Though it has been on my wife’s bucket list for years, I hadn’t really thought much about taking the tramway up the mountainside overlooking Palm Springs and Palm Desert. I knew it was there, but it just didn’t seem that interesting. When we were camping with our 5th wheel in the Palm Desert area, Nadyne insisted and I agreed, reluctantly. I couldn’t have been more impressed.
The description on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is listed on the VisitPalmSprings.com website:
“The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway—the world’s largest rotating tram car—travels over two-and-one-half miles along the cliffs of Chino Canyon, transporting visitors to the pristine wilderness of the Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area. During this ten-minute journey, tram cars rotate slowly, offering spectacular vistas of the valley below.”
I was intrigued and we purchased tickets online. Interestingly, the price on Groupon matched the price on the Tramway’s site. We paid $25.95 per person (there’s another $2 off for 65+) and an additional $8 for parking once we arrived. We chose the 3pm ride so that we could get both daytime and night views (and photos). Speaking of parking, the climb to the main entrance from parking lot A practically requires the legs and equipment of a mountain climber. We were sore for a couple of days just from that climb.
Once checked in, we sat in a waiting room until the next tram arrived. The capacity of the gondola is 24 passengers, plus the “pilot,” and trams come and go in 15-minute intervals, with the normal daily schedule up the mountain running from 10am to 8pm. The last tram down is at 9:45pm -- don’t miss that one or you’ll be spending the night.
The incline is as steep as advertised, with the Mountain Station sitting at a cool 8,516 feet, compared to Palm Springs below at 479 feet. The ride was smooth but as we passed each tower there was a bit of sway, making some stomachs queasy. Once at the Station, which is built in three levels, visitors can choose to sit in two small theaters to watch film shorts about the San Jacinto National Forest or about the construction of the Tramway. You may enjoy a drink, meal or snack in the café, bar or restaurant, or shop in the gift boutique. Many venture outside to take in the spectacular views of the mountain range behind the Station or of the Coachella Valley below. As a photographer, naturally I wanted shots of all I could see.
You can also choose to make the Mountain Station a jump-off point to hike or camp in the national forest. There are cement ramps part way down the canyon behind the Station that lead to trails, but people also brought sleds and disks to enjoy the snowy hillsides nearby.
After taking a few shots on both sides of the multi-level platform, we decided to enjoy a snack at the café to wait until sunset. Caution: pricing will remind you of movie theater cuisine. You may bring food and drinks with you up the Tramway, but you can’t picnic in the café seating area. My craft beer was around $10 and our order of fries was $8.50.
Sunset wasn’t exactly breathtaking, since the sun was still high in the sky when it went behind the mountain ridge to the south, but it was still enjoyable. Soon the light from all the small towns in the valley were getting brighter. From 8,500 feet, the sight was amazing!
We are both grateful we took the time to explore this unexpected pleasure and highly recommend that visitors to the Coachella Valley take an afternoon or evening to enjoy this unique venue.
Official website: https://www.pstramway.com/
Jack Huber is a novelist with 7 mysteries published, along with several books of poetry and photography. Now retired, he and his wife, Nadyne, are free to travel the country in their 32' 5th wheel and 1-ton Ford pickup.