Harding Falls Hike – Orange County
Summary for Harding Falls Hike
Strenuous Adventure Hike – Read Adventure Hiking Page
7.5 Miles Round Trip
Deep in a tranquil riparian canyon lies a hidden Shangra-La of sparkling pools and lush forest, leading to a majestic 60′ twin-tier waterfall. Decent use trail for some of the hike, but off trail boulder hopping/bushwhacking for at least half the hike.
Harding Falls is hidden in the pristine depths of Harding Canyon. The canyon itself is a sylvan gem – a tranquil riparian wonderland that gets relatively few visitors, especially as you travel further back. Reaching the falls is not a trivial effort – dangers include lots of boulder hopping, some climbing over larger boulder sets, poison oak, and although there is a use trail for some of the hike, eventually there is no trail at all. However, if the going gets too tough you can always back out at any point, and the canyon is lovely anyway. Note that water flow is dependent on season (winter and spring are best) and annual rainfall totals, so that while the falls typically run strong in season, there may be only a trickle later. The trail head begins at the Harding Truck Trail entrance near the tucker Wildlife Sanctuary close to the end of Modjeska Canyon Road, so it’s easy to find. Park in one of the two parking areas on the side of the road outside the Wildlife Sanctuary and display your adventure pass.
Directions to Trailhead for Harding Falls Hike
Map of Harding Falls Hike with Downloadable GPX File
Detailed Description for Harding Falls Hike
After you have found the Harding Truck Trail entrance across the road from the Wildlife Sanctuary, proceed up the dirt road past the locked metal gate about 1/3 mile , until you see the road branching to the left which drops into Harding Canyon, just past a set of conglomerate cliffs and before the Cleveland National Forest sign.
In an interesting historical anecdote, these cliffs – or perhaps those just across Harding Canyon – were the location where a posse trapped the colorful and notorious bandit Juan Flores in 1857. He escaped with two of his homies by riding their horses down the cliffs. Regrettably for Juan, he was caught a few days later and hanged.
Descend the road to the bottom of the canyon and head up canyon, attempting to follow the sometimes faint use trail.
The water rarely flows here because of the wide boulder field, but the somewhat dry and unappealing look of the canyon here belies the verdant sylvan paradise that lies ahead, especially in the rainy season.
After about 1/2 mile the canyon becomes much different in character, and normally water flows this far down throughout the rainy season. The canyon is usually rather green, with old growth oak groves. Watch for the abundant poison oak, however, so long pants are a must for this hike. As the season progresses, the water flow recedes further back into the canyon.
The use trail is sometimes difficult to follow as it winds its ways through the forest and crosses the stream, but try to stick with it as it makes the going much easier, After about 2.5 mile the canyon changes character as it turns into a narrower gorge with more elevation gain.
Now you enter a remarkably beautiful wonderland of crystalline pools, small waterfalls, and lush forest. However, the going is more demanding now because you must negotiate and climb over and around numerous obstacles like those same small waterfalls, a many boulders, and fallen trees. But this is a true paradise, and if you are shorter on time this destination itself is well worth the effort.
Note that in the GPX track on the map above I set a way point called large pool. Here is a photo of the pool so you know where you are, and how much further to go. It completely blocks the canyon and is unique so you can’t miss it, but you can climb around it easily on a ledge to the right. This is at about 3.2 miles, and you are 6/10 mile but still about 3/4 hour from the falls, because now the going gets even tougher.
But keep going, because the canyon is an extraordinary treasure, and something to be savored. Here is another decent sized waterfall that is immensely appealing with its large deep pool.
If you persevere, after about 3 hours from the start you should turn a corner and see the bottom 35′ – 40′ tier of Harding Falls about 200 yards away. Congratulations – this is not an easy one to see! There is an expansive but shallow pool at the base of the falls. It’s hard to see from here, but there is a higher tier, with a wonderful intermediate bench between the two tiers. Note that it is possible to climb up the left side of the falls if you are careful, but do not attempt this unless you are an experienced climber.
Here is the lovely upper tier, which is about 15′ in height. Truly a beautiful place!
And here the intermediate ledge, one of the great relaxation and mediation spots in all Southern California when the water is flowing. After enjoying this magnificent and tranquil Shangra-La, simply retrace your steps back down the canyon to your car.
Video of Harding Falls
Harding Falls on 3/4/2014. Note that the 2013-2014 rainy season was exceptionally dry, but the preceding weekend had produced a large rainstorm, and the falls were flowing rather nicely.