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David R

Mecca Hills

I was down in the desert for the weekend with the family in Palm Springs and got a chance to visit an area that has been on my list for a while, Mecca Hills. I really hadn't spent much time realizing how cool this area was and had minimal expectation when I went down there. Since I was with the family I had to minimize the distance and the exertion so it sounded like the Ladder Loop through Big Painted Canyon was the easiest route to take.

Mecca Hills is just outside the city of Mecca north of the Salton Sea. The main entrance is off of a well graded four mile dirt road that takes you into Big Painted Canyon. I wouldn't be too concerned with the 4X4 only sign at the beginning of the road as the road is in great shape. There has also been significant discussion of break-ins but if you pick a weekend there appears to be a lot of traffic going through here and I can't imagine that people would be breaking into vehicles with all the pedestrian traffic.

Once inside the canyon there really is a lot of options as far as places to explore which makes for a really cool experience. We stuck with the main canyon but there is Small Painted Canyon as well as Split Rock that are less used but look to have some interesting scrambling and slot canyon options.

Our route is the most popular and is called the Ladder Canyon loop. The hike starts from the parking lot and goes to the right up Big Painted Canyon for about a 1/4 mile. The canyon walls in this section are really interesting with the different colors of rock that the walls are comprised of. From here there is now a sign as well as a rock arrow on the ground pointing you to the left through some rock fall into the slot canyon. The first 1/4 miles is the most exciting with three or four ladders that are ascended to climb the canyon with the largest being about 15-20 feet high. From here you walk through the slot canyon no more then three-four feet wide. This would probably be the most interesting at sunrise or sunset as the light really makes a difference in the look of the canyon.

The middle portion of the canyon widens and you continue to the upper section of the canyon that is wider still. There are plenty of places for scrambling up the sides of subsidiary canyons or the walls for your enjoyment. Finally you come to the start of this slot canyon and you climb out to the left and on the main ridge that is above Big Painted Canyon. From here you follows high above the canyon with a couple of use trails available along the tops of other canyons. The views are quite nice over the Salton Sea and the Santa Rosa mountains. Finally you drop to an obvious saddle between Big and Little Painted Canyons.

From there you drop down into Big Painted Canyon and follow it back down. The canyon is much wider but the walls are quite impressive. This section is about two miles in length and is quite sandy. There is one section where the canyon narrows and a couple of ladders are downclimbed to get to the canyon floor. In truth for anyone with moderate scrambling skills only the highest ladder feels like a necessity but it helps make the trip something which others can enjoy. Soon after the ladders you come back to where you entered the slot canyon and then are back at your car.

The hike is about five miles with just under 500 feet elevation gain and is a great family hike that allows for some thrills with the slot canyons and ladder clambering. The other canyons would be more challenging as far as directions and may require more scrambling but otherwise are also pretty moderate in length and elevation.

Mecca Hills

I always wanted to do the Ladder Canyon/Painted Canyon loop, but numerous reports of car break-ins deterred me.

This is a great hike for this time of year when it's cooler.  I remember taking a 2wd car out there with no problem as well.  I never heard anything about car break-ins, but I agree, just go on a weekend when there will be other hikers out there.
Huff and Puff

I agree with Marty.  This is a great hike to do in the winter especially January and February.  You want to stay away from the Mecca Hills when it gets hot because there is little shade and the temperatures can be brutal.  I did the ladders canyon hike a few years ago on a weekend and there were a number of others out there with me.

Here are some of the photos I took of the hike.

The hike starts down Big Painted Canyon.

This is the entrance to ladders canyon.  Note the arrow on the ground.

Here is one of the ladders that gives ladders canyon its name.

The slot canyon can be narrow in spots.

Another ladder to climb.

Looking down into the slot canyon after climbing a ladder.

Eventually ladders canyon opens up and you climb out to the ridge above Big Painted Canyon.  There was a rock cairn on the ridge.

There was a trail leading down to Big Painted Canyon (seen on right) to make the return loop.

On the trail down to Big Painted Canyon.

Heading back in the desert wash of Big Painted Canyon.

The walls of Big Painted Canyon become more vertical heading back.

Continuing down Big Painted Canyon

Eventually I arrived at the final set of ladders and descended them in Big Painted Canyon.  Here is a view looking back at the ladders.

Continuing down Big Painted Canyon.


I want to go! Looks like my kind of adventure!

Sweet! I've seen a few other reports about this loop. Looks fun. Forum Index -> Other Ranges
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