High above the Coachella Valley on the west end of Palm Springs sits Mount San Jacinto State Park. Unless you are up for a long hike with a 6000 foot elevation gain, the best way to get up is the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway!
A local’s dream since the 1930’s, the tram was completed in 1963 and offers a 10 minute ride from the valley floor, elevation 2600 feet, to the mountain top at 8500 feet. There are two tram cars which operate every 20 minutes in each direction. Each car can hold up to 80 people, but our cars had about 40 people in them and seemed pretty full to us. The cars themselves rotate all the way up the mountain and all the way back down, so you’re guaranteed a 360° view of the mountain and the valley! Whether you are looking down towards Palm Springs and across the valley, at the Chino Canyon below you, or up to the mountaintop, the scenery is fantastic.
The ride is smooth with only a slight wobble as the cars go up and over each of the five towers — just enough for a little thrill and a lot of people saying woohoo on the tram. Those afraid of heights may want to stand more in the middle of the car rather than near the windows!
At the top of the mountain, you can take a look at the photos the tramway personnel snapped of you before you got on the tram. The photos are very professional looking, with the tram as a background. In the main indoor area, there are a gift shop, a bar, a café, and a nice restaurant. We bought a simple lunch from the café and ate it out on the patio overlooking the valley. Until, that is, the wind flipped our whole salad upside down! Luckily it flipped into its own lid. After that we enjoyed the views and the rest of our lunch from just inside the building!
On the front side of the building is a deck which offers telescopes and fantastic views of the valley. A short trail leads up from the building to a great viewpoint and photo spot. Out the back doors of the building are another deck and a trail that leads down to some picnic tables (complete with hungry squirrels and Steller’s Jays — you’ve been warned!), and several hiking trails. The state park has a visitor center out back as well. Unfortunately it was closed the day we were there.
We took the 1.5 mile loop trail which passes by five notches in the rocks, each offering different valley views. The trail wanders through a Jeffrey Pine forest, complete with a variety of birds, squirrels, lizards, and, supposedly, other wildlife such as coyotes and mountain lions! It smelled incredible up in the forest and the views were very striking. Looking across the valley really hammered home the need to conserve water in desert areas!
Temperatures atop the mountain are generally 30° cooler than they are on the valley floor. The day we went up the tram it was pushing 90° in Palm Springs but only hit 58° on the mountaintop. Since it was such a sunny day, it still felt quite warm, especially on our hike. However, when that wind blows it can cool you down in a hurry! We were glad to have light jackets with us. In the winter there’s even snow up top, so be sure you check ahead and dress accordingly.
If you’re looking for a way to beat the heat, experience a completely different ecosystem, experience a bit of a thrill ride, or do some hiking without the possibility of heatstroke, check out the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and Mount San Jacinto State Park. The tram is open year-round and offers a summer pass, dinner packages, and twilight rates. Walk-up tickets are available even on days when online tickets have sold out!
We would like to thank the Palm Springs tramway for giving us the opportunity to enjoy this unique experience! We really enjoyed it and recommend it to those looking for a fun diversion — or a cooler hike — while visiting the valley.
What hidden gems have you discovered at your travel destinations? Leave us a note in the comments and enjoy your week or your weekend!
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. All comments and opinions are our own. This is being disclosed in accordance with the FTC’s guidelines.