Just when you think you can’t go any farther in Painted Canyon, you remember why this route is called the Ladder Canyon Trail. Whew! There it is: a perfectly placed ladder that gets you up and over the would-be dead-end and into the next thrilling phase of your canyon hike.
Ladder Canyon Trail is a well-trafficked 5.3-mile loop that takes you through the heart of the brown sandstone beauty of Painted Canyon in the Mecca Hills Wilderness. The trail is easy to follow, and if there’s any confusion, look for the rocks arranged into arrows that point you in the right direction. The first of these arrows is about a half-mile into the trail and points left. This will take you into the close quarters of the narrow slot canyon. After you traverse a series of the ladders—they range from five to 15 feet tall—the trail leads up to the hillcrests of the Mecca Wilderness, where you’ll feel the cool desert breeze and catch a clear view of SoCal’s twin giants, Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Gorgonio.
Follow the arrows and head back down into the canyon to observe striations of pink and red quartz and brown sandstone folding over each other. The arrows will guide you back to the trailhead. The best time to do this hike is in the morning when the air is cool and the oblique sunlight brings out the colors that earn Painted Canyon its name.
Take the I-10 to Indio and merge onto CA-86 south. After about 10 miles, take the 62nd Ave. exit and turn left. Go right on Johnson, then left on 66th Ave., then left on Painted Canyon Rd. (a dirt road) and follow it to the end. The hike starts at the end of the road. Dogs are permitted but not recommended because of the ladders.