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