San Jacinto Peak from the Palm Springs Tram
- Location: One Tram Way, Palm Springs. From I-10, take Highway 111 southeast for 8.5 miles. Turn right on Tram Way and drive 4 miles to the parking lot. Parking is $5 per vehicle. For current ticket prices, hours of operation and other information, click here.
- Agency: Mt. San Jacinto State Park
- Distance: 11.6 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,500 feet
- Suggested time: 6 hours (not including the tram ride)
- Difficulty Rating: R (Altitude, elevation gain, distance)
- Best season: June – October
- USGS topo map: “San Jacinto Peak”
- Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles; insect repellent
- Recommended map: San Jacinto Wilderness trail map
- More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here
- Rating: 10
For the 500th hike posted on this site, we have a classic: San Jacinto Peak from the Palm Springs Tram. Though the easiest route to San Jacinto, it’s still not a hike for beginners: starting off at 8,500 feet and climbing to a 10,834-foot summit, altitude is likely to be a factor for many hikers; the distance and elevation gain add to the challenge. That being said, the hike is as scenically rewarding as the various approaches from Idyllwild, with the dramatic aerial views of the desert, alpine forests and panoramic mountain vistas that make San Jacinto a favorite.
One of the best parts of the hike happens even before you set foot on the trail. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway carries hikers from Valley Station more than a vertical mile up to Mountain Station, taking in some panoramic views. Hikers prone to vertigo or motion sickness may have a tough time on the trip, however; plan accordingly.
From the lower deck of Mountain Station, follow a concrete walkway into Mt. San Jacinto State Park. The downhill allows you to get used to the altitude (although you will be tired when you have to climb back up it at the end of the hike.) At the bottom of the walkway, turn right and head toward Long Valley Ranger Station, where you are required to get a free permit. You can also purchase maps there.
Passing the station, you come to a junction. Both routes lead to Round Valley, but the right route is shorter. You follow it, staying more or less level for the first half mile, through a pine forest. After a hairpin turn to the left, you begin making a few switchbacks, ascending to rejoin the trail shortly before Round Valley.
Round Valley is an attractive green meadow, popular as a camping site, and also a nice place for day hikers to take a break. Water is available, but it must be purified before drinking.
The trail continues uphill, steadily ascending over the next mile to reach Wellman Divide. Here, you can enjoy a great view to the south, including Toro Peak and the Palmoar Mountains (sharp-eyed hikers will be able to pick out the observatory) before making our final push.
Following the trail past Wellman, you reach a junction where you’ll head right, heading north toward the peak (the left fork heads south toward the Pacific Crest Trail and Idyllwild.) The views from here to the top are continually awesome. You make your way up the east flank of the mountain, getting a great view of the desert, 7000 feet below. You can also see pointy Cornell Peak, distant Toro Peak and Round Valley, a green disc nearly one thousand feet lower.
Shortly before Miller Peak, the trail makes a hard left and heads briefly south before reaching a junction with the Deer Springs Trail, coming up from Idyllwild. Here, turn right on a trail leading to the summit. The trail is clear at first but soon gives way to a mass of boulders. While no technical skills are required, be careful as you scramble up the rocks. Depending on which route you take, you will likely pass the stone survival hut, built in 1933.
On the summit, you get one of the best views from any peak in the United States, including taller San Gorgonio to the north, Baldy, the Santa Anas, the Palomars, the Santa Rosas, the Salton Sea, the desert and more. Ideally the air will be clear, but even if smog is heavy, the view is still worth the effort to get there. Stay on the summit for at least half an hour – not just to enjoy the view but to rest your legs for the steep descent over the rocks.
So there you have NHLA hike #500. Thank you readers and hikers for using this site as a resource. Now let’s get ready for the next five hundred hikes!
Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.