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Black Star Canyon: The Trail With A Bloody History

Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures.

Lovelle Drachman

Curiosity – it is the driving force that pushes us to go out and explore the vast world around us. It is what draws us into places that are full of rich stories and ancient folklore. On such a beautiful world rests a very special destination that has drawn in crowds of people, flocking to see if there is truth behind the many stories that are shared about the area.

Arguably the most haunted park in Orange County, California, and notorious for the many legends that have been told about it, Black Star Canyon is one of the places you can go to satisfy that curiosity inside you.

But what makes the place so creepy and terrifying that there are countless tales about it? And are ‘ghosts’ the only thing you’ll see during a Black Star Canyon Hike? Or is there more to the park than just restless spirits?

Today, we’ll be taking a visit to the infamous park where you will learn about the history that makes it the “most haunted place in Orange County”, as well as information you will need in order to enjoy a hike there – ghosts or no ghosts.

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Black Star Canyon Hike

 Overview

Black Star Canyon Wilderness Park is famous for being a haunted hiking destination in Orange County, but it also has scenic views, a streambed that runs along the trail, and a beautiful 65-foot waterfall that many people enjoy visiting. 

  • In 1877, the Black Star Mining Company opened a mine at the mouth of the canyon, but then it shut down in the early 1900s. This is where the name, “Black Star Canyon” comes from.
  • Black Star Canyon is a remote canyon that is part of the Santa Ana Mountains in Silverado – the eastern part of Orange County in California. The trail is about 7 miles long or about 11km with an elevation gain of around 1,100ft. It is rated as a moderate to difficult hike that you can complete in about 4 to 5.5 hours, depending on your level of experience and physical fitness.
  • One of the challenges of the Black Star Canyon trail is that there are some boulders towards the end that you will need to climb over. But the rest of the trail is relatively smooth with no big climbs and all marked out so you won’t get lost.
  • Technically, there are two parts to the hike – the first part, which is an easy hike on dirt roads with light and gradual climbing. The second part begins to incline a bit more but then has the rocks and boulders towards the end.

Technically, there are two parts to the hike – the first part, which is an easy hike on dirt roads with light and gradual climbing. The second part begins to incline a bit more but then has the rocks and boulders towards the end.

 Navigation

The trailhead of Black Star Canyon is only about 25 minutes from Irvine. If you are coming from downtown Los Angeles or north of Oceanside, California, it should take you about 1 hour to get there. When you arrive at the trailhead, there is a dirt road parking area available just before a gate that is locked for vehicles but open for hikers and bikers.

From there, the first 0.5 miles is rather uninteresting as it is just a paved road with no sights to see. Most of the land on both sides of the road is actually private property until you hit the boundary of the national forest. After that first half mile, the road turns into the actual start of the Black Star Canyon trail.

If you have a GPS with you, you can download this GPX file from HikingGuy. Even though the trail is marked, having a GPS with you will give you that extra help when navigating, just in case you miss a marker and end up lost.

My husband likes to take his GPS with him on almost all of our hikes. He has the Garmin Foretrex 40. It is a waterproof hiking GPS that makes use of two standard AAA batteries.

The Garmin Foretrex 40 has a trip computer, hunting and fishing information, time information for the sunrise and sunset, an electronic compass and a barometric altimeter. If you enjoy hiking, this is a great product that can help you.

 How To Get To Black Star Canyon

You can try using your GPS to get to the trailhead of Black Star Canyon. But in case you don’t have one, you can follow the directions below.

  • If you are coming from the North (Orange Are):                                                               Take the 55 Freeway in Orange and then exit at Chapman Avenue. Continue on Chapman for 10.8 miles. Along the way, Chapman Avenue becomes Santiago Canyon Road. When you pass Irvine Lake, turn left on Silverado, and then right after, turn left on Black Star Canyon Road. From there, it is about 1.1 miles to the gate.
  • If you are coming from South Orange County/San Diego:                                            Take the I-5 to Oso Parkway and then turn right. Continue on for about 0.7 miles and then turn left on Marguerite Parkway. Keep driving for 5.6 miles and turn right on El Toro Road. El Toro Road will eventually become Santiago Canyon Road. After about 8 miles, turn right on Silverado and then take a left to Black Star Canyon Road. Parking is at the end of the road.

