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 considerable effort. It's still a challenging 11-mile hike, but it's nothing like climbing Mt San Jacinto from Palm Springs or Idyllwild; taking the Palm Springs tram cuts about 6,000 feet of climbing off the hike. 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 ecosystems, and on a clear day, from Catalina Island to Mt Charleston, just outside of Las Vegas. It's a fun and insanely beautiful hike.
In this Guide:
Video & Turn-by-Turn Directions to San Jacinto Peak
When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.
Getting to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The journey starts at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway base station, where you take the tram 5873ft up to Mountain Station, the start of the hike. 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.
There is a fee to park your car at the tram station.
Planning Your Tram Ride
Half of the fun is taking the tram from the bottom up to Mountain Station, which sits at 8,516 feet. The tram is the world's largest rotating aerial tramway, starting in the Sonoran desert and ending in an alpine zone. During the ride, the floor slowly turns, allowing everyone to share the best views. And the tram crosses over five towers, with the car experiencing a small swing after going over them. Wind can also make the cars sway. The Swiss-built tram is regularly maintained and inspected, and has a great safety track record, but it can be intense for those with a fear of heights.
Once at the top, in Mountain Station, you are at a tourist attraction. There are restaurants, viewpoints, gift shops, bathrooms, and interpretive displays. It's a fun place, built in the mid-century modern style that Palm Springs is famous for. I recommend budgeting some time in after your hike to grab a bite and enjoy it.
When you plan your visit, try to take the first tram up in the morning to avoid the crowds. The tram and this hike can get very 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.
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 high-altitude mountain hike and you should be prepared. I always have the 10 essentials, at least 2L of water, snacks, and plenty of layers. If you like to use trekking poles, bring them too.
Some folks feel the attitude. There's not much you can do aside from keeping hydrated and taking your time. If you start to feel nauseous or get a headache, it's time to head back down. And if you're not comfortable hiking 11 miles at lower altitudes, it won't be any easier here.
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 in just about every season it will be windy at the summit. Before you do the hike, check the summit weather and prepare for those conditions. If there is snow, and you have experience hiking in it, the trail is doable with micro-spikes and sometimes snowshoes.
As a hiking guide, I test lots of hiking gear. On my picks page, I'll show you all of the gear that I actually use. I don't accept paid promotions or talk about the stuff that doesn't make the cut. It's just the gear that works best, so you don't have to waste your money.
If you want to overnight on the mountain, your best bet is grabbing a backcountry permit and staying at one of the 19 primitive sites at Round Valley, which is along the hike route. Round Valley (not to be confused with Little Round Valley, which is on the other side of the mountain) has primitive campsites, vault toilets, water, and a seasonal ranger station. Camp at Round Valley, and then summit early in the morning before the first tram (and potential crowds) arrive. If Round Valley is full, try Tamarack Valley Campground, right next to it.
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!).