One of my favorite things to do this time of year is to take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway from the Palm Springs desert floor to the top of the San Jancinto Mountains—an almost 6,000 foot change in elevation (and 30 to 40 degrees cooler!). You’ll travel two and a half miles in 15 minutes (one way)—crossing over five distinct vegetation zones (the botanical equivalent of going from Canada to Mexico), slowly rotating 360 degrees the whole while—on the world’s largest rotating tramcars, taking in all of the views around and beneath. And the fun is only just beginning, once atop the pinnacle overlooking the glory of the desert, you can enjoy dining, hiking, guided wilderness walks and more.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is one of only three rotating aerial tramways in the world, the other two being Mt. Titlis in Engelberg, Switzerland, and Table Mountain in South Africa’s Capetown. The Tram opened on September 14, 1963, and more than 12 million people have been safely carried by the Tramway into the majestic mountains and pristine wilderness overlooking the Coachella Valley. The Tramway is located at One Tramway Road, Palm Springs.
One you step out of the car, you’ll enter a beautiful welcome station—and beyond awaits the beautiful landscape and mountains of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. The National Monument was established by an Act of Congress in 2000 “in order to preserve the nationally significant biological, cultural, recreational, geological, educational, and scientific values found in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains and to secure now and for future generations the opportunity to experience and enjoy the magnificent vistas, wildlife, land forms, and natural and cultural resources in these mountains.”
These mountains are a virtual Mecca for hikers. Many of the monument’s beautiful hiking trails begin at the top of the Tram and extend over the San Jacinto Mountains all the way to the alpine village of Idyllwild. This overland hike from top of the Tram to Idyllwild just happens to be my personal favorite hike—ever!
I had the pleasure of doing this a number of years ago with a dear friend. We took the tram to the top and hiked the ten and a half miles overland through the San Jacinto Wilderness to the darling village of Idyllwild. It was a gorgeous hike—challenging but not too much so—and the vistas along the way were worth every step! We’d arranged for her husband to meet us in Idyllwild and we rendezvoused at the delicious Café Aroma—rewarding our day of hiking with scrumptious pasta and red wine.
If you go: Keep in mind the temperature at the top of the Tram can be 30 – 40 degrees cooler than the desert floor, so check the weather before you go and dress appropriately (and bring sunscreen regardless). A Wilderness Permit is required for any backpacking or hiking in the Wilderness (requests for advance permit may be made in person or in writing). And bring your binoculars, camera, smartphone, etc.—these are sights you’ll want to take in and record for posterity!
Hours of Operation: Cars depart at least every half hour.
Monday-Friday: first Tram up 10am
Saturday, Sunday & Holidays: first Tram up 8am;
Sunday-Thursday: last Tram up 8pm and last Tram down 9:45pm;
Friday & Saturday: last Tram up 9pm and last Tram down 10:30pm.