Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
710.00 ft (216.41 m)
Trail type
3.65 mi (5.87 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The Painted Canyon and Ladder Canyon area is a popular spot in the Mecca Hills with numerous trails and hikeable slot canyons all in a smalll area. While all trails can be hiked as out-and-backs, or be made into loops by reaching the canyon top and returning via a different canyon, the area's proneness to flash flooding has eliminated any permanent signs or structures with the exception of a signboard and road sign marking the trailhead parking area.

This route describes hiking up via Little Painted Canyon and returning via Ladder Canyon in a counterclockwise direction - which we strongly suggest as it makes direction-finding significantly easier.

Hikers should plan for backcountry navigation and be aware that there is no cell service in the canyons. 

The route to Little Painted Canyon begins beyond the road end sign. Along the way, there are numerous canyons and washes, making it important that hikers are able to find the correct canyon. The best marker to find Little Painted Canyon is a small 5-6 foot mud-colored boulder lying at the right side of the canyon's mouth, possibly with a few stones or cairn set upon it.

[A descriptive explanation of the route is available in Philip Ferranti's excellent book, 140 Great Hikes In And Near Palm Springs]

Upon entering Little Painted Canyon, the wide washes quickly narrows into a slot canyon. The path here requires hiking through soft sand, however is generally passable by most ability levels. 

At about 1.25 miles from the trailhead, Little Painted Canyon reaches a tall steep dry waterfall. Hikers can turn around here and retrace their route back to the trailhead, or may opt to continue to the loop hike, in which case the best route is to backtrack slightly and scramble up the slope that is on the left when facing the waterfall. Scrambling up will put hikers on a narrow ridge which they can trace to the top of the canyon. Turning around affords wide views of the dramatic topography of the Mecca Hills Wilderness Area.

Ladder Canyon is a couple canyons to the east. While all ridges and canyons will eventually feed back down to Painted Canyon and eventually the trailhead, reaching Ladder Canyon will require ascending on the ridge more before heading east. As of Summer 2020, the best sign of the entrance to Ladder Canyon is to look for the large pile of stones. A trail descends east from here right into the top of the canyon.

Ladder Canyon is a winding slot canyon that becomes deeper and more narrow as it descends, requiring several ladders to make it down slippery and sometimes vertical slopes. The interior of the canyon makes the hiker feel as though they could be deep in the canyonlands of Utah or Arizona, and other adjacent canyons here can be explored to find ropes, ladders and colorful stone walls in sections.

Hikers should be aware that this area is very susceptible to flash flooding, and these hikes should be avoided altogether if there is any risk of rains.

There are no amenities of any kind along the hike, and phone service is non-existent in the canyons.

Reaching the trailhead requires a 4 mile drive down a rough dirt road with deep soft sand in sections. 4WD is strongly recommended, however smaller cars may be able to get close to the parking area under certain conditions and careful driving. If in doubt, park it and walk in.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass


Open Year-round



Beautiful terrain. Variety of trails in small area.


No signage along hike. Navigation can be confusing. Some ladders more sturdy than others.

Trailhead Elevation

590.00 ft (179.83 m)

Highest point

1,110.00 ft (338.33 m)


Backcountry camping
Big vistas

Typically multi-day


Permit required



Nearby Adventures

Western Sonoran + Colorado Desert, California
Salton Sea State Recreation Area, California

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Salton Sea State Recreation Area, California
Salton Sea State Recreation Area, California
Salton Sea State Recreation Area, California


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