Francis Crocker’s vision for the Aerial Tramway first came about in the mid-1930s, although construction didn’t commence until 1960. Helicopters undertook more than 20,000 missions to deposit materials and workers on the mountain during the 26 months of construction. Since then, this engineering wonder has carried over 12 million visitors to the lofty heights of San Jacinto Mountain.
Although the actual ride from the floor of the Coachella Valley to the San Jacinto Mountain Station lasts just over 10 minutes, exploring this area deserves at least a few hours: the many hikes and views waiting at the top are sublime.
As you make the 5,873-foot (1,790-meter) ascent, the tram car completes two slow revolutions, providing a 360-degree panoramic view of the area. To the east, you’ll see Palm Springs and the Joshua Tree National Park. To the north are San Bernardino National Park and the San Gorgonio Mountain.
When disembarking at the Mountain Station, a viewing platform provides further photo opportunities. On a clear day, you’ll see the Salton Sea to the southeast, and possibly as far as Las Vegas and Mount Charleston to the north.
For lunch or dinner, make a reservation at the Peaks Restaurant atop the mountain. There are spectacular views and the fine dining menu includes fresh produce sourced from the Coachella Valley below. There’s also a nice children’s menu. For something more informal, grab a coffee and snack in the adjoining Pines Café.
During the busy warmer months, it’s advisable to buy tickets for the tram in advance from the website. The downside is that tickets are for a specific day and non-transferable, which may not be ideal if the weather is disagreeable.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Valley Station is a four-mile (6.5-kilometer) drive west of central Palm Springs. Free parking is available. The attraction is open daily (including holidays), with a tram car departing every half-hour.