You’re in for a breathtaking experience at the end of a spectacular aerial tram ride from Palm Springs to San Jacinto State Park, 6000 feet above sea level. A pristine wilderness of 14,000 acres of alpine forests, mountain meadows, craggy granite peaks averaging 10,000 feet in elevation, and San Jacinto Peak, an up-thrust of weathered granite rising 11,000 feet above sea level, is spectacular. It’s an experience of the senses – astounding vistas, cool temperatures, the scent of pines. Its quiet calm transcends the everyday hustle of the valley far below.
Accessing the Park
Avid, experienced hikers head out on their own from Palm Springs, using Ranger maps to access some of the park’s the 54 miles of hiking trails. Most visitors, from city folk to hikers of all levels, opt to access the park on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, one of the largest and longest single lift tramways in the world which has been taking visitors up the steep 2 ½ miles, 15-minute ascent along the Cliffs of Chino Canyon since 1963. It’s an awesome ride. As it makes its way up to Mountain Station, 8516 feet above the desert floor, the tramcar rotates slowly, giving everyone spectacular 360-degree views of the valley stretching out below. Locals ride it often, just for the beauty of the ride. However, if you’re apprehensive about heights be aware that it’s a steep ride. Standing in the center of the car looking out, not down, helps. Anyone with a real fear of heights might want to pass on the tramway ride.
During summer months, the first thing you feel upon exiting the tramcar at Mountain Station is the crisp, clean, refreshing, cool air – a wonderful change from the desert heat of Palm Springs. You may also feel a slight sensation of being aware of breathing. It’s normal. At 6000 feet above sea level, the air is thinner.
There are many ways to enjoy the spell-binding natural beauty of this unique place. For those not into hiking, there are many observation decks with spectacular drops; desert and mountain range vistas stretching out for miles; and a sea of manicured, green Palm Spring golf courses, Coachella Valley agricultural fields, and rows of windmill farms spreading out in the distance below. A Natural History Museum and films about the building of the Tramway, considered a historical civil engineering landmark, are engaging. A gift shop has souvenirs and books. Two restaurants, Peak, a fine dining experience with fabulous views of Coachella Valley, and Pines, a casual café, are open for lunch and dinner. Kick back after a long hike in Lookout Lounge, and take advantage of the last tram departing at 9:45 pm to take in spectacular sunsets.
Using maps and information found at Natural History Museum, walk around on your own to take in the natural beauty and breathtaking vistas. On weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day only, free, 40-minute guided nature walks by State Park volunteers are a wonderful way to learn about the natural environment at the Top of the Tram. Information on these walks is available in the museum.
There is something about being up “on top of the world” that compels many visitors to want to hike to discover sensational natural beauty along the way. From Mountain Station, there is a range of incredibly beautiful, well-laid out trails for hikers all abilities. Most visitors accustomed to a good walk enjoy two easy trails through beautiful scenery. The ¾ mile trail is a hike into the woods; the 1.5 mile hike runs along several look-out points. Although the distance is short, be prepared to walk uphill for a considerable portion of the well-maintained, sometimes bumpy, hiking trails. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and bring water to drink along the way.
Visitors with hiking experience are drawn to the vertical challenge of a hike to the summit of craggy San Jacinto Peak. The hike up the second highest peak in Southern California is exhilarating. Be prepared for a strenuous 12-mile round trip hike with a 243 elevation gain. It’s uphill all the way. Take your time. Keep in mind that you’re in thinner air and breathing is harder. Allow 4 to 5 hours to get to the top along a steep hiking trail meandering through beautiful woods and meadows. Near the top, be prepared to boulder hop, which can be a bit challenging. Reaching the top is mesmerizing. Panoramic 360 degrees views of the surrounding desert are spectacular; the quiet is stirring. The trip down is quicker, about 1.5 hours.
Year Long Beauty
Visiting San Jacinto State Park is not just a summertime experience. It’s beautiful covered in snow. Winter sports enthusiasts love it! Prepare for cold, sometimes below freezing temperatures, and often snowy days. Cross-country skiers find the challenges of the terrain and the beauty of the vistas irresistible. Skis, boots, and poles are available for rent at the Adventure Center, open seasonally. Walking into the quiet, snow-covered backcountry is possible using snowshoes, also available for rent at the Adventure Center. Wilderness permits are required for anyone venturing outside of Long Valley and may be obtained at the Ranger Station. Families and people of all ages enjoy fun in the snow, and sleds are available for purchase in the Mountain Gift shop.
Summer or winter, San Jacinto State Park is a must do when visiting Palm Springs. Take advantage of Tramway discount tickets offered by Trusted Tours & Attractions.