Ladder Canyon Hike in Mecca Hills Wilderness Area

The entrance to the slot canyon looks like a pile of rocks spilling out of the side of the wall that runs along the wash.
The entrance to the slot canyon looks like a pile of rocks spilling out of the side of the wall that runs along the wash.

Ladder Canyon is my favorite hike in the Coachella Valley region. The first time I hiked it I was in awe of the towering canyon walls. The slot canyon is a hidden escape from the outside world. Once in the canyon I found myself always looking up.

I’ve hiked the Ladder Canyon several times and I was able to hike it in just over two hours.  I was hiking with a friend who knew the trail well and we moved at a very fast pace.  Most hikers, especially if you have a group and stop often, will need 3-4 hours or more to complete the loop.

Be sure and take plenty of water and some snacks.  Don’t attempt the hike if it is raining or if there is rain nearby that could cause flash floods in the slot canyon.

Ladder Canyon Hike
Mecca Hills Wilderness Area
4.3 Mile Loop
3-4 hours
Elevation gain 750 feet
Best hiking: November – April

Located 15 miles east of the City of Indio in the greater Palm Springs region, is one of the most popular hiking trails in the Coachella Valley, Ladder Canyon. Ladder Canyon Hiking Trail is located in the Mecca Hills Wilderness area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The colorful mineral deposits, narrow slot canyons and views of the Salton Sea are a few of the characteristics that make this hike unique. Ladders are placed along the slot canyon to enable hikers to climb up dry waterfalls along the trail, earning it the name “Ladder Canyon.” There are several Geocaches hidden along the hike that you can search for too.

The top of the trail after you climb out of the slot canyon.
The top of the trail after you climb out of the slot canyon.

Finding the main ladder canyon trail can be difficult. You will need to hike about ¼ – ½ mile up the wash directly off of the parking area. There are some rocks that look like they have tumbled out of the wall on the left side of the canyon. If you walk up to the rock pile and follow the faint footpath that leads up the pile it will lead you into the slot canyon, which is hidden until you are in it. Rock arrows on the ground in the main wash point to the entrance of the slot canyon, but sometimes they are hard to see or have been washed away by storms. Some hikers have noted a sign near the entrance, but I’ve never seen one.

One of the ladders along the trail.

There is a point along the trail when you climb out of the slot canyon and you are on top of a hill with views of the Salton Sea to the south. The second leg of the hike takes you along a ridge and down into a broad wash to return to the trailhead.


The Trail
Rock arrows and rock cairns help guide hikers along the main trail.

The deep sand in the wash is a work out, so be prepared and wear hiking boots, hiking shoes or athletic shoes when hiking this trail.

The Ladders

When a storm passes through the slot canyon the ladders are often swept away by the pursuing flash flood. The floor of the canyon also drops a few inches to a few feet during a flash flood, making the ladders seem too short to reach the top of the dry waterfall if they remain intact.

There are a number of Geocaches along the Ladder Canyon Hike. Visit the site for more details.

Directions to the Trailhead

From I-10 take Box Canyon Road heading southwest. Go right on Painted Canyon Rd. which dead ends at the trailhead. Another route is to take Hwy 111 exit off of I-10 near Indio. Head southeast on Hwy. 111 and go left at 66th Ave. After a short distance 66th Ave. will turn into Box Canyon Road. After you cross the Coachella Canal you will see Painted Canyon Rd. on your left. Take a left and the dirt road dead ends at the Trailhead. Depending on the time of year, weather and the road maintenance schedule, the Painted Canyon Rd. may require a 4WD vehicle to access it.

6 thoughts on “Ladder Canyon Hike in Mecca Hills Wilderness Area”

  1. Virginia C. Stephens

    This is the only way I’ll get to see these places, being 80 yrse.old. I appreciate this Newsletter very much. I’ve sent gifts back East too, from the site. Thank you!!

  2. So many trails managed by NFS and BLM do not allow dogs. Does anyone know if dogs are allowed on the ladder trail?
    And yes, it is a small dog that could be carried up the ladders.

  3. Sad there is no discussion of Painted Canyon on the return of the loop. Sad to rush thru such a lovely hike too.

  4. Thanks for the feedback. I’ll add a Google map to the article. We plan to add them for all future posts too. We appreciate the input and the map link.

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