One of the most popular things to do in Palm Springs began as one man’s idea in 1935. With average high temperatures in the Palm Springs area ranging from 100 – 110 degrees during the summer, electrical engineer, Francis F. Crocker dreamed up a way for people to enjoy the cooler temperatures at the top of Mount San Jacinto. Temperatures there were up to 30 degrees cooler than in the valley. In the winter, the mountains even have snow.  As one of the highest points in the area, it would provide an ideal spot to look out on the Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea and beyond.  Though his idea received widespread local support, the idea was not very popular in the rest of California. Work began in 1950 on designs for what would be called the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

The Palm Springs Tram was built for $8.5 million using money raised from private revenue bonds so public money would not have to be spent for the project. Noted mid-century modern architects, Albert Frey, Robson C. Chambers and E. Stewart Williams designed the stations for the Tramway. Although the view from the Tramway as it travels up the side of the mountain is amazing, it was a very challenging project to build. The Palm Springs Tram and stations at the top of Mount San Jacinto took 26 months to finish. During that time helicopters had to be used to carry workers and materials to the top. Over 23,000 trips helicopter trips were made. Most of the heavy towers supporting the tramway were also lifted into place by helicopters, since the first tower is the only one which can be reached by road.

Palm Springs Tram car travelling down the mountain.Credit: PixieclipxCredit: Pixieclipx

Ride the World Largest Rotating Tram Cars in Palm Springs

The project was finished during Crocker’s lifetime. He took his first official ride on the Tramway September 14, 1963 and enjoyed his creation for many years until his death in 1992. In 2000, the world’s largest rotating tram cars were installed during a modernization program. Although, Switzerland and South Africa also have trams with rotating cars, the cars for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway are the world’s largest. The cars rotate 360 degrees as they travel up the mountain, allowing all riders to take in the view from every direction. An original tram car is on display at the entrance.  To date, over 13 million people have ridden on this popular Palm Springs attraction.

The unique natural setting at the top of Mount Jacinto received special protection from Congress. In 2000, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument was created to protect this irreplaceable area for generations. With this protected status, visitors will be able to enjoy the amazing views, wildlife and natural environment the mountains have to offer for years to come. The Monument includes Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness and the monument’s extensive hiking trails begin at the top of the Tram, stretching over the San Jacinto Mountains, all the way to Idyllwild. The National Monument includes 272,000 acres. The granite peak of Mount San Jacinto stands 10,834 feet above sea level.

Snow in Palm Springs??Credit: BosscoCredit: Bossco

Cool Off and Enjoy Outdoor Activities in Palm Springs

The trip up the mountain can be a great way to escape the summer heat in Palm Springs, but the temperatures at the top can be as much as 30 degrees cooler than the temperature on the valley floor. Be sure to bring a jacket or sweater during the summer months. In the summer, you can enjoy a Guided Nature Walk led by a volunteer. You can also get a hiking permit at the Long Valley Ranger Station and explore the area on your own. 5 primitive campsites offer the opportunity for an overnight stay for a small charge. While people visit Palm Springs in winter to enjoy warm weather, visitors can enjoy snow at the top of Mount Jacinto during the winter. Winter activities include snowshoeing, cross country skiing and snow camping. The Adventure Center rents equipment for these activities.

Although 54 miles of hiking trails begin just outside the door of Mountain Station, hiking isn’t the only way to pass the time after reaching the top. Visitors can enjoy a picnic at tables outside. An observation deck offers a spot to relax and take in the spectacular view. Buy gifts and souvenirs at shops in Mountain Valley Station and Valley Station. You can also find a good selection of books about the surrounding area. Or you might want to buy a souvenir photo to remember your Palm Springs Aerial Tramway experience. An interpretive center provides information about the natural history of Mount San Jacinto. You can also watch movies to learn more about the history of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. 

Enjoying the glow of the moon at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.Credit: BosscoCredit: Bossco

Mountainside Dining with the Ultimate View

A few dining options provide a place to refuel and enjoy the incredible views. Once you reach the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, you can choose from the Pines Café, Peaks Restaurant or Lookout Lounge. For fine dining and views of the Coachella Valley, Peaks Restaurant serves lunch and dinner. The chefs prepare fresh vegetables grown right in the Valley and serve fresh baked breads from local bakeries, along with entrees featuring beef, chicken, fresh seafood or pasta. The restaurant offers a selection of decadent desserts and a children’s menu. Reservations are recommended, with the final seating for dinner at 7:30 p.m. Visitors can also enjoy a variety of menu items, served cafeteria-style, at the Pines Café. The lounge features a full-service bar and appetizers. 

If you’re looking for things to do in Palm Springs, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway should be at the top of your list. While the ride up the side of Chino Canyon takes only 10 minutes, it’s just the start of an unforgettable experience you can enjoy in any season.  Triple A members can receive a discount on Palm Spring Tram tickets. Annual passes and Ride and Dine tickets offer other ways to save on this Palm Springs area attraction. Whether you enjoy hiking, sightseeing, fine dining or a family picnic, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway offers a perfect way to spend a day (or night) in Palm Springs.

Deer grazing at the top of Mount Jacinto.Credit: BosscoCredit: Bossco
Mt. Jacinto casts a huge shadow over the valley floor.Credit: BosscoCredit: Bossco