The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to Mt. San Jacinto State Park

Desert Hot Springs, CA

From our site here in Desert Hot Springs we can see the edge of San Jacinto State Park, which has a number of hiking trails.  While the park is only about sixteen miles away, it is a bit difficult to get there.  The first fifteen miles are no problem, as you can drive on beautiful, flat roads.  But the last half mile goes six thousand feet up North America’s sheerest mountain face.  Even a Jeep can’t drive that!

So to get to the top we parked at the base of the mountain and boarded the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for a twelve minute ride almost straight up.  The ride begins in the Sonoran Desert and ends in an alpine forest.

The road into the canyon

Pay your $5 parking fee at the entrance

The unprecedented use of helicopters in the construction of four of the aerial tram’s five towers helped the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway earn a reputation as one of the greatest engineering feats ever accomplished.

The floor of the 18 foot diameter aerial tram cars rotates constantly, making two complete revolutions throughout the duration of the journey so that passengers can see in all directions without moving.  With a maximum capacity of 80 passengers it is the largest of the three rotating aerial trams in the world.

The tram rises rather rapidly and the operator announces the approach of each of the five towers because the car sways a bit as it crosses each one, giving an amusement ride feeling to the passengers.

The car is a bit crowded and we had to stand toward the middle away from the window, limiting the view as we went up.  But there is an observation deck at the top that has a fantastic view that makes up for any views blocked on the ride up.

Looking south toward Palm Springs

The view north toward Desert Hot Springs

Looking down toward the base of the tram

A zoom of the base of the tram

The temperature at the parking area was a warm seventy degrees.  When we arrived at the top it was a crisp thirty-seven!

This is never a good sign!

The large building at the top contains two restaurants, one of which features fine dining, a gift shop, and meeting rooms.  But we were not there for the “fine dining,” we were there to hike one of the trails.  So after checking out the views we exited the building and walked a quarter of a mile down a paved, winding path that leads to a small ranger station.

The twisting path to the ranger station

The small ranger station

A hike of any distance requires a permit, so we stopped at the ranger station to complete one.  There is no fee for a permit but you leave one copy at the ranger station before you begin, then you drop off a second copy when you return so the rangers know you made it back.

We chose the Round Valley Loop Trail, a nice four and half mile loop through the pine forest.  The hike includes fairly level trails, short climbs, and is considered moderately strenuous.

The trailhead

There was a light dusting of snow on most of the trail which added to the beauty of our surroundings.

For someone not acclimated to the cold it was a bit “chilly” unless we were in sunlight.  Even with light gloves our hands were cold!

Pine cones up here are super-sized

Once we completed the hike we had to climb that quarter mile back up the paved path to the tram center.  But the elevation gain and the warm sun helped us recover from the cold of the pine forest.

Even if you don’t want to do any hiking we would recommend taking the tram ride to the top.  Ticket prices are a bit steep (that’s a tram pun!) at almost $25 each, but the experience is unforgettable.

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27 Responses to The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to Mt. San Jacinto State Park

  1. Sue says:

    Thank you, once again, for showing me something that I most certainly never will see on my own…

  2. Wow the parking fee is new! And that’s on top of the steep fee to ride the tram!

    I hope you get to hike to the top of San Jacinto some day, it is one of the easiest 10,000+foot peaks to bag (11 miles round trip). Looks like you had a gorgeous, though cold, day on the trail. I sure wouldn’t want to sit under one of those pine trees and get knocked out by one of those monster pine cones!

    • placestheygo says:

      Someday maybe we will make it back before the time change and can hike to the top. But once is all we can do now. With the first tram starting so late, I don’t believe anyone could make the hike before dark. Yes, it is a little pricey to begin with then add a parking fee!! Gee!! But it was worth it to be able to do a nice winter hike knowing it was in the 70’s below:)

  3. Deb D. says:

    Did you have an itch to put that yellow shovel in your hands just for nostalgia?

  4. pmbweaver says:

    Paul wanted to do that Aerial Tramway, but I just couldn’t. I told him to go ahead, but he just can’t leave my side. What fabulous views. Now I really don’t have to go up. I know exactly how it is going to look.

    Egads…I didn’t know it rotated! Snow on the trail…I don’t think so.

