- Home - Hiking Trails - LA Mountain Hikes Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Hike To Mt San Jacinto
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Hike to Mt San Jacinto is a great way to bag Southern California's second highest peak without a huge effort. It's still a tough 11 mile hike, but nothing like climbing to Mt San Jacinto from Palm Springs or Idyllwild. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway cuts about 8,000 feet of climbing off the hike, and offers a nice base station where you can grab a beer and bite after your summit. A really fun and insanely beautiful hike.
11 miles (17.7 km)
Incredible Mountain Peak
Planning for the Palm Springs Tram Hike You need to take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway from Palm Springs to Mountain Station. I suggest spending some time on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway website to make sure you are familiar with the tram schedule, ticketing, and various costs (including parking). Likewise, check the weather at the summit. If there are high winds, snow, or other nastiness, the tram can shut down. And in the winter, if there is snow and ice, the summit can be treacherous. This is a hike best done Spring through Fall. A great feature of this hike is that it’s usually about 30 degrees cooler at the the top than in Palm Springs. So if it’s 100F down in the desert, it’ll be a nice 70F at the top. The tram ride is pretty wild. It climbs about 6,000 feet in 2.5 miles, starting in the Sonoran desert and ending in an alpine zone. The tram rocks around a bit if there’s wind, and the floor rotates 360 degrees as you go up and down. It freaks some folks out, just a heads up. I’ve been on the tram with a woman screaming at full volume for the 10 minute ride. Luckily, there’s alcohol at the top. Palm Springs Tram Hike Trail Maps
Google Maps trailhead:
1 Tram Way, Palm Springs, CA, 92262, USA Hike Location The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway trailhead is about 2 hours away from downtown LA and Orange County, and about 15 minutes outside of downtown Palm Springs. 3D Hike Map What I find interesting about this 3d map is the drop off around the hike. Look how steep it is before the start at the tram, and off the face of the summit. You get to skip all that on this hike, but as you can see, there's still a fair amount of (gradual) climbing. Hike Elevation Profile There's no getting around it, you have to climb on this one. The good news is that the trail isn't very steep, the bad news is that there are not many flat sections to catch your breath. The steepest section is the very end to the summit, but at the point you are so close you just grit your teeth and do it. Interactive Hike Map Palm Springs Tram Hike Map Downloads View a Printable PDF Hike Map Download the Hike GPX File Palm Springs Tram Hike Directions About the Hike There’s a lot of climbing on this hike, and it’s not a simple walk from the tram, it’s a hike you should be ready for. If you’re not used to hiking 11 miles (roundtrip), you will suffer. There are a few nice short hikes and walks from the tram station that you can do if this hike is too much. Bring plenty of water, snacks, and clothing in case the weather changes, which it can quickly in an alpine environment. And remember, it’s 30 degrees (F) cooler up here than in Palm Springs. The summit of Mt San Jacinto is one of my favorites because it straddles the line between Coastal California and the Sonoran Desert, allowing you to see the transition between the two. On a clear day you’ll see from the Pacific Ocean to Mount Charleston in Las Vegas. When you’re done the hike, it’s nice to grab a bite and a beer at the tram station. There are exhibits there and it’s worth a look around. You can also camp close to the summit at Round Valley (read below). It’s a fun little campsite and a good place if you want to spend some time at altitude. If you’re fit and experienced, there are a few other ways to do the Mt San Jacinto summit. My favorite is a 19.5 mile hike from Idyllwild (which you can do as an overnight backpacking trip), and you also can do the epic Cactus to Clouds hike, which is one of the hardest hikes in the USA, starting at the Palm Springs Art Museum and ending at the summit. Please, please, please, please do not do Cactus to Clouds unless you are very experienced and know what you are doing. People die on that hike. Turn by Turn Hike Directions Have fun on the tram ride to Mountain Station, soaking in all the climbing that you get to skip. If you want to do the hike from the desert floor, there’s the epic Cactus to Clouds hike for experienced hikers. When you get off the tram, go to the back of the station and find these stairs down. There’s a nice little interpretive film if you have the time. It’s right by the exit to go outside (down the stairs in the last shot). Make sure you check the board for any trail alerts or weather updates. Head outside to the picnic benches on the station deck. You’ll see a sign for Mount San Jacinto State Park. Head down the concrete path to start the hike. The path down is steep and you will hate this at the end of the hike, so enjoy it now. When you get to the bottom of paved path, go straight through the trail junction. It’s worth checking out the hiking board for any trail updates. A nice trick is to take a picture of the trail map with your phone in case you need it later. And if you don’t have a signal up here (you might not), put your phone in flight mode to save the battery. When your phone is constantly looking for a signal, it will run the battery down quickly. The next stop is the ranger station