 Suggested Gear

Taking on Black Star Canyon requires some great gear. One of the secrets to a comfortable hike is making use of the proper hiking gear to help you out. Here are some of my suggested items that you should bring with you for this hike.

Hydration Daypack

Hiking Black Star Canyon will take you anywhere between 4 to 5.5 hours so I highly recommend that you get a hydration daypack like the CamelBak Fourteener 24 Hydration Pack, which is one of my favorite daypacks.

I’ve used this hydration daypack on many of my hikes, such as my hike to Crystal Cove State Park, which is also located in Orange County along Newport Beach.

HEY READER! If you’re looking for more hikes in the Orange County area, check out my article about Crystal Cove State Park, which is another great hike that you can check out and will most likely enjoy!​


Trail Shoes

The terrain of Black Star Canyon varies from dirt paths to sharp, rocky boulders so I don’t recommend that you use your regular running shoes for this trail. They will not only end up destroyed, but they won’t give you the proper protection you will need for a hike like this.

A great pair of shoes that you can try is the Merrell Women’s Siren Edge Hiking Boot. My husband gave me a pair of these shoes early this year and I used them during one of our Black Star Canyon Hikes.


Emergency Beacon and First Aid Kit

Every good hiker needs a GPS as well as an emergency beacon. A great GPS you can check out is the ACR Electronics ResQLink+, which is a GPS and an emergency personal locator beacon in one.

It is great because in case something happens or there is some sort of an emergency, you can easily get help and be found.

Don’t forget bringing a first aid kit as well since it is a rocky climb with pretty sharp boulders towards the end, as well as a lot of Poison Oak throughout the first parts of the trail.


Snacks

Finally, don’t forget to pack some snacks with you, especially if you have two hungry boys like mine. At the dead end of the hike at the falls, you can take a short break and munch on some snacks there while chatting with other hikers.

A family favorite of ours is the Happy Belly Cranberry & Nuts Trail Mix. It is a mix of dried cranberries, cashews, and almonds, which are two of my favorite nuts to eat while hiking.

Faqs / What To Expect

Before you head out to Black Star Canyon, let’s go through some of the frequently asked questions about the place as well as what to expect when you go there, so that you can be properly prepared!

Trail Conditions


As I’ve mentioned earlier, the second part of the hike has some rocks and boulders that you will need to climb so take your time and be careful once you’ve reached that part of the trail. If it is raining while you are hiking, you might have to go through some water coming from the streambed that runs parallel to the trail. So expect to get wet!

Also remember that the rocks may be slippery from the rain, so as much as possible, use the proper hiking shoes with a good grip to avoid any accidents. You could wear gloves as well to protect your hands from the sharp rocks.

Poison Oak


There is also a lot of Poison Oak in the trail along Black Star Creek. Poison Oak can cause very itchy and painful allergic rashes, so if you know that you are allergic or have sensitive skin, bring the necessary medication.

Usually, an allergic reaction to poison oak can be treated at home, but there are instances where it can become severe and turn life-threatening. If you are allergic to poison oak, the symptoms appear from 1 to 6 days after exposure. But most of the time, you’ll notice the symptoms within the first 1 – 2 days. If your skin becomes itchy, irritated, and feels like it is stinging, it might be the first signs of allergies.

Eventually, you’ll end up with red rashes that get itchier with the rashes being worse in the parts of your body that had direct contact with the plant. Bumps will begin to form that will turn into large blisters that ooze out liquid. I’ve been victim to poison oak a few times so I’ve learned how to help it.

First, you need to wash your body with warm water and soap thoroughly, especially on your hands, fingernails, and the parts of your skin that touched the plant. Wash your clothes that you wore on the hike thoroughly as well, to make sure that all the oils from the plant don’t spread further.

Don’t scratch! You can get calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to help you with the itch. Using a cold compress or antihistamine pills can help. If there is no improvement in 10 days, see your doctor.

WARNING: There is a lot of poison oak in Black Star Canyon so please be careful. Signs of a severe allergic reaction include difficulty breathing or swallowing, eye or facial swelling, rashes that cover more than 25% of your body, yellow pus leaking from blisters, fever, nausea, headache, swollen lymph nodes. These can be life-threatening symptoms so if you have any of that, please seek medical attention immediately.

It is important to know, that the oils from poison oak can stay in the fur of your dog and then transfer to anyone who touches the fur. So if you’re bringing your pal with you, keep him away from the poison oak as well. If they get exposed, wash them thoroughly with gloves when you get home.

Trail Use


One of the best times to go to Black Canyon is during early springtime. This is when the waterfall will most likely be flowing since summers might be too hot for the waterfall to be active. The trail is open for dogs so take caution. The great part is that if you have a furry four-legged pal, you can take them along with you.

Just remember there are boulders that you have to climb, so your dog will have to be able to do that, and jump up and down comfortably. Otherwise, you will have to carry them, which will be very difficult on your part.

The rocks can be sharp so I suggest that if you are bringing your dogs along with you, get some booties for them to protect their paws. In the same sense, be careful yourself so you don’t get cut by the sharp rocks.

The trail is also a favorite among mountain bikers, especially during the first part of the hike, so keep your eyes open for them to avoid any accidents.

REMINDER: In any trail you visit always remember to keep the place clean. Pack away all your trash and if you see any litter on the trail, pick it up and dispose of them properly once you’re outside of the park.

The Waterfalls


The waterfall is one of the reasons people take a Black Star Canyon Hike, however, sometimes, the waterfall isn’t always flowing with water. This is why some people think that the falls is just a myth.

But the waterfall is there; you may just need a little bit of luck on your side. If you really want to see the is, your best bet is to go on the hike after heavy rain to increase the chances that water will be falling through.

The opening of the falls is actually part of the lower mine shaft that was previously there. If you know how to rock climb, you can actually climb into the opening if the waterfall isn’t active.

CAUTION: Please be careful when climbing the waterfall. I suggest that only highly experienced climbers do it, just to be extra safe. The area is so remote that immediate first aid will be quite difficult.

You need to know that the waterfall in the Black Star Canyon is popular among the locals. There is a chance that once you get to the falls, there will be local kids who are swimming, playing music, smoking, and drinking beer.

If this is not something you like, just beware. But if you are looking to make some local friends and have some fun during your hiking journey, this is a great chance for you to do so.

Wild Rumors


Black Star Canyon has become a very popular place for local teenagers to hang out and because of that, it has somehow gained the reputation as the place where satanic cults meet and evil spirits reside.

There are even rumors about KKK meetings and a homeless person named Black Star Bill who roams the place and goes around shooting people. Some people even claim that the locals will shoot at you without asking any questions the moment you set foot on their private property.

My family and I have gone hiking in Black Star many times and I have yet to see any of these pretty crazy stories about the place. It is true that parts of the areas around the hiking trail are private property, but I haven’t encountered any locals who go around shooting people. Just stay on the marked trails and you’ll be fine.

Remember that you are visiting their place, so if you see any locals, just be friendly and say “hello”. You may even end up with a new friend.

Other Questions


  • Do I need a National Forest Service Adventure Pass to park in Black Star Canyon?

When you arrive at the trailhead, there is no actual sign that says you need a pass to enter or to park. This is because the lower part of the park is owned and operated by the Irvine Land Conservancy and they allow free parking with no permit.

But if you do have a pass, you might as well display it on your car just to be safe. If you’re an avid adventure junkie and you are always out on hikes, you should consider purchasing one at $5 per day or $30 for the whole year.

