Apr 25, 2017
6 0

Take the world’s largest rotating cable car to the peak of Mt. San Jacinto

Written by

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.

Mount San Jacinto, Palm Springs, California

Snow-capped Mount San Jacinto

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.

Mount San Jacinto tram cables, Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

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.

Hiking path trail San Jacinto State Park, Palm Springs, California

Complex construction started in 1960

Once the complex tramway was completed and the Valley and Mountain Stations were constructed, the only way to deliver supplies and water to the top of the mountain was via the aerial-tram cars themselves. Supplies were loaded into the passenger area before the doors were opened to visitors and fresh water is pumped into storage tanks in the car’s underbelly. This process hasn’t changed since 1963.
Rotating cable car, Palm Springs, California

The newer cable cars

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.
Original Tram Palm Springs tramway, California

The original cable car

The Journey

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.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway journey
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)

Tram fares, Palm Springs tramway, California

Prices of the tramway (2017)

Once you have paid the fare for your tram, you will be given a ticket with an assigned group number and an estimated time of calling. We waited around 25 minutes on a busy day, which allowed us to explore the Valley Station and everything it has to offer.
Popp Park, Palm Springs tramway, California

Popp park at the Valley Station

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.

Info board, Chino Canyon, Palm Springs tram, California

Informative boards in the Valley Station

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
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.

Johnson Falls, Palm Springs tramway waterfall, California

Johnson Falls

Guests of Popp Park can explore interactive wildlife information cards and informative displays that are scattered around the small trail starting right by the observation deck and shaded seating area.
Bobcat information cards, Palm Springs tramway, California

Look out for wildlife

Rattlesnakes have been spotted in Popp Park, particularly by Johnson Falls, so pay attention to where you are stepping!
Rattlesnakes sign, Popp park, Palm Springs tramway, California

Mind your feet in the area

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.
Observation deck Palm Springs Tramway, California

Enjoy the views from the Valley 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.
Boarding area, Palm Springs tramway, California. USA

Ready to board the tram?

The Tram
The twelve and a half minute journey to the top takes visitors right by the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon.

Palm Springs tram way, California

The beautiful scenery of Chino Canyon

Passengers inside the tram can enjoy spectacular views of Palm Springs and surrounding towns in the Coachella valley as the cable car inclines to 8516 ft. The tram rotates so bare this in mind if you are standing at the edge by the window, the bar you will be holding on to does not rotate, only the inside of the cable car rotates. Stand well back and enjoy the ride.

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.

Peak Palm Springs tram way, snow, California

Be prepared for the cold at the top!

A video focusing of the history of the Palm Springs Tramway and Mt. San Jacinto plays continuously in documentary theaters at the Mountain Station, we recommend seeing this before embarking on a hike.
San Jacinto Theater, Palm Springs, California

One of the documentary theaters

Mount San Jacinto State Park

Hiking path trail San Jacinto State Park, Palm Springs, California

One of the California State Parks

The 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.
Hiking trail san jacinto state park palm springs california

Lots of hiking trails

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!
Hikers San Jacinto State Park, Palm Springs, California

Enjoy hiking in the wilderness

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.

Desert View Trail, San Jacinto State Park, California

The Desert View trail

The Desert View loop and the Nature View trail have many incredible view points looking back down to the Coachella Valley.

Notch 5 san jacinto state park palm springs california

The view points are divided into ‘Nothches’, each providing a slighlty different perspective on the valley below.
View point desert view trail san jacinto state park, palm springs, california The view point at Notch 5 was rocky and a small climb was necessary to see the desert towns below.
Notch desert view trail san jacinto state park, palm springs, california 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.

Wilderness at San Jacinto State Park, Palm Springs, California

Wonderful trees line the trails

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.
Service trail, San Jacinto State Park, Palm Springs, California

The Service trail

Top Tips

  • 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
Hiking in flip flops, San Jacinto State Park, California

Don’t wear flip flops!

Getting there

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.

Palm Springs Aerial tramway shuttle, California

Free shuttle bus if you’re driving

Like it? Pin it!

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, things to do in California, USA

Article Categories:
California · Palm Springs · USA

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of
Menu Title