Hiking California’s Haunted Black Star Canyon Falls

Hiking California’s Haunted Black Star Canyon Falls

Aerial picture of Black Star Canyon Falls shortly after heavy rainfall. Photo: Thomas Später

Posted June 11, 2023

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Black Star Canyon: A Unique Waterfall in Southern California

The Black Star Canyon Falls almost always rank the number one waterfall to visit on the bucket list of nature seekers. Located deep inside the Santa Ana Mountains in Orange County, the picturesque waterfall drops at a maximum elevation of 1,638 feet (500 meters) and can be reached by means of a very adventurous and demanding seven-mile return hike.

The Dark History and Haunted Sightings of Black Star Canyon

Although most people wander around the waterfall just to see the surrounding and picturesque nature, many visitors do not seem to know about the dark and not-so-appealing side of Black Star Canyon. The beginning of the canyon’s haunted history dates back to a cruel massacre in the early 1800s, when fur trappers mass-slaughtered the entire population of native Tongva Indians who lived in the canyon. Some people believe that the spirits and ghosts of those killed Indians still walk the trails inside the canyon at night. Alleged phenomena include voices at night, apparitions of children’s’ ghosts trying to get away from an abandoned school bus that crashed into the canyon, weeping sounds, or the activity of satanic cults. There are many reasons why some people would rather not be in the canyon at night.

Black Star Canyon Road. Photo is CC 3.0.
Black Star Canyon Road. Photo is CC 3.0.

How to Get to the Black Star Canyon Falls

For those not spooked by the haunted past of the canyon, it is easy to navigate to the hiking trails’ staring point. Setting the GPS to Black Star Canyon Falls will do the trick and get you right to a big parking lot. From there, entering the trail is intuitive, since there is one big barrier that indicates the official trailhead. If you need supplies, there is an excellent small shop/restaurant in the town of Silverado, just 10 minutes from the parking lot. It is simple set the GPS to “Silverado Canyon Market” and head to the trailhead from there. On weekends, many of the people who tour the area in vintage cars and motorcycles use this place as a stop, transforming the market’s parking lot into a showroom.

Navigating Through Black Star Canyon

The first 2.4 miles of the hike lead over very even dirt roads that are easy to navigate. This part of the hike can get really muddy after rainfall.

Muddy dirt road at the beginning of the Black Star Canyon hiking trail
Muddy dirt road at the beginning of the Black Star Canyon hiking trail. Photo: Thomas Später

After crossing the last of three bridges, the incline gets a bit steeper, and the dirt road takes a sharp 180° turn.

At this point it is crucial to descend down to the canyon on the right. Although there is a sign, it is often overlooked since it is quite small and people sometimes park their bicycles in front of it. From there, the real adventure begins. Although following the water upstream is the only direction that needs to be followed, the path to the waterfall can be very adventurous and partly dangerous. Crossing the water is unavoidable; there is often no clear path to follow, so sometimes you need to test several options, especially bearing in mind your fitness level. Some of the parts are so steep that holding on to ropes, which are attached to tree trunks, is the only way to gain altitude in a relatively safe manner. Water mist and rain make the boulders really slippery, complicating the journey further.

The third and last bridge to cross when heading towards Black Star Canyon from the official parking lot
The third and last bridge to cross when heading towards Black Star Canyon from the official parking lot. Photo: Thomas Später

Reaching the top of Black Star Canyon Falls

Those that make it to the waterfall are rewarded with a unique and spectacular view. There is not only the main waterfall itself, but also a smaller fall to the left of it, originating from a cave. With proper footwear, it is even possible to climb up and sit inside the cave. However, I do not recommend this since it there is not much to hold on to when climbing up and it is very easy to trip on one of the water-submerged rocks while climbing.

Black Star Canyon Falls with smaller waterfall and cave to the left after heavy rainfall
Black Star Canyon Falls with smaller waterfall and cave to the left after heavy rainfall. Photo: Thomas Später

Getting to the Top of the Waterfall

The Black Star Canyon Falls does not have to mark the end of the hike. A hidden gem that not many people know about is the view from the very top of the waterfall. In order to get there, simply face the right side of the canyon (when facing the falls) and climb up the steep hill. When reaching a giant wall of stone, climb higher alongside the right side of the rock. This should take less than five minutes.

From there, always keep circling back towards the direction of the waterfall. After some more and easier climbing, the top of the waterfall can be reached in less than 15 minutes. With spectacular views of the canyon and even a small natural pool at the edge of the waterfall, the chances are that you will be up there all by yourself.

Breathtaking view of the valley when hiking to the top of the waterfall
Breathtaking view of the valley when hiking to the top of the waterfall. Photo: Thomas Später

The season matters

Needless to say, there is no waterfall without rain. And this poses a very big issue when chasing waterfalls in Southern California. Certainly, viewing the Black Star Canyon Falls in their full beauty is difficult. I hiked the trail three times in 2022 and was really frustrated. Without the waterfall, this hike is mostly a hard workout with no reward. Even after a lot of rain, the waterfall can be very small, or even not present at all. This is because the area that serves the waterfall is quite small. The best chances come when visiting the after a long and heavy rainfall season. At the same time, the canyon may be closed off due to the risk of flash flooding. This makes the time window of a perfect hike very small: small, but not impossible.

Small natural pool right at the edge of Black Star Canyon Falls
Small natural pool right at the edge of Black Star Canyon Falls. Photo: Thomas Später

COVER: Aerial picture of Black Star Canyon Falls shortly after heavy rainfall. Photo: Thomas Später

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  • Thomas Später, PhD, is an experienced backpacking traveler that specializes in adventurous trips around the globe. He has traveled to remote and exotic places, such as Namibia or Mongolia and focuses on landscape and wildlife photography to share the beauty of our planet with others. In 2021, Thomas published a (German) book about Overpopulation and Over-consumption (Die Überbevölkerung). With his awareness of current global issues, he uses his travels to support particularly local hotels and restaurants to raise awareness for the nature and culture of his destinations. Follow Thomas´ adventures on Instagram as well as on his website, World In Frames.