Ladder Canyon, Mecca Hills

a fun 6.2-mile hike

Painted Canyon / Ladder Canyon

November 2, 2013

I’ve hiked this slotted canyon a few years back, had a great time. I told my friend Kristen about it and we’ve been trying to plan a hike there for over a year, and it’s close too, just about 150 miles from Orange County. I picked up Kristen at her home in Newport about 7:00, and 2-hours later we were there.

This hike is in the Mecca Hills and it’s called the Painted Canyon / Ladder Canyon Hike.

As you’re leaving Palm Springs heading east on the 10 Freeway, you want to take exit 168, which is also the exit for Joshua Tree, instead of turning left to go to Joshua Tree, you’ll make a right, and travel down the road for 15 miles until you get to the Painted Canyon Road, which is on your right. Now the Painted Canyon Road is 4 miles long and it’s a dirt/sandy road, a few miles in, it does start to be a bit sandier and you can get stuck in the sand, easily. I’ve seen more than a few cars get stuck in the sand. A few ways to avoid this is to let some of the air out of your tires, make sure you drive in someone else’s tire tracks, don’t stop when you feel the deep sand, if you do stop, you will sink. You might want to bring a shovel with you, just in case. Best thing to do is drive a 4-wheel drive, than there won’t be a chance of you getting stuck.

When you reach the end of the road you’ll see the Painted Canyon trailhead to your right, the entrance to Ladder Canyon is about a 1/2 mile into your hike. It’ll be on your left, but it’s really hard to see. You’ll see a brownish metal pole on your right, this is the Ladder Canyon trail marker, but the writing on this trail marker has been scratched off. You have to climb over a few rocks to get into the canyon, as soon as you do, you’ll come across your first ladder. Continue up the canyon and you’ll come across a few more ladders. It is a really fun hike. Inside this slotted canyon it has a sandy, but firm floor, it’s a lot cooler then it is outside. Being inside Ladder Canyon really reminded me of the movie, 127 Hours, which is based on the Aron Ralston's story… Aron had to cut his arm off after it became trapped by a huge bolder in an isolated canyon in Utah while he was canyoneering. Ladder Canyon really looks just like the canyon he was in.

Once you exit Ladder Canyon, you’ll be able to see the Salton Sea. There is a trail heading down towards the Salton Sea, but don’t take that one. Head to your right and follow that trail to Painted Canyon, it’s about a 1⁄2 mile hike until you start heading down into Painted Canyon.

The last time I was here, I just went through Ladder Canyon and then went back the way that I came, instead of continuing on through Painted Canyon. That was a mistake, even though climbing on the ladders is really fun, Painted Canyon is fun too. There is a reason it’s called Painted Canyon, because some of the walls of the canyon are made up of pink quartz and then you come across some zebra looking type rocks and there are a few ladders here too. So make sure that you do the loop.

The trail is a little sandy, so wear your hiking boots. Also bring water and there are no restrooms out there. Your last chance to use a restroom is at the rest area on the 10 Freeway, just a few miles before you hit your exit, Exit 168.

Really loved this hike, Kristen described it as something you would see at Disneyland. It is very Disneyland-ish. One of my favorite hikes and now, one of Kristin's too.

This loop hike was 6.2-miles long, and it took us 3-hours. We took our time to enjoy our surroundings. This place is super cool and you’ll have to add it to your wish-list.

Check out the video below. Kristen’s not in it, coz she’s shy.

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