Mecca Hill Leads to Rare Slot Canyon Cave Trail

Day hikers can explore slot canyons reminiscent of Utah or Arizona right in California’s Coachella Valley.

The Slot Canyon Cave Trail runs 6.5 miles round trip in the Mecca Hills Wilderness Area. It gains 100 feet in elevation so is fairly flat.

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, head left/east onto 66th Avenue. As the street curves northeast, it naturally becomes Box Canyon Road. After crossing the canal, in 3 miles look for a flat, hard-packed dirt on the left; about 50 yards from the road are boulders aligned to keep vehicles from going into the canyon. Park off the road here.

Hiking Slot Canyon Cave Trail

Canyon walls appear to be lined with ancient columns and pediments in Big Colorful Canyon.

The hike begins in Big Colorful Canyon. Compared to other canyons in the Mecca Hills, Big Colorful is an easy walk as flooding has removed much of the sand.

At 0.25 miles in, Pyramid Canyon is to the right. Continue left into the wider Big Colorful Canyon.

The strata in this part of the Mecca Hills badlands is sharply uplifted. The result is multiple layers of rocks in a variety of colors visible on the canyon walls.

At 0.8 miles, turn right/northeast into a narrow canyon. You’re now on the Slot Canyon Cave Trail proper. This is not the trail’s official Bureau of Land Management name but was christened by previous hikers who explored the Mecca Hills.

Hiking Slot Canyon Cave Trail

Water has washed away most of the sand on the Slot Canyon Cave Trail, making for a smooth walk.

The trail quickly opens up. Scenic formations rise above on the canyon walls.

At 1.3 miles, you’ll reach a spot where the canyon’s right wall collapsed. Though debris covers the entire canyon floor, you can negotiate it by staying on the left.

Another slide appears at 1.8 miles. After that, the canyon divides. Go right/northeast.

The trail follows several narrowing curves that form a slot canyon.

Slot canyons – in which the canyon is extremely deep but usually no wider than three or so feet – are rare geological formations. They often feel like caves with windows of sunlight when the canyon briefly widens. Among the more famous slot canyons are the Narrows in Utah’s Zion National Park and Antelope Canyon on the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona.

Hiking Slot Canyon Cave Trail

Slot canyons form when rushing water digs deep trenches through sandstone or limestone.

Such canyons form over millions of years when water from rainstorms rush through titled rock, usually sandstone or limestone, which easily erode compared to granite and basalt. Rocks and sand caught up in the fast-moving water carve out the walls while digging a deeper trench.

The slot canyon ends when it reaches a large cave-like chamber created when the walls collapsed. No flashlight is needed to see in the cave.

After taking in the cave, head back to where the canyon split. Another slot canyon awaits on the other wash; turn right/northeast onto it.

Hiking Slot Canyon Cave Trail

Slot Canyon Cave Trail topo map

Once you’ve completed the hike up that canyon, retrace your steps back to your vehicle.

Much of the trail lacks shade, so be sure to don sunscreen, sunglasses and sunhat. Never hike this trail if rain is forecast or has fallen within the past 48 hours or you may be caught in a flashflood.



Image Sources

  • 02-Canyon-Wallsd-800×568-1: Rob Bignell
  • 03-Water-Washed-Away-Most-Sand-800×568-1: Rob Bignell
  • 04-Slot-Canyons-Form-With-Rushing-Water-800×568-1: Rob Bignell
  • 05-Slot-Canyon-Cave-Trail-topo-map-800×568-1: Rob Bignell
  • Slot Canyon Cave Trail: Rob Bignell