Mysterious ruins in a canyon that used to be home to grizzly bears? In Orange County? Yes, and getting there is a heckuva hike. This strenuous, 15 mile out-and-back trail up Black Star Canyon has several highlights, including a great views, a beautiful waterfall (in season), and the remains of Beek’s Place — a weekend getaway built by Joseph Beek in the 1930’s. Beek was remarkably accomplished and he started the Balboa Ferry — which his family still owns.
Black Star Canyon is rich with history and legend. Up until the late 1800’s, the canyon was home to numerous grizzly bears (none remain in California today). The canyon was home to the Black Star Mining Company, for which the canyon is named. And according to a story recounted by early settler J.E. “Judge” Pleasants, an armed conflict between American fur trappers, led by William Wolfskill, and a group of Tongva Indians occurred in 1831.
“The story of the battle, the bloodiest in the history of the Santa Ana Mountains, was told seventy years ago by William Wolfskill to J. E. Pleasants, and was repeated to us by Mr. Pleasants. The Indians were very fond of horseflesh. Ranchos were lacking in means of defense in the days when the missions were breaking up and Indians from the mountains and desert used to have no trouble in stealing herds of horses from the Spaniards. A party of trappers came across from New Mexico in 1831. Their long rifles and evident daring offered to the troubled dons a solution to their horse-stealing difficulties. Americans were not any too welcome in the Mexican pueblo of Los Angeles, and it was with a desire to please the Spaniards [Mexicans] in this foreign land a long way from the United States that the American trappers agreed to run down the Indian horsethieves.
The trail of the stolen band of horses was followed across the Santa Ana River, eastward through what is now Villa Park and up the Santiago Canyon to the mouth of Canyon de los Indios… Here, the trail turned into mountain fastnesses, into the unknown mountains, covered heavily with brush. With every turn a favorable spot for ambush, the frontiersmen made their way carefully. The trail took the men up a steep mountainside, and, after two or three hours of climbing there was laid out before them a little valley with grassy slopes and hillsides [today called Hidden Ranch], upon which horses were quietly grazing. Smoke was coming from fires in the age-old campground of the Indians at the lower end of the valley. The Indians were feasting on juicy horseflesh. Perhaps it was the crack of a long rifle, the staggering of a mortally wounded Indian that gave the natives their first warning of the presence of an enemy. Among the oaks and boulders an unequal battle was fought. There were no better marksmen on earth than these trappers. They had killed buffalo. They had fought the Comanche and Apache. They were a hardy, fearless lot, else they would not have made their way across the hundreds of miles of unknown mountain and desert that laid between New Mexico and California. The Indians were armed with a few old Spanish blunderbuss muskets and with bows and arrows.
The battle was soon over. Leaving their dead behind them, the Indians who escaped the bullets of the trappers scrambled down the side of the gorge and disappeared in the oaks and brush. Of those who had begun the fight, but a few got away. The stolen horses were quickly rounded up. Some of them were animals stolen months before. The herd was driven down the trail to the Santiago and a day or two later, the horses were delivered to their owners. In the battle, not one of the frontiersmen was wounded.”
Hiking to Beek’s Place
The first mile is mostly flat with a gentle incline. This first section is lined with private property and ominous “No Trespassing” signs. Be a good neighbor, tread quietly through this section and do not trespass.
At the 2.5 mile mark, you’ll cross Black Star Creek. This bend is also where you can take a spur to the base of Black Star Falls. This seasonal waterfall is best viewed after spring showers. To get there, you’ll have to pick your way along the creek for about .5 miles — there is no official trail.
Here you have a choice. You can stick to longer but gently climbing double-track trail (adds about .5 miles each way), or catch the steep single track shortcut. You’ll rejoin the main trail in .4 miles. Turn right and continue to follow the double-track trail upwards.
At the 4.5 mile mark, you’ll see a small single-track trail veering right towards the canyon. There are trees to provide much-needed shade (a good spot for a break) and signs of the Native Americans who used to live in the canyon.
Retrace your steps to the main trail, and continue your climb to the main divide. As you climb higher, you will see some amazing views and awesome geographic formations.
When you reach the Main Divide trail, turn right and head towards an unusual clump of pine trees. Here you’ll find the remains of Beek’s Place.
Beek’s Place was a weekend retreat for the Beek family, who still owns the land. There was a smaller building where a caretaker sometimes lived for a few months during the year. Sadly, the retreat fell victim to disaster and vandalism, and ultimately it’s current state of disrepair.
There are two things you’ll notice about the location. First, the wind often howls over this ridge. Second, the views are awesome — especially on a clear day. You can see down into Corona and east to the San Bernardino mountains, and southwest to the Pacific Ocean and even Catalina Island.
Return down the double-track you hiked up. If water is running in Black Star Creek, take a detour to view the waterfall. There are two options. The first you’ll come to is a single track trail that heads east, straight down into Black Star Canyon. This is a fairly short spur down a sleep incline to the creek. From there, you can boulder-scramble downstream along a series of small waterfalls until you reach the top of the main waterfall.
Note that there is no way to get from the top to the bottom; you’ll have to retrace your steps to the main trail and head further down to the junction with the creek previously mentioned (2.5 miles from the trailhead).
There is no “trail” to the base of the falls. Instead, follow the creek upstream for about .5 miles. Watch for poison oak — it’s prevalent in the area.
The optional bushwack to the base of Black Star Falls adds about one mile to the total mileage for the hike.
From here, you follow the road back through the residential part of the canyon to the gate and the parking area.
Beek’s Place via Black Star Canyon Trail Map
Beek’s Place and Blackstar Canyon Photo Gallery
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Black Star Canyon Tips
- This trail gets a lot of sun exposure. Wear sun protection and bring extra water. The trail to Beek’s Place is best hiked in the spring or winter when the temperatures are more moderate.
- There have been past stories of canyon residents and squatters chasing off hikers. I didn’t experience any problems, but exercise common sense. Hike in a group, be a good neighbor, and stay on the road as you go through the residential part of the canyon.
- If you’d like to visit the waterfall, be sure to go in the winter or spring not long after rains. Black Star Creek and it’s waterfall usually runs dry by summer.
- This trail is also popular with mountain bikers. Be alert and share the trail.
Other Black Star Canyon Resources
- The Mystery Above Black Star Canyon – OC Register
- Cleveland National Forest Current Conditions and Closures
- Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks – Black Star Canyon – Docent led hikes and mountain bike rides