiago Canyon Road. Head east for about 11 miles to Live Oak Canyon road. See directions given from there in previous paragraphs.

Route Description

Here is a clue about this trail. If you look closely at the photo (ID #37107) taken by Bob Burd you will see a faint trail climbing up from the canyon. That is the Holy Jim Trail. It is well traveled and in very good condition thanks in part to the Warrior's Society who maintains it. It is one of the best trails in the Santa Ana Mountains even if you didn't use it to go all the way to the top of this peak.

From the parking area at 1740' walk up Holy Jim Canyon Road (6S14). If you were driving you would be making a left turn on this road from Trabuco Creek Road, however please do not drive up there. This one lane dirt road is only for the resident's of the canyon. The actual trail starts after a nice walk past the homes in about .5 miles.

Once on the trail you have one intersection to be aware of at the 1 mile mark. You will cross the creek for the last time here. A trail to the right leads up to Holy Jim Falls which is a nice little side trip if the water is flowing. Stay to the left and begin to climb good trail to the Main Divide Truck Trail at the 5 mile mark. Bear Springs at about 3940' will be just to your right. I have used this as a water source several times but it should be considered unreliable especially in summer months or during years of low rainfall. It is important to go to Bear Springs in order to find the continuation of the Holy Jim Trail above the Main Divide Truck Trail. The trail used to continue up from behind the spring (a concrete vault) and the continuation was not well marked. This part of the trail is also not shown on the Topozone map but is marked on others. Since the mountain bike crowd didn't use this next section it was not in good of condition but it is still passable. As of this edit (8/20/06) a new route has been signed and established for the Upper Holy Jim Trail. From the spring continue to the right on the road (east) gently uphill for about 300 yards to a sign marking the continuation. You will leave the road heading up and to your left joining the original trail. It is about 1 mile to an intersection with the abandoned Coldwater Trail that used to provide access from the Glen Ivey Hot Springs area on the other side of the range. The only way to spot this intersection these days is to look for some old wood barrier material along the trail. Keep to your left on the way up. In another .25 miles you re-intersect the Main Divide Truck Trail at 4875'. There is a big ugly road cut at this intersection. Take note of this intersection for your return trip since it isn't as obvious on the way down. Follow the Main Divide for about 1.5 miles to an obvious sevice road going toward the array of radio towers and antennas on top. Total miles is just under 8 one way. Total elevation gain is about 4000'.

One common variation of this route that adds about .5 miles each way is to skip the section of trail above Bear Springs and go left on the Main Divide Truck Trail to the top. Another variation is to go up on the trail and down on the road or vice versa. I recommend the trail in both directions to minimize contact with motorcylces or bikes using the road. Several other variations exist for longer trips such as returning via West Horsetheif Trail or Trabuco Trail but these push the total milage higher than most people will want to take on in a day.

Red Tape

An Adventure Pass is required to park at the trailhead. The pass ($5.00/day or $30.00/annual) is available at stores near the trailhead and various outdoor shops such as Adventure 16 and REI.

According to Dave Rhodes there is now a self-issue Adventure Pass station located near the parking area at the start of the Holy Jim Trail. It is a rust colored pipe. Simply include $5.00 payment with the information listed on the envelope and drop it into the "box". Be sure to remove the detachable form from the envelope and place it in plain view in your car with pertinent information listed.

And now (2/18/2008) Alex McConahay reports the box to pay for a one day pass at the trailhead is gone. Better pick one up ahead of time or buy the annual pass.

Essential Gear

No special gear is needed. Running shoes or light hiking boots are adequate. Bring plenty of water. There are no reliable sources on the way. Cell phone service is hit or miss in this area. Bugs can be bothersome during spring and early summer. USGS 7.5 series topo - Santiago Peak.


Holy Jim Canyon gets its name from early canyon dweller Cussin' Jim Smith. Apparently the map makers thought Holy Jim sounded better than Cussin' Jim.

Plants Along the Trail

Observing the local flora on the Holy Jim Trail reveals a very diverse list of trees, shrubs, flowers, and all the other plant life common to the chaparral. This trail has a tremendous variety of plants native to this area. Learning a few doesn't take that long. The following is a summarized list. You can see several photographs of each plant listed at UC Berkeley Electronic Library. You search for a picture using either the common or scientific name. This library contains over 40,000 images but is well organized and easy to use. A few special plants deserve special mention here. Between the trailhead and the trail to the falls, two plants introduced by early residents have taken hold. Periwinkle (Vinca major),a groundcover with purple flowers, carpets some under story areas. You may also notice, and smell, two fig trees (Ficus carica) that have formed a canopy over the trail. The fruit is edible. The final native plant that should be the first one you learn if hiking in the area is Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum). The old saying of "Leaves of three, let it be" applies here. Poison oak is deciduous and is hardest to identify in summer or fall but the stems are equally as likely to produce skin irritations as the leaves. Teknu skin cleanser, available at many drug stores, is helpful in washing away the irritating oils from this plant. The Holy Jim Trail definitely has poison oak growing along it, mostly found between the trailhead and the trail to the falls. Click here for a picture of poison oak.


