Little Painted Canyon - Mecca Hills

This is probably my favorite "local" winter hike in Southern California. This is a great trail to hike with your dog, as the canyon narrows pretty significantly, if you like to keep your eye on your dog.  Additionally, though the parking may be filled, EVERYONE will be in the main canyon, doing the ladder hike.

On this day, the parking was full. I can only imagine the lines for people to climb up the ladders in the main canyon.  On the Little Painted Canyon, we ran into NO ONE.

The hike itself was pretty easy. You do hike along a wash, so don't go when it is raining in So. Cal. Choose a day when there is no threat of rain.

Since it is a wash, you will be hiking on a sandy bottom. At times it will be a bit rocky, so watch your footing.

At the beginning of the hike, you will hike along the main wash, which starts where the dirt road ends. Just pass the boundary posts that mark the wilderness area from the parking area.  Stay to the right.

I recommend that you either have a top map with a fixed route, or a gps unit with a gpx route.  This will help
IMMENSELY as there are many offshoot canyons and small canyons to explore.  I emphasize this because it is easy to get turned around in this wilderness area.  If you need to download a gpx, see the Everytrail link at the bottom of this post.

For So. Cal, this hike is pretty out of the way. That's a good and bad thing. It's good because that means less crowds. Most of the hikers will be on the Ladder Trail which is the next canyon over. It's also bad, so to speak, because it leaves a fainter trail to follow. If you love Utah or Northern AZ, you will enjoy hiking this area.  The beautiful scenery starts as soon as turn onto the dirt road towards the parking area.

If you've ever seen the canyon scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Harrison Ford and Sean Connery are riding through tall, slim canyons on horseback to find the entrance to a cave, these canyons are just like that.  There are some canyons in this area where claustrophobics dare not tread!

The landscape lies right on top of the San Andreas fault, and as you drive to the parking area, you will actually drive across the fault line (though you may not know it).

Location & area description: The Mecca Hills are located about 40 miles southeast of Palm Springs. They were formed by the convergence of the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate along the San Andreas Fault. The geologic formations of Mecca Hills are among the most unusual of their kind in the world, and the San Andreas Fault that runs from below the Salton Sea all the way above San Francisco is overdue for a large quake. For a map of recent earthquakes in the Palm Springs and Southern California area check out the USGS website.

Layers of eroded rock, some over 600 million years old, have been pushed up and overturned by the activity of the San Andreas Fault system. Painted Canyon, in the heart of the hills, exhibits many mineral deposits in hues of rose, pink, red, purple and green. The canyon runs in a general north-south direction, and is distinguished by sandy washes sprinkled with Ironwood, Smoke Trees, and Palo Verde. It is also home to the rare Mecca aster, a lilac tinted bloom resembling a daisy. Along the rim of the canyon and the tops of the mesas, are colorful Ocotillo. Occasionally Bighorn sheep cross over from the Orocopia Mountains on the east looking for water. Like any desert area, the fauna includes a multitude of lizards, snakes, and prairie falcons.

The hike:

Type of Hike: Out and back (Hike ends at a dry falls)

Approximately 4.5 miles (though my gps indicated 5.0 miles)

Duration: plan for 3 hours (as the sandy bottom of the canyon may make slow us down a bit)

Elevation gain: only 300 feet

Ability/Difficulty: Easy

Time: Our group met at 11am, with a planned start time of 11:15am.  We actually started at 11:30am and were done by 3pm.


To reach the Mecca Hills, Painted Canyon, and Box Canyon area, take Interstate 10 several miles past Indio heading east. Take the 86 South exit toward Brawley (this new expressway bypasses the old Highway 111). Travel nearly 10 miles and turn left on 62nd Avenue. Drive several miles until reaching Johnson Street. Turn right, drive several miles, and turn left on 66th Avenue (Box Canyon Road). Proceed about five miles past grape and citrus ranches, cross the All-American Canal, and look for the green sign on the right indicating Painted Canyon. Turn left onto this dirt road and proceed about four miles. The sign indicates only four-wheel-drive vehicles can pass, but the road can be driven safely with a car.

Keep in mind that Painted Canyon Road is a well maintained dirt/sand road and should be passable in most vehicles, but take care not to venture off the road or you WILL get stuck.

If you are staying in Palm Springs or another local city, and are driving on Highway 111, follow these directions:

Directions from Palm Springs, Palm Desert or any of the other Coachella Valley cities, follow Highway 111 east to Mecca. Turn left at 66th Avenue and follow it as it curves through Mecca. The street then takes the name Box Canyon Road. After driving about 4 1/2 miles through many grape and citrus ranches you will cross the Coachella Canal and about 1/4 of a mile later you will see a sign for Painted Canyon Road on the left. Make a left turn and follow this dirt road for about 4 miles where it will dead-end at the parking area.

If you are interested in downloading a track of our hike, please see the listing at

Little Painted Canyon - Mecca Hills

EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Coachella, California