Palm Springs Aerial Tramway: A Must-Try Experience

Mountain Station

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Ahh, Palm Springs! It’s a place of contrasts- hot weather, cool vibes, desert sun, and a shaded oasis. On our Palm Springs adventure, we decided to escape the heat and experience the cool mountaintop air. We were treated to an incredible ride and dinner by Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels. This was absolutely amazing, and we are so happy to have been able to enjoy this experience!

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway: A Must-Try Experience

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a fun and unique experience, and it’s the main way to visit Mount San Jacinto State Park.

Base Station

We arrived at the newly restored Valley Station and were greeted by Mr. Greg Purdy, VP of marketing & public affairs. He took us through a very cool interactive museum, where you can see a movie about the construction of this engineering marvel back in 1963. Did you know it took approximately 22,000 helicopter trips to build the tram? 

We also learned that the original tram cars were in use from 1963 until the new rotating cars were installed in 2000. On average, the tram cars are replaced every thirty years at a cost of 10 million dollars. For safety, the cable is replaced after a certain number of trips.

There are several interactive exhibits where you can touch actual sections of the style of cable and pulleys used in the tramway construction. This engineering marvel required feats of extreme engineering to overcome construction obstacles, and the effort necessary to build the tram was quite formidable.  Remember, much of the calculations were done without modern computers with engineers and designers relying on tools such as slide rules and good old-fashioned mathematics.

After perusing this museum, stop at the Cascade Café, located in the Valley station for sandwiches, snacks, and hot & cold drinks. If you don’t have the time, don’t worry! There are plenty of options up top as well, but more on that later. 

Of course, no trip up the mountain would be complete without a souvenir! Stop at the gift shop. You will find all sorts of cool memorabilia, including a pressed penny machine that is right outside the shop. (We collect these pennies, so were thrilled to see this!

Bonus: there is a gift shop on EACH end of the tram!

Pressed penny machine in palm springs

Riding the World’s Largest Rotating Tramcars

Before we knew it, we were boarding one of the two cars. Each of the Swiss-made “Rotair” cars can handle 80 passengers at a time, making them the largest of their kind in the world. Don’t let the number of passengers bother you though- since it rotates, everyone gets a spectacular view of the Coachella Valley during the ten-minute journey to the top as it passes through the Chino Canyon. 

As the doors closed, we slowly departed the station and began our ascent. The warm valley breeze wafted through the open windows. Soon, we noticed that our viewpoint was beginning to change as the car began its slow counterclockwise rotation. 

As we continued up, the temperature dropped noticeably as the cars made two full turns allowing everyone a commanding view in all directions. It was interesting to see the different geological formations along the way. You can expect your ears to “pop” several times as your altitude increases by 8,500 feet. 

riding the Tramcars

Mountain Station

After our 2.5-mile journey to the top (don’t worry, it is only a 10-minute ride), we arrived at the mountain station. Although this building was built at the same time as the Valley Station, it was designed by a different person, yet still maintained the mid-century modern motif.

As we looked out the multitude of windows, we were blown away by the commanding views of Palm Springs, as well as the Salton Sea to the southeast, and everything in between. The mountain station boasts both an observation deck, as well as a short hike to the very top of the mountain. 

Mountain station exhibits

Once You Are Up There

There are more than fifty miles of trails within the park. You can access them from the Mountain Station by following a path down to Long Valley. Flush toilets, picnic tables, and the ranger station are all nearby for your convenience as you begin your hike within the 14,000-acre park. Hiking trails that are easily envisioned as cross-country skiing gems (depending on snow conditions) dot some of the best views Southern California has to offer.

Want a sample hike? Try the Long Valley Discovery Trail. Follow the nature trail posts around a ¾ mile (1.2 km) loop. This easy-level trail provides an excellent introduction to the Park’s plants and animals. 

nature in palm springs

Other trails include the 1.5-mile Desert View Trail, the 2.5-mile Round Valley Trail, the 1-mile Wellmans Divide Trail, and the 5.5-mile San Jacinto Peak Trail. Each of these hikes involves different levels of effort so prepare accordingly.

There are several educational experiences to check out inside too – from interactive touch screens to stuffed animals with QR codes. No worries: no animals were harmed for the displays, just preserved after their life was over.

interactive displays

Like the Valley Station, the Mountain Station has been restored to its stunning mid-century modern original design. This reminded us of a beautiful Swiss ski lodge, where one would expect to see James Bond sipping a “shaken, not stirred” martini in the Lookout Lounge. This full cocktail bar offers a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, along with appetizers.


Mr. Bond would feel right at home at Peaks Restaurant. This is a fine dining restaurant overlooking the observation decks and provides the perfect dining experience. Expect delectable food from a variety of fresh local vegetables, aged meats, and even fresh bread from local bakeries.

Peaks Restaurant

We thoroughly enjoyed sipping our wine while we tapped our toes to the mid-century jazz being played as we dined at the top of the mountain. It was an unforgettable experience watching the mountain’s shadow grow across the valley, as darkness drew near.