where you need to fill out a free self-serve permit. This helps the rangers know if anyone is lost on the mountain after it all closes. The ranger station is just past that last sign. You’ll see signs letting you know about the permits as well. If you’re going past this ranger station, you need a permit. It’s not just for campers. Head up onto the front deck of the ranger station. There are primitive bathrooms here and sometimes there is water from a spigot in the back of the station. The self-serve permit station is pretty straightforward. Fill out the form and drop one copy in the box, taking the top copy with you. From there, keep hiking on the trail that passes the ranger station. Soon after the station, there’s a big trail junction sign. Keep heading straight toward Round Valley and San Jacinto Peak. The trail starts heading uphill. There are some up and down sections on the beginning of the hike where you can catch your breath. The trail makes a sharp left at the boulder. Head towards Round Valley, which is your first major landmark on the hike. Follow the trail as it goes more consistently uphill. Avoid the Round Valley Loop to the left and continue on the right toward Round Valley proper. Just past that last junction there are some primitive toilets for the Round Valley campground. This is your last chance to go before the summit. The bathrooms are about 50 feet off the trail to the left. Keep heading straight toward San Jacinto Peak. When you get to the Round Valley campground, follow the signs and hike to the left toward Wellmans Junction, your next stop. There might be water at the intersection, but it’s not reliable. The trail gets a bit steep as it goes up toward Wellmans Divide. After climbing for about a mile, you’ll start to see the sky and ridge at Wellmans Divide. Enjoy the views from Wellmans Divide, then hike right. At Wellmans Junction, you’re going to head through to the right. Here are the details on the sign at Wellmans Junction. You’re at 9700 feet, congrats! You’re following the trail toward San Jacinto Peak. Here’s what the trail looks like right after that last junction. From here on out, you’re hiking uphill. Take your time, especially if you’re not used to the altitude. You’re getting less oxygen up here, and need to adjust your effort accordingly. If you have a headache or nausea, you might have altitude sickness, and need to stop or turn around. Read my rundown of altitude sickness signs and symptoms on my Mt Whitney hike page. It’s serious enough to kill people, and you need to treat it seriously if you have the symptoms. After a while the trees end and you’ll have incredible views to the east. After a long stretch on that last exposed section, the trail doubles back. Keep your eyes open for large rocks blocking the (straight) path. After the last turn, the views are incredible again. The trail winds to the right and into an area with trees. You’re almost there. At the trail junction, go straight. Here’s the detail of that trail sign. Don’t mistake Little Round Valley for Round Valley on the way back. Two different places. The trail is well marked and keeps going up. Soon you’ll see the refuge hut. This is the last little stretch. Feel free to checkout the hut and leave any extra supplies you might have for hikers in danger. If the conditions are bad, you are free to take refuge in here. Also, some people leave their heavier packs outside of the hut and do the final stretch to the summit with lighter gear. It’s generally safe to leave a pack outside here. Continue past the hut and head towards the summit. The trail turns into more of a scramble on this last stretch, splitting and coming back together a few times. Look for rock piles (cairns) to confirm your path. Some sections are marked with stones on the side. As the trail gets steeper, it gets less defined. Look for stone piles and footprints to show you the right way. If you come to a dead end, just backtrack until you see the right way. OUCH! The last hundred feet are straight up. At last, the summit sign will come into view. YOU DID IT! Get your shots with the summit sign and pat yourself on the back. To the west you should see Orange, Riverside, and LA counties, and their (greener) fauna. To the east, you’ll see the Sonoran and Mojave (north) deserts, and their barren landscape. Take your time to relax on the comfy rocks at the summit. Across the valley is southern California’s highest peak, San Gorgonio, which you can also hike to. After the summit, head back the way you came. Some of the trail signs have this handy tram marker if you don’t remember which way to turn as you descend. When you get back to the ranger station, drop your copy of the permit into the box to let the rangers know that you’ve safely completed the hike.
That’s it, you did it. Even though you had the tram, it’s still a very tough hike. Enjoy a bite or drink at the tram station and head back down the mountain.
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Read More A quick note. These directions are meant as a guide for the hike, and not a definitive source. Conditions change, and the information here can be different based on time of day, weather, season, etc. There can be small side trails that you might see but I missed. I have made every effort to include all the information you need to complete the hike successfully. I recommend using this guide in conjunction with a map, GPX file, common sense, and call to the ranger station or park office. If you do the hike and notice something has changed, please contact me and I will update the guide.
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Cover photo of tram from