Ladder & Painted Canyon Loop: Mecca, CA

Updated: Feb 23

Blog Updates:

  1. Feb 2019: Chris, Meg and Brad's

  2. March 2019: Rich, John and Mike's

  3. April 2019: Weston and Mackenzie's hike

This is our 'go to' hike when people come to visit us in Palm Desert. It is one of the more unique hikes in Southern California. The Mecca Hills located 35 miles outside of Palm Desert were formed by the convergence of the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate along the San Andreas Fault — in fact, the active fault line runs right through the hills.

After driving about 8 miles down Boxed Canyon Road you reach the intersection with Painted Canyon Road and a sign saying it’s passable for 4-wheel drive vehicles only. The road is bumpy and sandy, but as long as it’s not too soft, 2-wheel drive vehicles can get through if you keep a slow, steady pace. Cars with lower clearance have a higher risk of bottoming out in places.

The trail head was located at the end of this 4-mile long dirt road.


The hike started by entering into Big Painted Canyon where we immediately were framed by mighty walls of rock. Layers of eroded rock, some over 600 million years old, have been pushed up by activity in the San Andreas Fault system.

WARNING: Always check the weather forecast since flash floods are possible in these canyons.

But before entering the canyon, Weston and Mackenzie had fun scrambling up a rock pile.

After 1/4 mile, the entrance to Ladder Canyon is on the left. It's hard to believe there is a trail since it's hidden by rock slides. Hikers have helped to mark the entrance by building a stone arrow pointing to the opening. In the picture below, you can see two people scrambling up the rock pile to enter the canyon.

Meg and Brad ready to enter the canyon.

Immediately after entering the canyon you see how the canyon got its name. You explore the canyon by climbing up and down a series of ladders.

The start of maneuvering through the canyon using ladders.

.... and another ladder.

A tight squeeze at the top of this ladder for Brad.

After climbing several ladders the trail continued into a slot canyon.

Dave captured a brief video of walking through the slot.

Weston, Mackenzie, and Dave in the slot.


Mike, Steve, Rich, and John enjoying the slot canyon experience.

Climbing out of the slot canyon.

Afterwards the canyon slowly began to widen.

Chris, Steve, Dave, Meg, and Brad on the second half of the Ladder Canyon trail.

Getting closer to the top of the canyon.


Climbing and scrambling to reach the top.

We reached the ridge and the vistas were amazing.

Mackenzie, Weston, Dave, and Steve on the ridge.

The snow-covered summit of San Jacinto (10,834 feet) penetrating the clouds.

Brad, Dave, Meg, Chris, and Steve on the ridge.

Part of the Salton Sea visible at the foot of the Santa Rosa mountains.

We walked along the western wall of Painted Canyon until we reached a spot where we could safely descend to the canyon floor.

The canyon floor visible on the right side of the trail.

Large flowering ocotillo along the trail.


Mackenzie and Weston ready to start the descent.

After side stepping down a rocky hill, we were back in the canyon and ready to complete the loop trail.

Painted Canyon, in the heart of the Mecca hills, exhibits mineral deposits in hues of rose, pink, red, purple and green. It's almost as spectacular as Artist's Palette in Death Valley National Park.



Layer of rocks tell a story of violent forces at work.

Dave spotted a desert iguana scurrying along the wash.

So many different rock surfaces, colors, and texture in Painted Canyon.



I needed to include one picture of me to prove I did the hike.

The tallest ladders were located in a side canyon about half way through the hike in Painted Canyon. This canyon is evident in the satellite image of the hike that is posted at the end of this blog.

The ladder is pretty high from this angle as well. It seemed Weston was not too concerned about Mackenzie handling the heights.

FYI: These ladders are not maintained by BLM (Bureau of Land Management ); various hiking groups monitor and replace ladders as needed.

Dave taking a break.

The last set of ladders for Dave Steve, Chris, Brad, and Meg.

The final section of the trail heading back to the car. Look at the size of the hikers in comparison to the height of the canyon walls.

A satellite view of the hike using the MapMyRun app. We like using this app to capture our hikes.


Side Note: We have a new tradition. We stop at Shield's Date Garden in Indio to get a date shake after completing the Ladder and Painted Canyon Hike. If you've never had a date shake, you don't know what you're missing!


2. Oct 2019: Pam and Pat's hike

Pam and Pat hiked the Loop trail with us during their visit in October 2019. As always, Mecca is a great place to visit. Pam quickly discovered why the trail has its name.

Amazing views right from the start.

Moving quickly into the slot canyon. Fun being with someone experiencing it for the first time.

With the right lighting, this looks more like a movie set. The sheer size of the canyon walls are overwhelming.

Celebrating after completing the Ladder Canyon section.

The last few ladders are always fun.

This is my favorite section of Painted Canyon.



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