60 reasons to celebrate Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in 2023

PALM SPRINGS — The mesmerizing Palm Springs Aerial Tramway celebrates its 60th anniversary this year and what better way to kick off the celebration than with the attraction reopening Sept.1 after its annual maintenance closure. It first opened in September 1963.

During its six decades of operations, this engineering marvel has transported nearly 22 million people to the Tramway’s recently-renovated Mountain Station and the 14,000-acre Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness.

A signature attraction for Greater Palm Springs, the Tram attracts adventure-seekers from around the globe to dine, hike, take-in the spectacular views, and enjoy the thrill of ascending nearly 6,000 feet along the rugged cliffs of Chino Canyon. But all this took nearly three decades of planning and construction before welcoming the Tram’s first visitor.

The idea for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway began in 1935 when a young electrical engineer named Francis Crocker dreamt of a way to escape the summer heat of the desert floor for the cool Alpine forests of Mt. San Jacinto.

After years of setbacks and delays, $8.15 million in private revenue bonds was raised and a land donation was secured from local businessman Culver Nichols for the Tram’s Valley Station. Construction finally commenced in July of 1961. On Sept. 12, 1963, (then) Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown ‘cut the ribbon’ and the Tramway officially opened.

In 2000, the Tramway completed a $15 million modernization program, which included the installation of its new rotating tramcars. These became the first of their kind in North America and remain the largest rotating tramcars in the world.

In 2019, the Tramway’s Mountain Station began its first-ever renovation, which was completed in early 2023. Budgeted at $13 million, this effort was intended to not only bring electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems up to date, but to restore the original architectural vision of its noted Mid-Century architect, E. Stewart Williams.

“We are very happy that the completion of our Mountain Station renovation has coincided with our 60th anniversary,” Tramway General Manager Nancy Nichols said in a statement. “Members of the Mt. San Jacinto Winter Park Authority, our governing body, have worked for over a decade to make this a reality and what a wonderful way to welcome our 60th anniversary visitors.”

In celebration of the anniversary, a series of events and promotions are planned for September including giveaways for every 60th visitor, a 60th anniversary celebration quiz on the Tramway’s mobile app, a free 60th anniversary sticker for every visitor on September 12, continuous showings of the newly restored original 1960s Tramway film “The Miracle at Palm Springs” in the Santa Rosa Theater, and other special displays and exhibits.

In addition to the reopening, we found 60 reasons to celebrate the iconic Aerial Tramway.

