Jim Meyer knows trails. He's got no choice, of course, being the founder and executive director of Trails4all, an Irvine-based nonprofit agency that helps maintain and repair most of the county's estimated 700 miles of traversable trails.
Meyer hasn't been on every one of those trails, but he's been on most of them, either on foot, on a bike or with a shovel in his hand. His favorite hike is also arguably the most popular trail in the entire county: Holy Jim Trail.
"It's just a really unique trail, and it has one of the only real, honest-to-God waterfalls in the county," says Meyer. "And it's relatively easy to get to, even though, once you get back there, you are definitely out in the sticks."
Like any trail anywhere in the world around any kind of nature, you ought to be careful on Holy Jim. You could bash your head on a rock, get nipped by a rattlesnake, wind up chomped to bits by a mountain lion, die of heat stroke or impale yourself on a prickly pear cactus. Death is around you. All the time. But that's only natural.
The trail is named after Jim Smith, a cantankerous beekeeper whose foul language earned him the sobriquet of Cussin' Jim. He built a cabin in the canyon sometime around 1870 and planted a bunch of fig trees. When government surveyors came to map the canyon, they decided Holy Jim was a more family-friendly name, and that's what stuck.
Getting to the trailhead is half the fun—if your idea of fun is feeling like a pinball. The dirt road is notoriously rocky and bumpy, and the recent rains have made it even worse. So, until things really dry out, you might need an SUV or high-clearance vehicle to get there.
Once you get to the parking area, you'll see three trails ahead of you. Holy Jim is on the left. The trail itself is 2.8 miles roundtrip and has a 625-foot elevation gain that just about anyone not in a wheelchair or of gargantuan girth should handle with ease. It's clearly marked, but make sure you stay to the right at the fork one mile into the trail. Left leads you to the peak of Santiago Mountain. And you will probably die—consumed by a ferocious beast or melted by the miserably hot sun—if you go that way.
Along the trail, you'll see wild fig trees, a great view of Santiago Peak, decomposing trees, a 500-year-old oak tree and, of course, the 20-foot falls.
Unlike most of the Santa Ana Mountains trails, which are hotter than a mo-fo and have little to no shade in the summer, Holy Jim "is an ideal hike for summer because it's very damp and shady," says Meyer. "And this summer, with all of our rains, there might actually be more than a trickle in the falls."
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One note of caution: because it's so damp, there's an abundance of poison oak, so don't go wiping your bum with the first green thing you see.
And speaking of trails: Meyer's organization needs volunteers to help maintain, repair and clean the county's trails. There's no money in the state or county budget for that sort of thing, and without Trails4all and the 30 groups it works with, our trail system would be a complete mess.
There is a big canyon cleanup day on June 11, and if you're interested in helping out, visit Trails4all.org.
To get to Holy Jim Trail. From the 5 freeway, exit El Toro Road. Head east. Drive a long-ass way past something called The Foothill Transportation Corridor until you reach Live Oak Canyon Road, which turns into Trabuco Canyon Road. Once you pass Trabuco Creek, there's a dirt road on the left called Trabuco Creek Road. Take that until you reach the parking lot. All cars need an Adventure Pass ($5 ; annual, $30) to park.