A lot of hikes in the area require the pass so you might as well get one anyway. You can purchase one from here.

  • Are there really Mountain Lions in the park?

When you get to the entrance of the park, you’ll notice a sign with a warning of Mountain Lions. Yes, it is true that there are Mountain Lions around the entire area, they are not usually seen along the trail itself.

There haven’t been any reports of them so it is highly unlikely that you will run into one.

  • What about bears?

There used to be bears in the park long ago but they were all moved out or sadly, killed off, so there are no more bears in the park.

  • Who is Black Star Bill?

If you’ve done any research on Black Star Canyon, you’ll probably read on more than one thread about a man named Black Star Bill.

Some people claim he’s a local who owns land in the area while others say that he’s a homeless man. Though divided on whether or not he has a home, they all say the same thing – he will shoot you without warning.

Throughout the many times my family and I (along with our friends for that matter) have gone hiking in Black Star, we have never encountered this “Black Star Bill”.

  • Is the hike safe?

All hikes entail some sort of danger and always require caution, no matter where you are or what is said about the place. Just remember that there is a ton of poison oak in the area so when in doubt, it’s poison oak.

Try to avoid rocks that are smaller than your car because it is probably not so stable. But then, even stable rocks are slippery, so when at the boulder section of the hike, take it slow and steady.

Also remember that just because it is easy climbing up, it won’t be the same going down. Know that about 97% of hiking accidents and injuries happen on the way down, so be careful when heading out of the canyon.

The History Of The Canyon

One of the things that make Black Star Canyon so special and so attractive to people other than the views and the challenges of the hike are the stories behind the place and the thrill of searching for something supernatural.

But what is the story behind this place anyway? What happened to turn it into a place where restless ghosts roam – or so many people claim. Quite surprisingly, there have been a number of incidents that happened in Black Star Canyon.

The first of which, was a very bloody massacre that happened in the early 1800s.

Tongva Massacre

In the early 19th century, a man named William Wolfskill let a group fur trappers to Black Canyon. They were trying to search for their horses that had gone missing and were assumed stolen.

Black Star Canyon used to be home to the Native Indian tribe of the Tongva. The men followed the trail of their horses until they reached a little valley with grassy slopes and hillsides (today, it is called the Hidden ranch). This is when William and his men found that the horses were grazing around the campgrounds of the Native Indians.

It was said that the Indians were fond of the horseflesh and had no trouble stealing herds of horses from people passing by. Angered, they then massacred the Tongva in what is now known as the bloodiest history of the Santa Ana Mountains. It was a war of rifles verses bow and arrows so the Native Indians had no chance.

The fur trappers were probably among the best marksmen on earth who knew how to kill buffalo. They had also previously fought the Comanche and Apache tribes so they were a fearless group of men. They left with the horses and with the dead behind them. The story goes that there were no trappers wounded and all those who perished were Native Indians.

Legends say that it is the Indian’s ghosts who haunt the canyons, looking for some kind of revenge. Eventually, William Wolfkill became on of the richest men in America. He is credited for starting the citrus industry, creating the Valencia Orange, and producing 50,000 gallons of wine a year. But if a massacre wasn’t enough, there is a story about a famous murder that took place in Black Star canyon as well.


The Murder Of James M. Gregg

On June 9, 1899, a man named James M. Greg was murdered. At that time, two men named Henry Hungerford and George Howard were running The Hidden Ranch of the canyon. 

James Gregg, his brother-in-law Decatur Harris, and 13-year-old boy Clinton Hunt arrived at the ranch on the evening of June 8. His purpose was to drive out some stock that Greg owned.

The story goes that Gregg and Henry had an argument because it appeared as though Henry owed Gregg $10 on a horse trade. Gregg then insisted that Henry and George accept $7.50 to settle their stay in the ranch since the pasturage bill was $17.50 and Henry still owed $10 to Gregg.

That night, Gregg, Decatur, and the young boy slept on the ground in front of the house. The next morning, Henry came out and continued the argument with Gregg, which only ended in a shooting.

Henry and his brother both had shotguns while Gregg had a revolver. After the shooting, the Hungerford brothers drove down on their horses from Black Star to Santa Ana where they gave themselves up to the Sheriff. Decatur and the young boy tried taking Gregg to a doctor at El Modena but by that time, he had died.

A long trial ensued that created interest among the public who were all against the Hungerford brothers who were later convicted of murder. So the stories that are told by travellers, visitors, and locals, are all said to be the ghosts of the Indians that were massacred, as well as that of James M. Gregg, all looking for revenge.


Going On A Ghost Walk

Up until today, there are plenty of people who claim that Black Star Canyon is haunted, telling their tales of all the things that they have encountered while they were on a hike there. The most common sightings that are reported are people claiming to see the Native Indians that were massacred a century ago in those lands. Others talk about shadowy figures following them through the night.

One user on Reddit even tells a story of how he and his friends went ghost hunting at night, only to have him confronted by what he believes to be his doppelganger. To those unaware of what a doppelganger is, it is believed to be an apparition or a “double” of a living person, and if you see your own, it is an omen of bad luck or death.

Stories about Black Star Canyon have gotten so popular, that there is such a thing as the “Black Canyon Ghost Walk”, which are available only through private reservation. It is $140 from Monday through Thursday, and $155 on the weekends. If this is something you are into or willing to try, you can reserve your slot through the website of OC Ghosts and Legends.

A Unique Adventure

A man practices the art of adventure when he heroically faces up to life. When he has the daring to open doors to new experiences. When he is unafraid of new ideas, new theories, and new philosophies. When he has the curiosity to experiment. When he breaks the chain of routine.

Wilfred Peterson 
The Art of Living

Whether you are visiting Black Canyon for the scenic views, for the waterfalls, to get away from the city, or maybe to even go on a search for the ghosts that are said to haunt the place, Black Star Canyon is definitely a unique adventure.

But if stories of massacres and ghosts creep you out way too much, you don’t really have to worry. All the times I have been to Black Star Canyon, I haven’t encountered any troubles at all – be it with locals or “ghosts”.

You can always take a trip in the morning with a group of friends or your family so you feel fine and safe. As always, I hope you stay safe on your adventures. If you do go to Black Star Canyon, come back and tell me how it went in the comments below. Let me know if you had any weird or crazy experiences while you’re out there.

Stay curious, stay safe, and have a happy adventure!

Rita Myers
 

I’m Rita Myers, and camping is one of my utmost passions. Growing up near the base of a mountain, hiking and camping have been in my system since I was just a little girl. My love for camping and hiking stayed with me well into adulthood. Now, as a mother of two boys and a wife, I keep my passion alive by bringing my family outdoors. Of course, my family isn’t always up to it, so I write these articles and tips in the hope that you and your family can enjoy the great outdoors like I do!

OC Ghosts and Legends - May 25, 2017

Dear Rita & Dating with Nature,

Great article and thanks for the shout out 🙂 Black Star Canyon is indeed full of mystery, legends and lure. Much of it’s legends are simply just ‘legends’ and nothing more. Black Star Canyon is a second home for us and we take great pride in what we do. However, we often leave there with more questions than answers to the strange phenomena that takes place there (boy do we have stories! 😉
Nevertheless as you so eloquently stated and described, it is an awesome hike and beautiful in the daytime.

To your readers: Stay safe, enjoy the scenery, keep the park clean and most importantly have fun!

Warmly,
OC Ghosts and Legends
http://www.ocghostsandlegends.com

    Rita Myers - May 26, 2017

    Thanks OC Ghosts and Legends! I’m sure there are so much more creepy stories about the place! 🙂 I think what you’re doing with the Ghost Walk Tour is really cool and unique! Hopefully I’ll get the chance to try it out the next time I’m down there!

    Thanks again for dropping by!

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