  1. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the world’s largest rotating tram car.
  2. The Tram’s 80-passenger cars travel along the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon from the Valley Station (elevation 2,643 ft.) to the Mountain Station (elevation 8,516 ft.) in approximately 10 minutes.
  3. In winter, it’s a wonderland filled new-fallen snow and a destination for those who have never seen or experienced snow.
  4. Mt. San Jacinto State Park offers more than 50 miles of hiking trails located within a 14,000 acre pristine wilderness, one of the last in California. All trails are accessed by exiting the Mountain Station and descending a concrete pathway to Long Valley. There you will find picnic tables, the ranger station, flush toilets and several easy trails.
  5. There is some great hiking, such as Long Valley Discovery Trail. You may 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.
  6. The hiking trails are well marked and range from a short “Discovery Trail” to the more moderate “Desert View Trail,” all the way up to the top of San Jacinto Peak.
  7. Desert View Trail is a 1.5-mile (2 km) loop trail leads to a number of scenic overlooks and forest views. Short climbs, moderately strenuous.
  8. Round Valley, a 2.5-mile trail leads to picturesque Round Valley. Fairly level trails, short climbs, moderately strenuous.
  9. Wellmans Divide, from Round Valley to Wellmans Divide is a 1-mile hike with a 600-foot elevation gain. The view from here is truly spectacular. Looking west you can see the dome of the Palomar Observatory and to the southwest Tahquitz Peak Lookout. From this point you can continue down to Idyllwild or up to the Mt. San Jacinto Peak. Elevation gain, strenuous.
  10. San Jacinto Peak, a 5.5-mile hike one way and will take you to the second highest point in southern California. On clear days it is reported that you can see Catalina Island or the glow from Las Vegas at night. The State Park will charge $5 per person for camping permits. There is no fee for day hiking permits at this time.
  11. You can volunteer. The Mount San Jacinto Natural History Association (NHA) is a non-profit corporation whose mission it is to promote the educational and interpretive activities of California State Parks. To donate or learn how to become a volunteer, please click here: https://msjnha.org/
  12. There are at least 39 campsites all within 7 miles of the Tram. Most have water and pit toilets. The State Park charges only $5 per person for camping permits. There is no fee for hiking permits.
  13. In summer, guided nature walks are a terrific way to learn about the natural environment at the top of the Tram. Mount San Jacinto State Park Volunteers conduct these walks Sundays from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend. These walks feature a choice of two easy trails–the Desert View Trail, a 1½-mile walk beginning at 11 a.m. and the Long Valley Nature Trail, a ¾-mile loop beginning at 1:30 p.m.
  14. There are also self-guided walks. Follow the nature trail posts around the ¾ mile (1.2 km) loop. This is an easy, level trail that provides an excellent introduction to the Park’s plants and animals. The Natural History Museum also offers maps and nature books for a nominal fee.
  15. In summer, connect or reconnect with nature through the Class and Field Education Series presented by the Mt. San Jacinto Natural History Association in partnership with the Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
  16. There is a spectacular souvenir shop filled with T-shirts, snow globes, mugs and more.
  17. There is a Winter Adventure Center.
  18. Cross-country ski enthusiasts have found the State Park to be unsurpassed in its challenging terrain. You can bring your own equipment or rent skis, boots and poles at the Adventure Center.
  19. Celebrate being in the snow by grabbing a handful and throwing it.
  20. Learn how to snow-shoe.
  21. Celebrate Easter by attending sunrise services at the Tram.
  22. Once you reach the Mountain Station there are two observation decks from which you can survey the entire Coachella Valley.
  23. The Mountain Station also houses a natural history museum.
  24. You will enjoy the two documentary theaters.
  25. In summer, it provides respite from sweltering triple-digit temperatures. The weather at the Mountain Station is typically 30-40 degrees cooler than on the desert floor.
  26. The fragrance of pine trees.
  27. A scenic backdrop for exercise. Who needs a gym membership when you can exercise in the great outdoors.
  28. Picnicking in a pine forest.
  29. Dining in Peaks Restaurant, a fine dining experience.
  30. Eating at Pines Café, a cafeteria-style restaurant.
  31. During the entire month of July, all U.S. military personnel with valid military identification—active, former and retired—receive complimentary admission to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway along with a special gift as part of Military Days.
  32. The Summer Pass includes unlimited Tram admissions for the passholder, a 10% discount on additional Tram admissions (up to 4 in party), a 10% discount at Peaks Restaurant or Pines Café, and unlimited free parking for the passholder.
  33. The Lookout Lounge where you can sit and relax after a day of hiking and enjoy the views. A full cocktail bar offering a variety of alcoholic beverages and appetizers.
  34. The Tramway is especially popular during the holidays when children will have the chance to take photos with Santa and receive a free candy cane from the man himself.
  35. Choir performances are held throughout the holiday season.
  36. The Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony is a don’t-miss event when a celebrity lights the Tram’s landmark 45-foot tree comprised of more than 4,000 LED lights.
  37. Peaks Restaurant was recently named No. 8 on Architectural Digest’s list of the World’s Best Cliffside Restaurants.
  38. Cascade Cafe Cascade Café at the Valley Station is a snack bar offering a selection of sandwiches, chips, pizzas, cookies, coffee, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. Seating on Cascade Patio offers views of the tram cars.
  39. All the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Restaurants have online menus.
  40. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway provides a myriad of unique amenities for wedding parties, large and small.
  41. Group rates are available with a two-week advance reservation. Some restrictions apply. Holidays excluded. For further information regarding your group event, catering and banquets, please call (760) 325-1449 or e-mail groupsales@pstramway.com.
  42. You can capture the magic of your Palm Springs Aerial Tramway experience with a professional photo at the Valley Station before you board the tram on your trip up to 8,516 feet.
  43. The Valley Station, Mountain Station and Tram Cars are handicap accessible.
  44. Tram cars depart at least every half hour, so you’re never waiting long to ascend or descend.
  45. Free parking is offered for residents of the Coachella Valley from the following cities: Mecca, Thermal, Coachella, Indio, La Quinta, Indian Wells, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City, Palm Springs, Thousand Palms and Desert Hot Springs.
  46. There is an opportunity to volunteer. Volunteering in parks began with the first state park in 1864; now, nearly 40,000 volunteers donate more than one million hours annually.
  47. Professional, always-courteous staff.
  48. You can build a snowman.
  49. You can spend an hour or a day exploring one of the last pristine wilderness areas in California.
  50. You can bring strollers, backpacks, even your own picnic if you like. Keep in mind that on busy days the tram can be packed a little tight.
  51. There is security.
  52. During peak times, the tram cars can get quite packed, but don’t worry. It doesn’t matter much where you end up in the tram car, because the car rotates slowly all the way up the mountain, so everyone gets a 360-degree view.
  53. The tram car will rock a bit and rotate, but don’t fret. There are bars to help you keep your balance.
  54. This is photographer’s paradise, so bring a camera whether you’re an amateur or professional.
  55. You can buy tickets in advance if you like on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway website, but you can also buy them at the station.
  56. You cannot bring any pets, except service animals. This is for everyone’s safety.
  57. The Palm Springs tram cam is always fun. You can see exactly what it’s like up on top, in real time. Here’s the link to the Palm Springs tram cam.
  58. The tram operates year-round, seven-days-a-week except when a maintenance closure is scheduled.
  59. The Valley Station, the tramcar and the Mountain Station are all fully wheelchair accessible and ADA compliant.
  60. Pregnant women and infants may ride the tram cars, but Tramway officials always suggest consulting with your physician first. The altitude change is approximately 6,000 feet during the 10-minute ride.

Have fun!

Happy 6oth Anniversary, Palm Springs Aerial Tramway! You’ve never looked better.

Image Sources

  • Palm Springs Aerial Tramway: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway