For desertphiles that enjoy hiking, the Painted Canyon area in the Coachella Valley is a must do. The main path is a roughly three-hour loop that tracks through varying desert terrains highlighted by one of Southern California’s deepest slot canyons.
It’s rugged but beautiful country. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended just to get to the trailhead. Pulling into the parking area, the paved road is far behind and the canyon’s walls are already towering above.
The slot canyon isn’t far from the trailhead. Accessing it requires squeezing through a rockfall and climbing several ladders in the narrow passageway. If doing the full loop, there are a couple more ladders, this time going down, on the way back to the parking area.
Once through the slot canyon, the trail ascends to an exposed ridgeline. Here the views are fantastic, giving a good look of the surrounding Mecca Hills Wilderness Area and the Salton Sea. After some time walking the ridgeline for a ways, the trail descends back into Painted Canyon for a spectacular walk past always-changing multi-colored stone walls.
There’s other routes and side canyons to explore as well. Expect more ladders and ropes.
For most the highlight is the slot canyon. Winding your way through the deep ravine is fascinating, and the ladders deliver a fun obstacle to conquer.
While not quite as attractive as the slot canyons in Utah and Arizona, it still delivers a sense of amazement.
I wish I could identify the different rocks and minerals that are on display in the canyon. Changes in hues are caused by desert minerals like copper (green) and iron (red), and there are a lot of color variations. This of course is why it’s called Painted Canyon.
Hiking in the middle of the day isn’t ideal for wildlife sightings, so it wasn’t a surprise that all I saw were some small lizards and a pair of red-tail hawks. I hiked it in late September. Rumor has it that wild flowers abound in March.
While I definitely recommend this hiking trail, it’s common desert policy to avoid trying it during the extremely hot summer months. When I was there, I started the walk at noon and the temperature rose to 94 degrees. It was nice that the steep canyon walls provided frequent shade along the way – even in the middle of the day – but I ended up drinking a full 1.5 liters of water on the hike anyways.
Another heads up involves bees. In the desert bees often congregate at tiny water sources, and on the day I hiked there were hundreds getting a drink from a trickle of water under the second set of ladders. I had no choice but to carefully and quickly descend two ladders with bees all around. I doubt they are there all the time but something to keep in mind.
The desert has its hazards. Always be safe.
To get there, find Box Canyon Road that connects I-10 and Mecca in the Coachella Valley. Turn onto Painted Canyon Road – a sandy unpaved road on which a high-clearance vehicle is recommended – and drive five miles to the trailhead.
Besides Painted Canyon, which is close to Palm Springs, Palm Desert and Indo, nearby Anza Borrego State Park to the south also has a popular slot canyon hike.