Climbing Ladder Canyon

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Location: 

Visited: February 28, 2015

Description: A slot canyon with ladder obstacles in Palm Desert

Length: 4.3 mile loop

Elevation: 750 feet

Duration: 2-3 hours

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Terrain: Dirt trail, loose rocky terrain

Wildlife: Bees…

Pets: Dog friendly (might be easier for small dogs vs larger dogs when you get to the ladder)

Parking: Lot (33.618954, -115.999097)

Best time to go: Weekdays would be best. If on weekends, early in the morning because it gets crowded!

Bring: 4×4 vehicle recommended to get to the trailhead, camera, water, sunscreen, lunch/snack, light jacket if you’re visiting off-summer


After our first attempt at hiking Ladder Canyon, we learned a major lesson… follow the dam arrows. We gave it another shot the next day and kept our eyes peeled for any arrow-shaped rock formations on the ground. When the trail splits in two, keep to your right.

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Less than a 1/4 mile in, you’ll find a second arrow pointing left. It may not make sense because it looks like it doesn’t go anywhere but we knew to follow the arrows this time around.

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You’ll climb over a few rocks and at the top you’ll be looking down at the first ladder. Now this was exactly what we were expecting when we accidentally hiked “Lost Rope” Canyon the day before. In hindsight, this trail was so obvious. We laughed at ourselves for being foolish and not trusting the arrows the other day.

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After an easy climb down, we moved forward quickly, excited to see what obstacle was next. Only a few feet away and we hit the second ladder!

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Scared of ladders? Don’t worry, HikeSnobs got you! The aluminum ladders you see today replaced the original wooden ladders for a more sturdy and less splintery experience.

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After climbing a couple more ladders, we entered the narrow slots. The canyon walls began to close in on us, leaving a single stream of sunlight radiating downwards. The whole experience felt surreal and magical. We spent our time slowly walking through and taking it all in.

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Eventually, the trail will open up and you’ll hit a fork. We’ve never hiked the trail before but we saw a couple go left and a group of hikers said we should go right. Going either way will work and get you to the top of the canyon though because we ran into the same couple later on.

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Once you reach the top, search for the antennas and start hiking toward them. You won’t actually be hiking to the antennas so don’t give up and backtrack. A few hikers we bumped into decided to turn back and we all ended up back at the entrance of the trail at the same time.

Follow the arrows along the path and eventually, you’ll turn into the Big Painted Canyon trail.

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Reaching the bottom, you’ll spot two rock formations of arrows pointing back up the mountain. This time you should ignore the arrows and continue forward. Make a right and continue walking on  the soft loose gravel for the rest of way.

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As you walk along the wash, you’ll see why this trail is called Big Painted Canyon. The high canyon walls are a geologist’s dream. There are so many different formations and colors, hence the name.

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If you pay attention, there will be an opening to the left with a ladder in view. This is not the last ladder and it will not lead you back to the entrance. It’s a dead end that goes about a mile in. If you’re up for it, explore it! If not, continue onto the trail for the official last ladder.

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The tallest ladder of the trail! Absolutely worth checking out.

When you finally reach the last ladders, be very careful. There may be a swarm of bees and getting stung is not an enjoyable experience. The bees will be harmless as long as you leave them alone. We had to stick to the left when climbing to the ladders to be as far away from them as possible.

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Once you’ve climbed to the bottom of the final ladders, you’re only about a quarter mile from the entrance!

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If you have time, add “Lost Rope” Canyon to your hike. Despite getting lost the previous day, we didn’t mind living on the edge with an extra adventure. Maybe we should spend more time ignoring arrows…

Ladder Canyon can be an easy hour adventure or more, depending on if you do the loop or not. Since there isn’t much information regarding this hike, the hiking Gods probably wanted us to complete the loop so we could provide more details for you. So really, we were meant to get lost during our first attempt… 😛


@HikeSnobs Tips:

  • Follow the arrows formed by rocks on the ground.
  • Don’t give up at the top of the canyon, continue forward!

Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Leave us a message below!

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