Hike Name: Painted Canyon/Ladder Canyon Trail
Name of area/general location: Mecca Hills Wilderness, approximately 35 miles east/southeast of Palm Springs (about a 1.25-hour drive).
Land Acknowledgement: This trail is located in the ancestral homelands and traditional territories of the Cahuilla people.
Trail rating: Easy to moderate, depending on fitness level.
Trail mileage: Approximately 4.4 miles. The mileage will vary slightly depending on whether you choose to use the Ladder Canyon Trail to make your way into or out of the slot canyon or merely hike Painted Canyon as an in-and-out hike.
For more information: Bureau of Land Management South Coast-Palms Springs Field Office (760) 833-7100.
Description of area, sights, wildlife and any key markers on the trail:
This trail is located in the Mecca Hills Wilderness, which was designated as wilderness by the California Desert Protection Act of 1994. It is located within a proposed new national monument for which CalWild recently publicly launched a campaign. In addition to establishing a new national monument, the campaign will seek to provide permanent protections for other federal public lands and waters located primarily in Riverside County.
One of the primary reason people enjoy visiting the Mecca Hills Wilderness area is to see the unusual and stunningly beautiful geologic formations of the wilderness area. The area is very popular for hiking, birding, and rock climbing, so you will likely encounter a good number of other people while exploring, especially if you are there on a weekend. The washes in the region hold ironwood, palo verde, and smoke trees. Desert bighorn sheep are sometimes spotted in this area, as they cross over from the Orocopia Mountains on the east. In addition, you may see spotted bats, desert tortoises, and prairie falcons in the area.
There are a few different ways that you can do this hike. You can choose to hike up the slot canyon (Painted Canyon) and back as an in-and-out hike, completely bypassing the Ladders Trail. Alternatively, you can hike the Ladders Trail and Painted Canyon as a “loop,” traveling either in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. If you travel clockwise, you will be climbing up the ladders; if you travel counterclockwise, you will be climbing down the ladders. Most people hike it clockwise.
The start of the Ladder Trail is somewhat hard to find if you have never been there before. Keep an eye out for the rather faint trailhead indicator on the right side of the canyon or a stone arrow on the ground indicating its start. The start of the trail (depicted in this photo) is located on the left side of the slot canyon if you are walking from the parking area into the slot canyon.
The best months in which to do this hike are October through April. The canyon has little to no shade, unless you are hiking in the early morning or late afternoon (at which times the sides of the canyon provide shade). In the summer, high temperatures can sometimes reach 110 degrees or more in this region, so it’s not recommended that you hike this trail during summertime. Even in spring or fall, temperatures can sometimes be near or more than 100, so always check the weather and bring proper equipment. In addition, it is important to avoid this hike, as well as Painted Canyon Road and Box Canyon Road during rain events, especially summer monsoons. These roads can and do have significant flooding when it rains. The slot canyon in which this hike is located can quickly fill with life-threatening levels of rainwater as well.
If you wish to hike the Ladder Canyon Trail, please do not bring your dog. Dogs are not allowed on the trail because it is nearly impossible to climb the ladders with a dog. Doing so could endanger your safety as well as your dog’s. However, if you are going to hike Painted Canyon as an in-and-out hike, there is no prohibition to bringing a dog.
Directions: To get to the trailhead from the Palm Springs area, travel east on I-10 for approximately 30 miles. Exit at CA-86 to the 66th Avenue Bypass. Travel about 5 miles on 66th Avenue to Painted Canyon Road. Turn left on Painted Canyon Road and travel approximately another 5 miles to the end of the road where you will encounter a signed parking area.
To get to the trailhead from east of the Coachella area, take Box Canyon Road exit off of I-10. Travel about 15 miles on Box Canyon Road to Painted Canyon Road. Turn right on Painted Canyon Road and travel approximately 5 miles to the end of the road where you will encounter a signed parking area.
Important notes: Painted Canyon Road is a dirt road. It is well-maintained and usually passable to most vehicles. However, if you are attempting to do this hike shortly after rain, it would be best to do so in a high-clearance vehicle that is either an all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive as there may be some fairly deep sand in places along the road. Low-clearance vehicles should not be driven on Painted Canyon Road.
Please do not leave anything valuable in your vehicle, especially not in plain view. You will likely be away from your vehicle for a few hours and people know this. Unfortunately, numerous vehicles have been broken into at this trailhead’s parking area.
Caution: Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials
*Featured image by John Wagner and taken from AllTrails.com