Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Hike To Mt San Jacinto
|In This Guide|
|Distance||11 miles (17.7 km)|
|Time||5-6 Hours (Total Time)|
|Total Climbing||3,164 feet (964m)|
|Highest Elevation||10,834 feet (3302m)|
|Park Name||Palm Springs Aerial Tramway|
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Hike to Mt San Jacinto is a great way to bag Southern California’s second highest peak without putting in a huge effort. It’s still a tough 11 mile hike, but it’s nothing like climbing to Mt San Jacinto from Palm Springs or Idyllwild. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway cuts about 6,000 feet of climbing off the hike, and offers a nice base station where you can grab a snack after your successful summit. 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. A really fun and insanely beautiful hike.
Getting to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The journey actually starts at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway base station, which is where you take the tram 5873ft up to Mountain Station, which is still 5.5 miles away from the summit. There is a fee to park your car at the tram station.
The tram station is about 15 minutes west of downtown Palm Springs off the main road. The address for the tram is: 1 Tram Way, Palm Springs, CA 92262.
Planning Your Tram Ride
Half of the fun is taking the tram to Mountain Station. The tram is the world’s largest rotating ariels tramway, starting in the Sonoran desert and ending in an alpine zone. And yes, the floor rotates as you go up and down, giving everyone a view at some point.
Some people freak out on the tram ride, just a heads up. If it’s windy out, the tram will sway and move with the gusts. It’s designed to do this, but can still be a little scary. 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.
The tram schedule, parking fees, and ticket costs change, so I recommend going right to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway website to get all the details.
The Valley Station at the tram has limited facilities, just bathrooms and a gift shop. At the top, Mountain Station offers bathrooms, and interpretive center, gift shops, a bar, a food court, and a sit down restaurant. You could just make a trip out of a visit there, and plenty of people do. There are a few nice short hikes and walks from the tram station that you can do if the hike to San Jacinto summit is too much for you.
When you plan your visit, try to take the first tram up in the morning to avoid the crowds. The tram and the hike can get really busy. Also, look at the schedule and see when the last tram down leaves. If you miss this, you’ll be sleeping on the floor at Mountain Station.
Budget in time after your hike to grab a bite and a beer at the tram station. There are also interpretive exhibits that are worth a look.
Gear for the Hike to Mt San Jacinto
Don’t let the fact that you take a tram for a few thousand feet fool you, this is a “hike” hike and you should be prepared. The first thing to note is that the weather will be different at Mountain Station than it will be in Palm Springs. Sounds like common sense but you’d be surprised at how many people are not ready for the hike.
In the summer, the summit will be about 30 degrees F cooler than Palm Springs, making for a nice temperate hike. In the winter, the summit can be covered in snow and ice. And for just about every season it will be windy at the summit. Before you do the hike, check the weather at the summit and prepare for those conditions. If it is wintery conditions, check the tram, they sometimes close. And if you don’t have winter hiking experience, be ready to turn around if the conditions are bad. Usually the hike gets a lot of traffic, and even in the snow it can be doable, but if there’s fresh snow and you don’t have established tracks to follow, you should probably give it a skip.
Here’s what I bring:
- Good hiking boots
- Trekking poles
- Extra layers for colder temperatures at the summit
- 3L of water in a good daypack
- Snacks (remember this is 11 miles, you need to refuel)
- Survival gear to spend the night
- A camera
My Top Gear Picks
Do you have the right hiking gear? Will it stand up to the test? I waste lots of money testing hiking gear every year so that you don’t have to. My gear picks are solid choices that will serve you well on the trail. I don’t do sponsored or paid reviews, I just the share actual gear that I use all the time that’s made the cut. Here are my top picks:
- Garmin InReach Mini Emergency Beacon – Hiking out of cell phone range? Make sure you have one of these two-way satellite texting devices in case your hike doesn’t go as planned. You can read my full review here.
- Injinji Sock Liners With Darn Tough Hiking Socks – This combo is a great way to avoid blisters out on the trail. I have some insider-hiking tips for avoiding blisters here. Pair them with modern, high-tech hiking boots (for women and men) and your feet with thank you.
- Garmin Fenix 5x Plus – It’s a little pricey, but man do I love this thing. Not only does it have all the topo maps and navigation tools on my wrist, but it also acts as a long battery life, rugged, outdoors version of an Apple Watch. Track your workouts, sleep, heart rate, all that stuff.
I have lots of other great, sponsor-free, trail tested gear picks on my “best gear” page.
See My Full Gear List
Camping On Mt San Jacinto
You can also camp close to the summit at Round Valley (read below in directions). It’s a fun little campsite and a good place if you want to spend some time at altitude or split the hike into two segments. If you camp at Round Valley, you can leave for the summit early and have it to yourself. You can also leave your gear at the campground and just summit with a smaller pack, but make sure your food is protected from mice and rodents. You don’t have to worry about bears here.
To camp at San Jacinto, get a permit here and send it in. You can book it 56 days out and can also ask for no-shows on the day of.
Mt San Jacinto Tram Hike Maps
I highly recommend bringing a good paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x Plus and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.
Many people also print out this web page for the turn-by-turn images. And if you really want to get tricky, YouTube Premium lets you download videos for offline use, so you can download the hike video and save it.
Download the Hike GPX File
View a Printable PDF Hike Map
Mt San Jacinto Tram Hike Directions
Subscribe to HikingGuy on YouTube
Turn by Turn Hike Directions
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.
Other Options to San Jacinto Summit
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.
Was This Guide Helpful?
It’s easy to help support this site (which I use to offset website hosting costs, etc.). Simply click on a link below to buy anything from REI or Amazon. I get a small percentage and you don’t pay anything extra.
Support With REI
Support With Amazon
You can also make a donation if you’d like, but please don’t feel obligated to do so.
The content on this site will always be free for everyone to enjoy.
And you can help other hikers as well. If you do this hike and something has changed, snap a few photos and send me the details. I’ll update the guide so that others can do the hike safely.
You May Also Enjoy
LA Mountain Hikes
The Best LA Hikes