Big Leaf Maple (Acer macroplhyllum) - Large deciduous tree with a narrow base and spreading top. Maple shaped leaves as you would expect.

White Alder (Alnus rhombifolia) - Deciduous tree found near water. Pyramid shape to 40'. Has a faint "woodsy" odor.

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) - Evergreen Up to 20'in height. White flowers in spring and red berries in massive displays near Christmas season.

California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa) - Deciduous with mottled bark normally found near water. Reaches 60'.

Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) - Evergreen, broad spreading oak to 40'. Leaf is boat shaped and serrated. Can produce considerable pollen in spring that many people are sensitive to. Some beautiful specimens along the trail up to the junction with the side trail to the falls.

Elderberry (Sambucus callicarpa) - Small deciduous tree or shrub with spring-time clusters of off-white to yellow flowers. Leaves and stems are poisonous. Know by some as the "Tree of Music" since its branches have been used to make flutes.

California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica) - Beautiful evergreen tree to 30'. Dark green leaves (Herb - "bay leaves") and yellow flowers in spring.


California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) - An aromatic shrub with lacy gray green foliage. Very common.

Bush Poppy (Dendromecon rigida) - Evergreen shrub to 8' with beautiful yellow flowers in spring and summer.

Laurel Leaf Sumac (Malosma laurina) - Clusters of creamy white flowers in spring. Some people have allergic skin reactions to this evergreen shrub.

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) - Silvery-gray-green foliage. Occasionally used in candy making.

Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) - Evergreen shrub to 15'. Berries start out almost white and will eventually darken to a deep red. These berries are not for consumption.

White Sage (Salvia apiana) - Evergreen with white to gray-green leaves. Very aromatic if bruised with delicate white flowers in spring and early summer. Contact may stain clothing. Very common along this trail. Flowers develop on long stalks.

Black Sage (Salvia mellifera) - Leaves are narrow and green. Reaches 4' and has clusters of blue flowers arranged in a "pagoda" fashion on a thin stalk.


Live Forever (Dudleya cymosa) - A unique succulent with a flowering spike usually found on steep slopes. Younger plants are gray green turning to a chalk-like color as they age.

Matilija Poppy or Fried Egg Plant (Romneya coulteri) - Shrub with gray green foliage and showy white and yellow flowers in late spring that looked like big fried eggs. Found mostly in sunny open areas.

Chain Fern (Woodwardia fimbriata) - Found in full shade in moist areas. Normally to about 2' but can be larger.

Our Lord's Candle (Yucca whipplei) - Rosette of spear or lance-like leaves to 2'. A tall candle sprouts with white flowers in spring when plants are about 7 years old. After flowering the plant dies.

Miscellaneous Info

If you have information about this route that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.

Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

Viewing: 1-5 of 5

Hiking fool - May 17, 2005 10:12 am - Hasn't voted

Route Comment

We did this hike on May 15, 2005 and the bugs at the top are bad. They are not masquitos but little nat like things that just annoy you while you try and rest and eat lunch. But other then that it is worth every drop of sweat.


Nate_Thomas - Dec 3, 2005 2:44 pm - Hasn't voted

Route Comment

There is no signal at the intersection of Live Oak and Satiago Canyon. The signal is at Ridge Line and El Toro, however, if you get to that signal you have gone to far. You turn left at the stop sign at Santiago and Live Oak, towards O'niell Park.

Scott M.

Scott M. - Dec 4, 2005 2:28 pm - Hasn't voted

Route Comment

Thanks Nate. I'll correct that in the driving directions.

alexmcconahay - Feb 18, 2008 9:40 am - Hasn't voted

Adventure Pass

Adventure Pass box is no longer functioning at the parking area. Apparently out since May 2007. I did see at least one vehicle with a ticket from the ranger when I got back. Also note that Santiago Canyon Road is available from the Toll Road 241 if coming from Inland Empire or Tustin/Irvine. Great information--very useful--and I enjoyed the day.

Scott M.

Scott M. - Feb 18, 2008 5:17 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Adventure Pass

Thanks Alex. I'll get a note updating the info about the Adventure Pass box up on the page. Scott

Viewing: 1-5 of 5



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