As for the food – you will want to thank every single employee who had a hand in bringing all the ingredients up the mountain. You start your feast with one of the incredible appetizers. We sampled the Duck Confit Flatbread that was generously loaded with Brie, Apricots, Cremini Mushrooms, and Caramelized Shallots under a sinful Balsamic Glaze.

flatbread pizza

Isn’t that drool-worthy? We also tested out the Hummus and Olive Tapenade so we could give you a fair review. While I am NOT an olive person, I found this delicious – and it was the best hummus I have had – other than my wife’s. It is served with warm pita bread and I could easily have lived off of just that.

 Hummus and Tapenade

Those were just our starters! Entrees and dessert were yet to come. We feasted as Mother Nature painted the sky darker and dotted it with little gems of starlight.

I did the meatloaf, as pedantic as it sounds to those of you who aren’t from the Midwest. It surpassed any I have ever tried with its home-style blend of beef and pork, red bliss potato puree, seasonal vegetables, and portabella reduction.

My wife had the fillet of beef and moaned in heaven with almost every bite she took. Who wouldn’t with a Gold Canyon premium Angus 8 oz. filet mignon, confit potatoes, candied carrots, and brown butter demiglace? Just see for yourself:

filet mignon

Dessert was another vintage throwback: Brown Butter Apple Tart. Served with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with warm caramel sauce, it made for the perfect final touch to top off an amazing experience.


All of that adds up to an easy understanding of this place being recently named #8 on Architectural Digest’s list of the World’s Best Cliffside Restaurants, Peaks is a very popular dining destination, so reservations are highly recommended!

Go Casual

If you’re looking for a more casual dining experience, be sure to visit Pines Café. This cafeteria-style restaurant is co-located with Peaks and offers prepackaged sandwiches, salads, and beverages. Personally, I would pack a picnic!

pines cafe

Upon reaching the Mountain Station, you step out into a world that feels a world away from the desert floor. Here, the air is cooler, fresher, and filled with the scent of pine and the terrain offers a variety of picturesque spots perfect for a picnic. Whether you choose a secluded nook amidst towering trees or a spot with a commanding view of the valley below, each offers its own unique charm.

Unpacking your picnic is like unveiling a treasure trove of delights. The food – perhaps a selection of artisanal cheeses, fresh fruits, crusty bread, and a refreshing beverage – takes on a new level of enjoyment in this natural setting. As you dine, the tranquility of the mountains envelops you.

The sounds of nature – the rustling of leaves, the chirping of birds, and the gentle whisper of the wind – create a symphony that enhances the experience.

Please remember the “No Trace Left Behind” concept though and clean up all your garbage so the place is perfect for the next people to visit.

park trails in mountain station

Time it Right

Descending from the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway as evening cloaks the sky in a tapestry of twilight hues is an experience that transcends the ordinary. The tramway, a marvel of engineering, gently begins its descent from the rugged cliffs of the San Jacinto Mountains, ushering you into a realm where the beauty of nature and the allure of civilization intertwine in a breathtaking spectacle.

As the tram car glides downwards, the setting sun casts its final golden rays, painting the sky in shades of amber and violet. The transition from the serene, alpine environment of the mountain station to the vibrant pulse of Palm Springs below is nothing short of magical.

The cool, crisp air of the mountain gradually gives way to the warmer breezes of the desert, a subtle yet poignant reminder of the diverse landscapes that coexist in this unique region.

The most captivating moment arrives as the tramway nears the halfway point of its journey. Here, the view opens up dramatically, revealing the glittering lights of downtown Palm Springs spread out like a jeweled tapestry on the desert floor.

This contrast is striking—the quiet, majestic beauty of the mountains above and the lively, illuminated city below. Each light represents life, energy, and stories unfolding in the heart of the Coachella Valley.

As the tram continues its descent, the panoramic views become more spectacular. The silhouettes of the palm trees and the geometric patterns of the streets and buildings emerge, creating an intricate mosaic of light and shadow. The sight is not just visually stunning; it evokes a sense of wonder and appreciation for the harmonious blend of nature and human innovation.

The tramway’s gentle movement offers a serene, almost meditative experience. The vastness of the desert, the twinkling stars overhead, and the distant glow of the city create a moment of introspection and tranquility. It’s a time to reflect, to appreciate the grandeur of the landscape, and to feel connected to the larger tapestry of life.

Upon reaching the valley floor, the transition from the ethereal mountain heights to the vibrant energy of Palm Springs is complete. The experience of riding the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway at sunset is more than just a journey; it’s an enchanting voyage that bridges two worlds—the serene majesty of the San Jacinto Mountains and the lively, radiant heart of Palm Springs.

This journey, with its spectacular views and profound sense of connection to both nature and civilization, lingers in your memory, a vivid reminder of the beauty and diversity of our world.

Field of Flowers North Farm
Click on the picture to check it out

Final Thoughts on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

It’s hard to not smile and be happy after experiencing this one-of-a-kind destination. We are looking forward to returning as soon as possible.

Note: There is a second way to reach the top of the tram, but it’s convoluted and difficult. You’d have to drive to one of the hiking trailheads on the opposite side of the mountain, such as the Fuller Ridge Trailhead, and then hike more than 7 miles and 3000 feet of elevation gain to reach the top.

To learn more, about this amazing place, you can check out their website (HERE)


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