Spring months are a great time to explore the rugged desert landscape surrounding Palm Springs.  One of our favorite hikes, and one of the most unusual in southern California, is Ladder Canyon.  Beautiful scenery and lots of ladders.  You’ll feel like an Amazing Race contestant when you cross the finish line!  And after a day of climbing ladders, nothing’s better than slipping into the bubbling spa under the stars at Santiago!

An hour and fifteen minutes from Palm Springs, Ladder Canyon is at the end of Painted Canyon Road in Mecca CA. The Canyon gets its name from a series of ladders that must be scaled to complete the hike. At regular intervals, the canyon walls step up 10 to 20 feet, making upward progress extremely difficult. Fortunately, aluminum extension ladders, installed by a local hiking club, help hikers negotiate the climb. A few of the ladders may be worn and rickety, which only adds to the adrenaline rush of this adventure hike!

At the end of Painted Canyon Rd. you’ll find the dirt parking lot.  This is the beginning of the Canyon.  The hike is a loop and around 0.5 miles from the parking lot you’ll come to the split. An arrow made from a pile of rocks will point you to the left heading you toward a slot canyon. Since it’s a loop, you can also go to the right, cross the Canyon Valley, make your way up the hill, and then back through the slot canyon.  Important Note – if you go to the left you’ll be climbing up the ladders.  Go to the right, and you’ll be climbing down the ladders.

Enjoy! The entire loop is 4.5 miles

Good to Know

  • Spring and fall are the ideal seasons to hike Ladder Canyon. This hike should not be attempted during summer when temperatures in the desert can reach 120 °F making the trip very dangerous.
  • Winter is also an option, but be sure to check the weather to ensure that there are no storms in the forecast. Ladder Canyon is a watercourse and is subject to flash floods when it rains.
  • This hike will take between 3 and 4 hours to complete, so you will need to carry at least 2 liters of water per person. Always be sure to pack some food for emergencies.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to complete the loop so you are back before dark.
  • You’ll be climbing ladders and walking through rough terrain, so be sure to wear a good pair of hiking boots. It’s also a good idea to carry a GPS or trail map.
  • If you are looking for solitude, go on a weekday. On the weekends, the area gets a fair number of visitors.
  • Getting There: The Ladder Canyon Trailhead, head east on Interstate 10 until you reach the Coachella Valley. Take State Route 86 south towards Brawley for about 10 miles and then make a left turn on 62nd Continue 2.2 miles until you reach Johnson Street and turn right. Continue on Johnson Street for 2.0 miles until you reach Painted Canyon Road on the left. Turn left on Painted Canyon Road and continue for approximately 4 miles until it ends. There is a dirt parking lot at the trailhead and a kiosk marks the beginning of the hike. Painted Canyon Road is unpaved, so proceed with caution. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended, however, the road is passable in a two-wheel drive vehicle if you drive carefully.