Are You Brave Enough to Hike Rope Canyon Trail?

Adventure Awaits Hikers On Rope Canyon Trail

The Rope Canyon Trail heads through a couple of slot canyons.

Adventure junkies rejoice – there is a day hike in the Coachella Valley that rivals both the thrill and the beauty of Arizona’s and Utah’s canyon country.

The Rope Canyon Trail, when combined with segments of a couple of other trails, features slot canyons, ladders, and four fixed-rope climbs on vertical walls. It runs about 2.4 miles in the Mecca Hills Wilderness.

To reach the trailhead, take Calif. Hwy. 111 to Mecca. Turn left/northeast onto Fourth Street then at the roundabout go right/southeast onto Hammond Road. After a couple of blocks, turn left/east onto 66th Avenue. As the street curves northeast, it naturally becomes Box Canyon Road. After crossing the canal, in a little more than a half-mile turn left/northwest onto the gravel Painted Canyon Road. That road can be sandy and sometimes is washed out; a four-wheel drive is recommended. Ultimately, the road winds into a canyon, ending at a sand parking lot.

From the lot, head northeast up the wash on the Painted Canyon Trail. At about 0.1 miles are several trees that hide a wash coming out of the northwest; look for a big orange arrow painted on the canyon wall. Turn onto this trail and head into the slot canyon. You’re now on the Rope Canyon Trail proper.

The slot canyons on the Rope Canyon Trail can be narrow.

The slot canyon is tight in this section, and you may need to take off your backpack to get through a few spots.

About 0.35 miles from the trailhead, you’ll reach the first of the trails’ obstacles, known as 3 Ropes. You’ll have to climb up the rock wall using the ropes or turn back.

One rope requires that you climb through a corkscrew wall. Getting into the vertical opening demands that you twist your body a little. A little farther up the slot canyon, you get to crawl underneath a large boulder.

At 0.55 miles is the highest rope climb, of 20 feet. Once atop it, the slot canyon ends.

Slot canyons form when rushing water cuts through rock, usually sandstone or limestone. Over millions of years, the water can expose the edges of cracks or faults in the rock, which are often caused by tectonic movement. The water then wears away the rock, creating deep but relatively narrow canyons.

Adventure Awaits Hikers On Rope Canyon Trail

The highest rope climb is 20 feet up a vertical wall out of the slot canyon.

The next two trails heading to the right/east take you atop the ridge. The first one is the quickest way to a lookout that sits at 855 feet above sea level. It offers a great view of the Mecca Hills wilderness with all of its water-carved canyons and ridgelines. If you do just the first connector trail and turn right/south atop the ridge, you’ll add 0.1 miles to the hike.

At the second of those connector trails to the ridge, you’re about 0.8 miles from the trailhead.

After those connectors to the ridge is a trail heading left/north. This trail dead ends deep in the Mecca Hills about 1.2 miles (one-way) away. It’s rarely used, so continue straight-right/northeast.

A trail crosses north-south on the northern side of the loop, at about 1.3 miles from the parking lot. Going south takes you to the ridge with the aforementioned lookout. Continue straight/east to stay on your route.

Adventure Awaits Hikers On Rope Canyon Trail

Several ladders on the loop’s east side take you through a second slot canyon.

About 1.4 miles in, a trail heads to the left/north, ascending the canyon to the ridge. Stay on the main trail by going right/southeast.

You’ll reach the Ladder Canyon Trail at 1.6 miles. Head right/southwest onto it. That takes you into a slot canyon that requires climbing down ladders at about 1.8 miles in.

While the two slot canyons are not as colorful as the famed Antelope Canyon of northern Arizona, both still are impressive with their swirling walls.

About 2 miles in, at a big rock pile, you’ll reach the Painted Canyon Trail. Go straight-right/southwest onto it. Doing so requires either scrambling down the rock pile or taking the last of the ladders.

This heads into the wash that leads back to the parking lot in 0.4 miles. It’s by far the easiest stretch of the hike.

Rope Canyon Trail topo map

The Rope Canyon Trail is not for beginner hikers, children, or those afraid of heights. It requires some upper body strength to make it up the ropes.

Travel light. A big backpack just makes climbing the ropes and ladders and weaving through the slot canyons all that more difficult. You also may want to bring some gloves along to prevent rope burn when climbing, and you’ll definitely need a topo map and plenty of water.

Morning during fall, winter and spring mark the best times to hike the trail. Do not hike this trail if rain has fallen during the past 24 hours or if it is forecast, as the canyon can quickly fill with water.



Image Sources

  • The Rope Canyon Trail heads through a couple of slot canyons.: Rob Bignell
  • The slot canyons on the Rope Canyon Trail can be narrow.: Rob Bignell
  • The highest rope climb is 20 feet up a vertical wall out of the slot canyon.: Rob Bignell
  • Several ladders on the loop’s east side take you through a second slot canyon.: Rob Bignell
  • High vertical walls mark the start of the Rope Canyon Trail.: Rob Bignell