The small modernized desert town of Palm Springs, California, is home to the world’s largest rotating cable car, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, where visitors can enjoy a thrilling 2.5 mile ride to the top of the San Jacinto Mountain, which is also a registered California State Park.
History of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The Palm Spring Aerial Tramway opened in 1963 and connected the floor of the Coachella Valley to the top of Mount San Jacinto.
The Tramway was first suggested in 1935 by electrical engineer Francis F. Crocker during a trip to Banning, California with The Desert Sun newspaper publisher Carl Barkow. During the heat of the day, Crocker looked toward the snow-capped, 10,804 ft (3,293 m) high peak of Mount San Jacinto and planned a connective transportation method to allow visitors to access one of Southern California’s highest peaks. Crocker’s planned to build a sturdy tramway to the peak which were shelved for a number of years until after World War II and the Korean War.
Construction eventually started in 1960, with helicopters used to lower mechanical parts into place. Parts of the mountain were exploded to make room for the complicated network of mechanics.
In 2000, the original aerial-tram cars were replaced by the new rotating shells and the original aerial-tram cars are now on static display near the entrance to the Valley Station.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is one of only three rotating cable cars in the world, alongside the Titlis Rotair in Switzerland and the gondola at Table Mountain in South Africa. The journey upward starts at the Valley Station and ends at the Mountain Station. Visitors can hike further upward on a 5 mile hiking trail to the peak of Mount San Jacinto.
The Valley Station
The Valley Station, where visitors board the tram, has lots of fun features as well as the cash registers where you pay for a ride to the top. Prices of the Palm Springs Aerial tramway are $23.95 for an adult, $16.95 for Child and $22.95 for Senior tickets. Annual and Summer passes can also be purchased at discounted rates (check the Palm Springs Tramway website for up to date information)
There is a vast amount of information on the walls that detail the tramway’s history inside the Valley Station and the story of Chino Canyon itself. There is a gift store within the Valley Station and on site rangers who will assist with any queries. Restrooms and complimentary filtered water dispensers can also be found inside. The Valley Station is free to enter and visitors can enjoy windows with a view of the trams, a cafe, and an old school tram outside the entrance to the building that was historically used during the first rides of the Tram back in the 1960s.
Popp Park is outdoors and is located at the bottom of the Tramway at the back of the Valley Station. It is definitely worth having a walk around here while you are waiting for your tram calling. Johnson Falls is a beautiful waterfall right by the Valley Station building, where a statue of a round horned goat can be seen. The round horned goat is a rare sight on the mountain so keep an eye out while you are exploring or hiking.
Rattlesnakes have been spotted in Popp Park, particularly by Johnson Falls, so pay attention to where you are stepping!
The outdoor observation deck has a telescope available, allowing visitors to watch the tram as it inclines right the way up to the Mountain Station.
The deck offers a great view of the departing trams as they start their twelve minute journey.
Your group will be called on a loud speaker when it is time to make way to the waiting area for boarding so listen carefully if you are exploring the Valley.
The twelve and a half minute journey to the top takes visitors right by the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon.
The two tram cars rotate slowly as they take up to 80 people to the Mountain Station at the top. The trams rotate twice during the journey giving a panoramic experience to all passengers.
The Mountain Station
There are two restaurants at the Mountain Station along with observation decks, a natural history museum, two documentary theaters, a gift shop, two eateries and over 50 miles of hiking trails in the State park outside. The park rangers will assist with the trail routes and current weather conditions.
Mount San Jacinto State ParkThe Mount San Jacinto State Park encompasses the summit of Mount San Jacinto, which at 10,834 feet (3,302 m) is the second highest peak and mountain range in Southern California. The State Park lies on the Pacific Crest Trail which runs right through from Mexico to Canada.
Incredible unspoiled wilderness can be found within the park, free trail maps can be obtained from the information desk within the Mountain Station gift shop. There is a trail for everyone at the Mount San Jacinto State Park but there is a steep decline into the start of the trails, which means a steep incline when you make your way back to the Mountain Station!
After mistakenly wearing flip flops and shorts, we opted for the two flat routes which had moderately difficult terrain. We were also at the mountain at the time the area was experiencing the worst high winds in a long time.
The view points are divided into ‘Nothches’, each providing a slighlty different perspective on the valley below.
The view point at Notch 5 was rocky and a small climb was necessary to see the desert towns below.
In high winds, we were hit with debris from the ground and surrounding trees, be cautious and always speak to Park Rangers if you’re not well equipped.
There are thousands of acres of unspoiled wilderness at the top of the mountain and back-country hiking is allowed with a permit from the U.S. Forest Service.
- The biggest mistake we made was not checking the weather conditions! We visited on a day of strong high winds and we also turned up fip flops, which is a bad idea at any time of the year given the almost freezing conditions at the top throughout the year. We were surprised to see snow in April and we were only able to hike the shorter flat Nature Trail which is a 2 mile loop.
- If you have a fear of heights, stand in the middle of the cable car beside the operator.
- When the tram rotates, there is nothing to hold onto on the outer edges other than a rotating bar which is difficult to grab.
- Speak to the rangers for information on weather conditions and trails.
- Take water, snacks, warm clothing and good hiking shows
There is only one road in and out to the Tramway and it’s called ‘The Tram Way’!
We took an Uber from downtown Palm Springs (the Hilton Hotel) and it cost around $14 each way. The entrance to the Tramway is further than we imagined it to be, but the ride was beautiful and scenic!
Get a free Uber ride by clicking this link (new customers only).
There is plenty of parking at the Valley Station and a free shuttle bus that will take you right to the entrance point.
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