The Mecca Hills are located about 40 miles southeast of Palm Springs, and the ladder canyon hike located there is one of the best slot canyon hikes in California. The Mecca hills were formed by the convergence of the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate along the San Andreas Fault.See description and a GPS map of the hike below, after this information on current conditions in the area.
See more on the hike below after some information on current conditions, and some tips for hiking in the area.
February 19, 2019 note:
I received an email today from a hiker who said the road to the Ladder Canyon hike is passable, and the ladders are in good condition! If you go be safe, and use your best judgement on the road to the hike, and when using the ladders.
If you have been to the area in the last few days please pass along an email to us so we can update the page.
The road to the Mecca Hills Ladder Canyon hike is sometimes closed after flash floods, you can check to see if the Painted Canyon Rd. is closed at this Riverside County transportation website. Keep in mind the information on the linked website could be incorrect and the road may be closed.
Please hike with caution
I have had several reports of cars being broken into and vandalized in the area . While I don’t want to discourage folks from going to this wonderful place, you do need to know that cars have had their windows smashed and items stolen from the vehicles. This area is quite isolated and there is not police presence in the area on a regular basis, so you just need to be aware of the problem, especially on weekdays when there are less people in the area. If you go remember to leave no valuables in your vehicle, especially in plain sight.
Hiking in and around Palm Springs can be very dangerous, and the Mecca Hills area is an area that many people have to be rescued from each year. Usually it is due to lack of preparation, such as not having proper hiking equipment, plenty of water and also a map of the area. Just because it is a desert doesn’t mean it will not get cold in the winter, and it definitely gets very hot in the summer. As much as I like hiking in the Palm Springs area I recommend that you don’t hike in the area in the summer unless you are a very experienced hiker and you have the proper equipment and lots of water. Wear proper clothing, have proper equipment and follow these hiking tips or you may pay with your life.
Also, stay on the trails. There is no reason to get lost in this area if you stay on the trails and use common sense.
With the warnings out of the way …
The Mecca Hills Ladder Canyon is a beautiful hike, so if you are aware of some of the risks and are ready to experience some of the most beautiful hiking the Palm Springs area has to offer, grab your CamelBak, other Hydration Pack or Hydroflask and get out on the trail!
Mecca Hills Painted Canyon / Ladder Canyon Hike
Approximate length is 5 miles, with an elevation gain of about 450 feet. If all you do is walk the main canyon it is an easy to moderate hike in difficulty, but the soft sand in the canyon floors can be a little hard on the ankles. However if you are planning to hike the ladder canyon and make the complete loop it is a difficult hike and it should only be attempted if you are in very good shape, and you are properly prepared with the right equipment, water and other hiking necessities. It will take you 3-4 hours to complete the loop. I keep reading stories in our local paper of people attempting this hike and having to be rescued. Do not attempt the full ladder hike loop unless you are ready for a fairly difficult hike.
The Mecca Hills are located about 40 miles southeast of Palm Springs. They were formed by the convergence of the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate along the San Andreas Fault. The geologic formations of Mecca Hills are among the most unusual of their kind in the world, and the San Andreas Fault that runs from below the Salton Sea all the way above San Francisco is overdue for a large quake. For a map of recent earthquakes in the Palm Springs and Southern California area check out the USGS website. Layers of eroded rock, some over 600 million years old, have been pushed up and overturned by the activity of the San Andreas Fault system.
Painted Canyon, in the heart of the hills, exhibits many mineral deposits in hues of rose, pink, red, purple and green. The canyon runs in a general north-south direction, and is distinguished by sandy washes sprinkled with Ironwood, Smoke Trees, and Palo Verde. Keen eyed wildflower enthusiasts will also find the rare Mecca aster, a lilac tinted bloom resembling a daisy. Along the rim of the canyon and the tops of the mesas, squat colorful Ocotillo, which add to the serenity with their presence. Occasionally Bighorn sheep cross over from the Orocopia Mountains on the east looking for water. Like any desert area, the visitor is also treated to a multitude of lizards, snakes, and prairie falcons.
Map of the Ladder Canyon Loop Hike
This is a map my wife drew that kind of shows the basics of the ladder canyon loop hike. It is not drawn to scale so please use your best judgement when doing the hike, but it might help some of you. We usually hike through the slot canyon with the ladders, then go to the right at the top and then drop down into the main canyon where the trail lets you. Click the thumbnail for a larger view.
Painted Canyon is an excellent hiking destination, one that can be explored by way of a loop through Ladder Canyon, named for the many ladders that aid hikers who journey through the canyon.
After parking at the end of the dirt road that leads to the canyon, walk up the canyon that takes off to the right of the parking area. After about 1/4 of a mile there is an arrow made of rocks in the valley floor that points across the way to the left where the slot canyon begins. Keep in mind that after heavy rains the canyon floor may wash out and the arrow will be gone.
When you look at where the arrow points you will probably not believe there is a trail there, as it has been hidden by countless rockslides. Enter to the right of the rockslide and you will quickly find yourself in a magnificent slot canyon.
You will have to navigate several ladders to reach the top of the canyon. The ladders are maintained by volunteers, and can be a little treacherous especially if they have broken rungs. If you feel they are unsafe, please do not try to climb them. Instead return the way you came and hike either the Big Painted Canyon (the one you took to find the Ladder Canyon…), or the Little Painted Canyon that leads to the left of the parking area. Both of these hikes are also worth the effort.
If the ladders are in good condition, you will reach the top of the canyon after about 1/4 of a mile. When you get to the top, the trail will take you up the side of the hills to the trail that skirts the top edge of Painted Canyon. When you first exit the canyon, take the trail to the right up the slope to the edge of Painted Canyon.
The trail will follow the canyon until it slopes down into Big Painted Canyon to the right of you, and just walk down into the canyon and turn right back the direction you came. You will have beautiful views of the Salton Sea to the right of you as you follow the trail along the edge of the canyon.
When you reach the canyon, go the right and stay right at any junction. After about a mile, you will reach several more ladders, which lower you to the canyon below. After this series of ladders, it is about 3/4 of a mile to the parking area where you began your journey.
Directions to the Mecca Hills:
From Palm Springs, Palm Desert or any of the other Coachella Valley cities, follow Highway 111 east to Mecca. Turn left and 66th Avenue and follow it as it curves through Mecca. The street then takes the name Box Canyon Road. After driving about 4 1/2 miles through many grape and citrus ranches you will cross the Coachella Canal and about 1/4 of a mile later you will see a sign for Painted Canyon Road on the left. Make a left turn and follow this dirt road for about 4 miles where it will dead-end at the parking area.
Keep in mind Painted Canyon Road is a well maintained dirt road and should be passable in most vehicles, but take care not to venture off the road or you WILL get stuck. Remember also that you will be in a wilderness area many miles away from food and water, so take plenty of both with you. The hike through the canyon is not steep, but it is soft sand, which will make walking a little difficult. You should only attempt this hike if you are in good physical shape, and used to the rigors of hiking. It is also a good idea never to hike alone, and to have a cell phone with you in case of emergency.
Map of the Ladder Canyon Hike
Here is a GPS map of the Ladder Canyon hike, and it shows where the parking area is at the end of Painted Canyon Road.