California Hiking on the Painted Canyon / Ladder Canyon Trail in the Mecca Hills Wilderness

View from inside Painted Canyon

     Located near the north shore of the Salton Sea lies the small town of Mecca, California. Just east of there is the Mecca Hills Wilderness formed by the convergence of the North American and Pacific plates along the San Andreas Fault. These unique hills have very distinct rock formations that form canyons and make for great hiking. The Painted and Ladder Canyon trails are the two main trails you will want to hike here. Painted canyon is named for its different colored rock formations that were created by mineral deposits who’s colors can change throughout the day depending on the sun light. The Painted Canyon trail is wide and sandy with towering canyon walls on both sides. The canyon floor is soft sand and gives you a workout similar to walking on the beach. Ladder Canyon is an offshoot of Painted Canyon and is a narrow slot-type canyon. The canyon is named Ladder due to the several ladders installed to help hikers up and down the narrow passageways.

Mecca Hills Wilderness info sign near the trail head
Entrance to Painted Canyon Road. When we left our hike there were
8 cars parked at the trail head and none were 4 wheel drive, including ours.

     Getting to the trail head is pretty straightforward. From Los Angeles you take Interstate 10 east past Palm Springs and then merge onto State Route 86-S and take it to the 66th Ave exit in Mecca and turn left, when the road runs into a “T”, turn left to 4th street and turn right to get to 66th Ave again then go left and drive about 5 miles to Painted Canyon Road (dirt) and turn left. The road is posted for four wheel drive only but 4×4 is not necessary. Stay on Painted Canyon road until it ends and you will see the trail head and parking on the right. On the day I went we decided to do the full Ladder Canyon loop which is about 5 miles round trip. We started up the Painted canyon trail and soon found a sign post marked Ladder Canyon and there were two giant arrows laid out with rocks pointing the start of Ladder Canyon, which is hard to see but begins just to the right of a huge rock slide.

One of the taller ladders in Ladder Canyon

       Once on the Ladder Canyon trail we quickly came to two ladders, one wood and one metal. They took us up one level and we walked for a while and then came to a taller metal ladder. We then walked for a while until we were on top of the canyon walls looking down. At this point the trail was well defined with rock ducks and arrows leading the way. At some point out in the open we ran into a fork with two arrows, one pointing straight and the other to the left. We decided to go straight which went northeast along the top of the canyon toward the radio antennas in the distance. This section offered stunning views of the canyon below. After about a mile or so the trail turned to the right and started back into the bottom of the canyon. From then on it was soft sand for a couple miles until we arrived at two more ladders. After the last two ladders we hiked for another half hour or so and we were back at the parking area.

Ladder Canyon

          All in all the hike took us around 3 hours to complete with frequent stops to take pictures. There were several desert flowers blooming, several different types of birds, and lizards. They say Big Horn Sheep can sometimes be seen here but we didn’t see any on this trip. We saw a bees nest in the ground near the top of the lowest ladder towards the end of Painted Canyon so be careful not to disturb them and stay wide. Good scenery and good color make this a great hike with good photo opportunities. So I hope you will make the trip, explore, and find out more about the Mecca Hills Wilderness.

Some helpful links:

Hiking in Palm Springs
Painted Canyon Trail Log
Hiking CA

To see more of my photos visit my galleries. Until next time, thanks for stopping by.

2 thoughts on “California Hiking on the Painted Canyon / Ladder Canyon Trail in the Mecca Hills Wilderness

  1. Edon Amir says:

    has anybody been on the trail recently and how is the road and the condition?

    1. John W says:

      I have not been in a while but with our mild winter the road and trail should be in good condition.

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