- 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 about the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, click here.
- Agency: Mt. San Jacinto State Park
- Distance: 1.9 miles
- Elevation gain: 300 feet
- Suggested time: 1 hour (not including the tram ride and the waiting time; the tram ride is about 11 minutes and they typically leave every 20 minutes)
- Difficulty Rating: G
- Best season: Year round but cold during the winter (temperatures at the top of the tram are usually 30-40 degrees F cooler than in the desert)
- Recommended guidebook: Easy Hiking in Southern California
- Dogs: Not allowed
- Cell phone reception: Weak
- Water: Available at both stations (for purchase or in the restrooms)
- Restrooms: Available at both stations
- Camping/backpacking:There are several options for backpacking and camping in the wilderness area of Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Permits are required. For more information, click here.
- More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here
- Rating: 8
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway has been wowing visitors since its opening in 1963. It is the longest rotating tram in the world, perennially named a “bucket list” destination by travel publications. The 11-minute ride ascends well over a vertical mile from the desert floor to the forested slopes of San Jacinto Peak, taking riders on a unique journey from desert to alpine forest.
The most popular hiking destination originating from the tram is, understandably, the summit itself – an 11.6-mile round trip adventure which, while the easiest route to the top, is still suitable only for experienced hikers. A more modest trip, suitable for families with small kids and hikers who are short on time, is the Desert View Trail. Though temperatures in the winter can be well below freezing, the Desert View Trail is easy enough that it can be done in the snow and during the summer, it is an ideal place to escape the heat.
From the exit on the lower floor of Mountain Station, follow the stone walkway downhill to the signed beginning of the Desert View Trail. A shorter trail (which can be easily combined with the Desert View Trail) called the Nature Trail branches off to the right. Follow the Desert View Trail southeast past an alpine meadow, through some tall pines to another split. Head left to the first of five “notches” (vista points). Here, you can see the Coachella Valley spread out more than one mile below.
The trail continues through the pines, among some granite boulders, to the next four notches. Depending on conditions (snow, fallen trees) the route may be a little ambiguous in spots, but overall it shouldn’t be too difficult to find your way; look for the footprints and the path of least resistance. Notches 2 and 3, located next to each other, provide views to the east while 4 and 5 showcase the Santa Rosa Mountains to the southeast. El Toro Peak, the tallest summit in the Santa Rosa range, is easily recognizable; the faint outline of the Salton Sea lies beyond it.
From notch 5, the trail heads back toward Mountain Station. You soon reach the other end of the Nature Trail, marked by a wooden footbridge. You can either take the Nature Trail the rest of the way or continue on the Desert View Trail. Either way you will end up back at the stone walkway. For hikers not used to high elevation, the short climb may be surprisingly vigorous. Fortunately you can relax on the patio and enjoy the views, or perhaps grab a snack or cocktail while you are waiting for the tram to take you back down.
Text and photography copyright 2017 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.