Painted and Ladder Canyon, Mecca Hills Wilderness, California


What? :

The Painted Canyon (Ladder Canyon) demonstrate colorful rock formations, but it especially known for its narrow slot canyon section where you need to use the help of several metal ladders to climb the dry waterfalls.

Painted Canyon is a beautiful and unique destination located in the Mecca Hills Recreation Area of California, approximately 35 miles east of Palm Springs (about a 1-hour drive).



Where? :

The canyon trailhead is located about 15 miles southeast of Indio, north of Salton Sea.

From Indio, take Highway 111 south for about 10 miles to the small community of Mecca. Take 66th Av. east, continue onto Box Canyon Road and after passing the irrigation canal you need to turn left onto Painted Canyon Road.

This is unpaved road but mostly in good condition. You need to drive this dirt-road for about 4.7 miles, the end of the road you will find the trailhead.


Google Map Link



When? :

As in many other destinations in the southeast California deserts, fall, winter and early spring is the preferred time for your visit.

During mid-summer the average high temperatures is 100f, so it is hot.

December and January has average high temperatures of 65f and low of 45f.




Due note 1: Even though its remote location the canyon is relatively a popular destination for hiking and camping.


Due note 2: Painted Canyon Road is un-paved, but most vehicles can make it, even standard two-wheel drive car, you just need to drive slowly. The road is leading from the open landscape into the canyon gravel wash, try to avoid the loose sand sections.


Due note 3: Even during the cooler month of the year bring enough water with you, this is especially correct during the hot summer month.


Due note 4: When it is hot (even if it is not mid-summer) start your as early as you can.


Due note 5: There is no fee to enter the canyon.


Due note 6: The river wash near the dirt road is BLM land is outside of the wilderness area. You can freely camp for the night following BLM camping regulations.

There are many potential camping sites, even near the trailhead of the Painted Canyon.


Due note 7: This hiking trail located in The Mecca Hills Wilderness BLM land, please respect the leave no trace request.


Due note 8: This is a potentially flood area, avoid this hike or the drive during heavy rain events (summer monsoons). 

After strong floods some ladders can be missing and the road condition can be bad, try to check in AllTrails app for other hiker’s review.



My thoughts:

I wanted to do this hike for many years, I saw pictures of narrow slot canyon with ladders, and I was not disappointed.

Fun and not too long or difficult hike in an arid desert landscape with a fun section of slot canyon and climbing ladders.



The visit:


There are a variety of hiking trails available in Painted Canyon, but the most popular trail is the Ladder Canyon Trail.

This trail is a 4.5-mile loop that takes you through Ladder Canyon, a narrow and steep-walled canyon and later, on your way back connect to Painted Canyon.


I started my hike early in the morning around 7am and I was the only car in the trailhead but when I return from my hike their where about 7 other cars in the trailhead.

As always, I do recommend starting as early as you can to avoid the hot temperatures and the crowd. This is especially correct for this hike.

The desert here can be VERY hot and because there are ladders climbing in the narrow canyon you can get stack in line for the ladders climbing after big group.


This is a loop trail so you can hike it clockwise or counterclockwise directional do recommend hiking it clockwise so you will be climbing up the ladders, faster and safer way to go.


I start my hike at the parking lot at the end of the road, you can’t miss the signs.

Immediately the trail is getting into the main wide canyon with tall rock walls on both sides.

The entrance to the side Ladder Trail is not as clear as you expect to see.

After about 0.4 mile in the main canyon, you will see large bolder pack on the left side of the main canyon.

When I visit here there was a huge stone arrow on the ground indicating its start. 

The start of the trail is located on the left side of the boulders pile, look for the trail and the metal ladder.


I hiked here early morning to this trail section was completely in the shade.


Here you will start to scramble your way inside the large rock pile and pass the first ladder.

When using ladder or rope always check first before you start your climb for its stability and how it connected lean on the surface.


After the bolder/rock section you are getting into the slot canyon section itself, with tall walls and narrow passage. Soon you will tun left and reach a chamber. The only way to continue is to climb the large ladders.


This is the fun section of the hike.

You will pass few other ladders in this slot canyon.

The canyon get narrow and winding itself in the sandstone, after climbing the last ladder, the canyon open-up.


When you are walking in the slot canyon section you are not getting the right distance you are passing but overall, this is a quarter of a mile long section.


From here it is no longer a slot canyon, the creek get wider as you make your way up and after less than half a mile you will reach the end of the climb to the top of the hill, this will be 1.1 mile from your starting point.

This is a good place to enjoy the surrounding view and rest.


Keep hiking north and make sure you are turning to the left, following the arrows made of rocks.

You can’t miss the trail following the hills ridgeline in the general direction of the large antennas far away.


You will hike on the ridge line; you can see below you on your right the Painted Canyon that you will hike back. Walk all the way to the top of the local ridgeline, this will be 1.8 miles from your starting point.


From here the trail turn right, going down to the dry wash in the creek below.


Once you reach the dry wash level you need to turn right and start hiking down Big Painted Canyon.

This section of the canyon section is few hundred feet wide, and you will be hiking on the loss gravel and send wash, overall easy hike down the wash.

There are interesting rock formations on both sides of the canyon walls.


At some point the canyon narrow and there are 2 dry waterfalls that you need to use the help of ladders, this time going down.

After that the trail level up and you are walking in the canyon all the way to the start of Ladder trail, from there a short hike will bring you back to your car.



This was fun hike; I started my hike early in the morning and I was the only one on the trail. On my way back I saw few other hikers getting in.

Nice desert landscape, canyon wash and fun section of slot canyon and climbing ladders.

Highly recommended hike.






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