    • placestheygo says:

      We did see several people waiting below as their friends and family wrote the tram to the top. So you would have had company as Paul took the trip up:) But we were happy to take several of our friends up in the tram with us so they could enjoy the ride from their sofa:)

      The snow on the trail was actually so pretty. It was a beautiful hike. I’ve been wanting to do a winter hike and I finally got to do it:)

  5. explorvistas says:

    That’s funny about the shovel! If you see a snowblower, take the next tram down! 🙂
    Thanks for the tour, you two. We will remember to pack our Michigan mittens if we head up there. 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, your mittens will occasionally come in handy for high elevation hikes this time of year:) It is worth the chill to have the trail to yourself. Glad you enjoyed the tour:)

  6. Sherry says:

    Wow from desert to the alpine in an amazing tram. How cool – HA! I can imagine you would be cold up there after being in the desert even hiking but what fun. Are those ponderosa pine cones? Love the foot comparison.

    • placestheygo says:

      It was a wonderful change, Sherry! And I loved being able to hike in the snow knowing it would only last for a few hours:) I am not sure what type pine tree the cones came from but I don’t believe it was a Ponderosa. The Ponderosa cones are smaller from the trees we’ve seen.

  7. Laurel says:

    Whoa — that view from the tram is a LONG way down!! Looks like it was worth the trip and fees for such a gorgeous hike. That’s one to put on our list — but like you said, to do the entire hike we would need more daylight hours. Let’s hike San Jacinto someday together! p.s. I think your mystery cones are from sugar pines. 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      So glad you knew what the pine was!! Thanks! The cones are so cool, but there were signs all over saying you couldn’t gather them:( Put us on your list, also, with that hike:)

  8. The tram ride is so cool so are the views up there. I took so many airport pictures from the top as we were there during Steve’s flying days. I think those paved path is new and no we did not hike then, for we were just the normal sightseer at that time.
    At least your 37 deg is just for a few hours, here in Prescott that is our morning temps and never raise above 50. Crazy temps, and we will get out of here soon.

  9. Gay says:

    WOW! What a beautiful day…love the tram ride, the views, the dusting of snow, the bright blue sky, hiking in 37 degrees…all things I am enjoying thru you and your lens!

    The tram reminds me so much of the one we rode in Albuquerque.

  10. Lenore says:

    The prices aren’t the only thing that was steep! Their parking lot suprisingly almost did me in!

  11. Janna says:

    That’s quite the temperature change! And I bet John did “get the shakes” when he saw the snow shovel!

  12. Imkelina says:

    I have just begun reading your Blog and really enjoy your detailed descriptions and photos, especially of your hiking adventures. I JUST retired from teaching this past fall …it is wonderful! Here I sit on a Monday morning looking for boondocking spots near Joshua Tree NP instead of working on end of first trimester assessments and report cards … Awesome!!!
    Anyway we are headed to Joshua Tree in two weeks and wonder if you have any suggestions for good boondocking places near the Park. We might make our way to Sam’s for a few days after. If you are still around, it would be fun to meet you both and talk story!!

    • placestheygo says:

      Congratulations on your retirement! Isn’t it wonderful to see those big yellow buses driving around and you aren’t following! And this is a time of year I will never miss…yes, choosing a boondocking spot sounds so much better than report cards! I wish we could be more help with your boondocking near Joshua Tree, but we don’t boondock except for a few days when we are in the Borrego Springs area. It looks like we be two ship passing in the night…we will be leaving this area in less than two week and heading to Borrego Springs. Do let us know if we are in another area near you, though:) Thanks so much for you comment:)

  13. Jodee Gravel says:

    Thanks for taking us along from our warm and level sofas! I think the class of “72 had their prom at the top of the tram 🙂 It really is beautiful up there, maybe I could just close my eyes in the middle of the tram for 12 minutes?

    • placestheygo says:

      How cool to have a prom up on top. The view down with the lights would be so neat. If you stood in the middle of the tram you might be all right. The tram does sway a little when it goes by the five towers. The person in control does warn you prior. I’m not sure if that would bother you. But it would be worth the trip. At least you got to go up once from your sofa:)

  14. Zsuzsa Klush says:

    My very first ride up there was in Aug. ’92 with my brother and I was so surprised how cool it was up there should have taken a jacket but down below was 110 F. The ride & dine fare was only $6 then. Great pictures you took. Tom and I really enjoyed happy hour with you two ! Enjoy your stay. Z.

    • placestheygo says:

      This is definitely the place to go if you live in this area in the summer! I can understand why you can get a summer pass on the tram:) You can still get the ride and dine but I believe it is more like $35 now!! Glad we could get together and finally meet:)

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