Ladder Canyon Trail

MODERATE 248 reviews
#1 of 12 trails in

Ladder Canyon Trail is a 4.5 mile lightly trafficked loop trail located near Desert Center, California that features a waterfall and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from October until April. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

4.5 miles
990 feet

dogs on leash



nature trips

trail running




wild flowers


old growth



washed out

no dogs

Grapefruit Blvd (also Hwy 111), left on 66th Ave, which will transition to Box Canyon Rd., left on Painted Canyon Rd.

13 hours ago

Don’t be intimidated by the unpaved road leading to this trail. My Civic did it, no problem! As others have said, beware repeated car break-ins during the week :(

Watch for rocks forming arrows to the path and other clever helpful rock messages! Ladders are mostly safe and all very secure. I saw many families with children, but some struggled on the ladder parts.

Overall, lovely hike with somewhat tricky trail but beautiful and unique views!

9 days ago

It is a fun and easy hike. If you hike up the narrow canyon where the ladders are on your way back there is nothing but sand and gravel to walk back to the parking area.
There is a lot of shade in early morning or late afternoon.

14 days ago

Fun and challenging hike. Several latter's and small rock faces to ascend and descend on the loop. Make sure to go left at the trail post (wooden post on the right side of the trail maybe 10 minutes from the trail head, there will also be rock arrows on the ground pointing you into the rocks. It is much easier to ascend the latter that direction than descend.

22 days ago

Even though the park was packed because of thanksgiving, most people only hike to and from the ladders leaving the rest of the loop desolate and peaceful. Just follow the arrows and stacked rocks. Will definitely hike this one again

27 days ago

Start going left and get the hard part out of the way. The trail is amazing

29 days ago

Cool experience. I enjoyed myself

1 month ago


1 month ago

As an avid hiker for decades, this trail is easily in the top three due to its unique long super narrow meandering canyon trails. Very special hike. Do study the topography: Make sure your return path (clockwise loop) is planned such that the sun has not yet reached the final 1.8 mi canyon, or it will be very very hot, with risks of dehydration.

1 month ago

Love that hike

1 month ago

We drove in with a jeep after reading reviews but even saw a prius at the trailhead. It took us 3.5 hours to complete the full loop but we did make a wrong turn once and had to back track. The top has views of the Salton Sea and we definitely had to follow fellow hiker stacked rocks and arrows to navigate the otherwise unmarked trail. Some ladders are steep and tricky. I would not recommend hiking this alone and similar to other comments, bring a backpack with plenty of water. Phone signal is poor until you reach the top. We took some fun photos, the painted canyons were neat and well worth it. We hit 6 ladders up. looped around so only the first 2 ladders near the start on the way back down.

2 months ago

this was a great half-day trip for us.

the road getting in was washed out by a recent rain but we totally did it in 2 wheel drive or just recommend something with more ground clearance cuz there's some larger rocks but I definitely saw some smaller cars like Honda Accords and a Mercedes E-Class that made it in there and a Ford Mustang came in behind us.

if you're doing the ladders portion of the hike when you get to the top go right and follow the rock piles we made the mistake of going left and it brings you to the end of the Rope portion of the hike which is not so bad going up but it's a little scary going down

we went on 9/23/17

2 months ago

Such a beautiful place to hike through. The canyon was narrower than expect, but it gives it a little more excitement. You do walk on sand most of the way. I just went a few days ago and made it fine driving at 10mph in a Ford Focus. Follow the tire paths slowly, watch for rocks and holes and it's fine, I never felt the car even come close to getting stuck .

2 months ago

Awsome place you can make it with 2wd just drive slow my Corrella made it no problems.

3 months ago

I've seen several reviews on this app/site, as well as others, that suggest 2WD can certainly make it out to the trailhead by exercising caution at 5mph. I went ahead and ignored the "4WD Only" sign, trusting my fellow 2WD reviewers. We made it within 1/2 a mile of the trailhead (it's about 5 miles on the gravel/sand road - Painted Canyon Road). At that point I felt my wheel bury into the sand. I threw it in park and turned to my friends: "We're done. We're stuck." There were a few nearly successful attempts at getting out with one friend pushing. Unfortunately, I gassed it too hard and we got REALLY stuck - half the tire under sand/gravel. It took about 30 minutes of the one guy friend we had with us, digging the wheel out and shoving a flat rock/floor mats under the wheel to finally get us out. At that point we decided to just head back. We already had a full morning at Salton Sea and Salvation Mountain so we decided to call it a day. I'm sure the hike is beautiful. The canyon walls around us were certainly breathtaking. Just... bring 4WD with you...

3 months ago

Favorite hike in Southern California

3 months ago

Family of 4 (hubby, 12yo, 14yo and me). First canyon hike! Need to come back and do entire loop in more moderate temperature. Only got through ladder parts and turned around. Didn't finish because everyone was feeling too hot (97+ in shade at 9:30am) and decided to play it safe since we have several more days of vacation. Climbing ladders and boulders alot of fun for the boys and me. Hubby felt a bit claustrophobic...

5 months ago

Just made an account, but I enjoyed this hike on April 11 2017.

Dirt road, kinda bumpy but my car did fine at slower speeds.

Not much shade one out of the slots which is the 1st 1/3 of the hike.

6 months ago

This was an amazing hike. Loved hiking on the sandy trail The ladders didn't feel very stable but other than that super fun!!!!

7 months ago

Great hike, lots of fun, not too crowded. My girlfriend and I really enjoyed this one. We would label it as easy, but there are tricky parts to it. We found a secret path to the loop, so we ended up doing the hike twice, so we could see the main trail also. The secret path gets very narrow, so you have to be lean to make it through. I'm 5'11'' 170, so you don't have to be tiny:)

7 months ago

Great trail, absolutely worth the 4 mile washboards road in! My little Honda Insight made it through okay and I saw lots of other sedans in the parking lot too! Don't be scared by the 4 wheel drive sign!
Make sure you use the map once your out of the canyons! Looks like there are a lot of intersecting trails that can make it easy to get lost!

Load More