The desert oasis of Palm Springs, California is home to a surprising attraction: The world’s largest rotating tramcar! The Palm Springs Aerial Tram is a cable tramway that carries visitors up to an elevation of 8516 feet on a 10-minute ride into the San Jacinto Mountains.
The aerial tramway, sometimes informally called the Palm Springs gondola, is one of the coolest attractions in Palm Springs. How much are tickets? What time is it open? How do you get there? What’s the hiking like at the top of the mountain? Read on for answers to your questions about the tram!
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Tickets, Discount Coupons, Hours
As of this writing, tram ticket prices are $29.95. Kids pay $17.95 and seniors pay $27.95. You can purchase tickets in person at the tramway by cash or credit card.
If you’d like to make a booking advance and not have to deal with ticket lines, you can buy a tram ticket through Viator for the date of your trip. You’ll still have to wait in line when you arrive at the tram, however.
Are there any discount coupons or Groupons for the Palm Springs aerial tram? Generally speaking, no, there are no major coupons available. Sometimes, you can save a buck or two if you buy through Viator, but this varies depending on the season. Viator offers free cancellation until 24 hours before your visit, so you can book with no risk.
As for hours, on weekdays, the first tram goes up at 10 am. On weekends, the first tram goes up at 8 am. Trams run at least every 30 minutes on the hour (and sometimes more frequently during busy times.)
The last tram up the mountain leaves at 8 pm everyday, and the last tram down is at 9:45 pm everyday.
The other thing to keep in mind is that you’ll have to pay for parking. As of this writing, the fee is $12 per vehicle. So be sure to factor that into your budget.
IMPORTANT: There is no cell phone service at the Palm Springs Aerial Tram! If you need to download your ticket confirmation number, or download hiking trail maps, make sure to do that before you leave the town of Palm Springs.
Getting to the Palm Springs Tramway
You actually have to drive quite a ways up the hill just to get to the ticket station. Once you turn onto Tram Way, the drive is 3.5 miles uphill to reach the sizable parking lot.
There’s no shuttle or public transportation, either. You can take Uber from Palm Springs to the tram, but you may have a hard time getting a ride back since there’s no cell service at the tram. Cabs are a more reliable option here.
You may have to wait quite a while to actually ride the tram. Often, there’s a long queue of visitors. I visited recently on a spring Monday, and the wait was 90 minutes. So I had to wander the gift shop and sit around for an hour and a half before my ride up the mountain.
Can you drive to the top of the Palm Springs tram? Nope, sorry, the gondola car is the primary way to get to the top. There are no roads up there.
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.
What Does ‘World’s Largest Rotating Tramcar’ Mean, Exactly?
Near the ticket desk, there are historical photos and information about the aerial tram. Once you buy your ticket, you wait in line for the next tram to leave. The line was short the first time I visited, but was quite a bit longer when I came during peak tourist season.
Then, you walk inside the rotating tramcar. It’s much bigger than you might imagine. They can fit up to 80 people in each Palm Springs gondola car. There are no seats, so everyone must stand. There’s plenty of room for wheelchairs and strollers, but pets are not allowed.
These are considered rotating tramcars because once the car starts its ascent, the rotating begins. The car spins slowly to allow everyone to get complete views all around them. The rotation is gradual. You won’t get dizzy, don’t worry!
The car runs up the cables for a little more than two miles. Before long, the ticket station at the bottom of the mountain is so small you can barely even see it down there in the crack in the mountain.
You can look out and see the valley below and the distant mountains. You’ll be able to see the windmill farms, too. They look really cool. (When you get back down on solid ground, consider booking a tour of the windmill farm!)
Before long, you’ll reach the tramway Mountain Station. Up here, there’s a restaurant, a gift shop, a mini-museum, documentary theater spaces, and plenty of observation decks and lookout spots.
Tramway Weather: Does it Snow at the Top of the Mountain?
Palm Springs is notoriously hot during the summer, with temperatures often exceeding 100 F. However, temps can be 30-40 degrees cooler at the top of the mountain, and winds are often strong.
So bring a light jacket if you ride the tramway during the middle of summer, and a heavier jacket during winter. You won’t be able to fully enjoy the views if you’re freezing your backside off!
Beware that the tram does occasionally shut down due to high winds and inclement weather. They err on the side of caution when winds pick up. This is more likely during winter. In fact, the day I wrote this article (March 10), the tram was closed for exactly that reason.
Does it snow at the top of the mountain? It sure does! You can have a snowball fight in Palm Springs – how cool! It can snow anytime between November and May, though snow has been unpredictable during the recent drought years.
Outdoor Adventure: Palm Springs Tram Hiking Trails
Behind the Mountain Station, there are concrete walking trails where you can see the massive forest of Mount San Jacinto State Park.
There are a couple of short hiking trails on the mountain above the aerial tram. The Long Valley Discovery Nature Trail is a 0.75-mile loop trail, and the Desert View Trail is a 1.5-mile loop trail with scenic viewpoints.
These are ideal for folks who just want to spend a short time atop the mountain. Bring some water and sunscreen, and enjoy the stroll.
For more extensive hiking, try the Round Valley hike, a 2.5-mile moderately strenuous hike that leads to a valley. Or take the 5.5-mile hike (one way) to San Jacinto Peak, the second-highest point in southern CA. Day hiking is free, but camping requires a $5 permit.
A portion of the famed Pacific Crest Trail that runs from Mexico to Canada actually passes through Mount San Jacinto State Park as well. There’s camping in the state park too. Reservations are required.
There are six primitive campgrounds in the park. The closest is a 2-mile hike from the tram. See the full list here.
Enjoy the Palm Springs gondola! And if you’re an LGBT visitor, check out our gay guide to Palm Springs.
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