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PALM SPRINGS AERIAL TRAMWAY
Rotating View Ride from Desert to Mountain Top

Palm Springs Rotating Aerial Tram Car photoIt is one of the most familiar and distinctive features of Palm Springs, the oasis in the Southern California Desert where refuges from the sprawl of LA come to relax. The San Jacinto Mountains stand with sheer face over the resort city, ever present and up the side, the silver strand of wire. It is possible to go from the climate of the Sonoran desert steppe to the snow bound meadows of alpine peaks in 10 minutes. At the top is the San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness, only accessible from the aerial tram car which rises from 2,643 on the desert floor to 8,516 feet above sea level.

Original Palm Springs Tram Car photoThe Palm Springs Aerial Tramway was opened in 1963, though the idea for a tram cable to the mountain top first conjured in the mind of electrical engineer Francis F. Croker during a trip to nearby Banning in 1935. Hardly the first of its kind, tram and cable cars had been built in the Alps for years before, but a local paper scoffed at “Crocker’s Folly”. But the engineer had the last laugh, as the tramway has been drawing tourists to Palm Springs since its inaugural run up the highest sheerest mountain pitch in North America. The cable ride travels an amazing two and a half miles up through five geologic climate zones.

Rotair Rotating Floor Tram Car Palm Springs photoBilled as the largest rotating aerial tram in the world, meaning the cars are the largest at 18 ft in diameter with room for up to 80 passengers, the original tram cars where rectangular boxes with windows that opened in the heat of summer. In 2001, the old cars were replaced by the Rotair Rotating Aerial Tram cabins. A slight misnomer as it is not the car which rotates, but the floor inside, slightly disconcerting as first time visitors pick a view spot inside the car, and as soon as it departs the station, they slowly move past the windows, a shifting view as the tram rises up or descends. Palm Springs is the third of only three Rotair trams in the world. Manufactured by the Doppelmayr company of Thun, Switzerland, the first rotating aerial tram rises to the peak of Mt Titlis carrying over glaciers near Lucerne (see Mt Titlis Rotair Engelberg), a second is in South Africa, and soon the fourth and most ambitious will be up Mt Blanc in France, the highest mountain peak in the Alps. One of the original Palm Springs Tram Cars can still be seen on display outside the Valley Departure Station.

What to Do

Peaks Restaurant Window Views photoWhile waiting for the timed departure of the next tram, the Valley Station is a modern facility with a patio and observation deck with telescopes for watching the trams rise up the cable which sinks by almost 30 feet with the weight of the cars from tower to tower. There is a short walking path and picnic area near a small waterfall, snack bar, and souvenir shop. At the top of the ride, the Mountain Station offers a variety of activities. The Desert View Terrace faces the valley side, looking out across the Coachella Valley and on the park side, the Long Deck offers a view of the Jeffrey and Big Cone pine trees of the state park. The Peaks Restaurant offers California cuisine with spectacular views. For more casual meal the Pines Café is cafeteria style and the Lookout Lounge Bar for just a drink with your dizzying heights. The Park Visitors Center offers assistance with park information. There is even a movie theater and video games room for kids easily bored with the glorious wonders of natural beauty.

Summer

Terrace View to Coachella Vally photoIn summer, activities in the San Jacinto State Park are Self-Guided Nature Walks following marked signs. Guided Nature Walks are given on weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day and wilderness hiking on 54 miles of trails with a Trail Map available from the Visitors Center. Permits are needed to hike in the wilderness. The permits are free and can be obtained at the Long Valley Ranger Station in the park. It is also possible to camp in the park at designated sites, but camping sites are designated as primitive, meaning limited facilities. You need a permit for $5, and a reservation is recommended.

Winter

San Jacinto Mountains Wilderness Park Tramway photoIn winter, when the desert floor is balmy and dry, the top of the mountain is capped in snow, even though the weather is often crisp and clear. Snow shoe hikes, cross country sking and snow disk runs are pretty much the winter activity. The walkway down from the visitors center can get a little icy for the non-sure footed. The Adventure Center, open from mid-November to Mid-April offers snowshoe and ski rental for cross-country skiing (no downhills), with sleds, disks, gloves, hats and winter gear available for purchase if you didn’t bring any with you. You can carry your winter play stuff up on tram.

Taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Entrance Sing to Aerial Tramway Highway 111 photoTicket prices for the Palm Springs Aerial Tram are on the amusement park scale - $23.25 for adults (including teenagers), $16.25 for Children 3 to 12, $21.25 for Seniors 60+. Annual and Summer Passes for multiple visits are available. The Tram cars depart at least every half hour, every twenty minutes during peak times. The first departure is 8am on Saturday, Sunday and Holidays and 10am Monday to Friday. The last tram up is 8pm and the last tram departure down is 9:45 pm. The temperature from valley to mountain can be 30 degrees, so bring some layers. The Palm Springs Tramway is at the end of a ten minute 6-mile drive from the Palm Springs Tourism Center at Highway 111.
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