Living in Southern California means being spoiled with a diverse geography and a generally temperate climate with sunny blue skies year ’round. We have gorgeous coastlines and beaches, transversing mountain ranges and valleys, farmlands and deserts, and many an urban area interspersed in between. But despite the varied landscapes and occasional rainy weather, SoCal is primarily a one-season type of region. And with warm weather the majority of the year, there’s definitely moments when I crave for the frosty white stuff.
And now more than ever I’m really obsessing about the snow. Well, not so much for me, but for my little guy. I feel that a kid’s childhood just wouldn’t be complete without the opportunity to go sledding or tubing, making snowmen, creating snow angels, and having snowball fights. And for city-folk like us, one convenient way to do that is by simply driving over to Palm Springs and hopping on the aerial tramway (cable car) up to Mount San Jacinto State Park where there’s guaranteed snow in the wintertime.
Located some 100+ miles east of Los Angeles in the County of Riverside, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a fun and unique way for locals and tourists to the area to experience a winter wonderland in one day or even just a few hours (if you’re limited for time). And in actuality, you get to enjoy two activities in one (i.e., the tramcar experience itself, and any activity you choose partake in on the mountaintop).
The tramway route stretches two and a half miles. It begins at Valley Station and ascends 6,000+ feet to the top at Mountain Station (elev. 8,516 feet). It’s a ten minute narrated ride inside what’s billed as the world’s largest rotating tramcar, offering panoramic views of the Coachella Valley and surrounding areas. There’s approximately a 30 degree temperature differential from the base of the mountain to the summit, so while a dainty outfit might suffice on the desert floor, winter wear is essential for the summit.
Once at Mountain Station you have a variety of activities to choose from. You can decide to stay put and simply admire the scenery and take photos from the viewing area. Eat at either of the two restaurants available, i.e., Peaks Restaurant (fine dining) or Pines Cafe (cafeteria-style). Indulge in an adult beverage at The Lookout Lounge (full cocktail bar) or keep it PG 13 and warm up with a cup of hot cocoa. If you brought along your own picnic basket, you can eat it in the dining hall or take it outdoors. There’s also a small nature exhibit, as well as a gift shop. Souvenir photos are available for purchase at Mt. Station.
For the more adventurous, venture out into the wilderness where there are hiking trails and camping options. However, for Ry and I, we did what we intended to do and that was simply to enjoy the snow. Ry went sledding for the first time. He quickly took to it and had a blast. Well, he was a little apprehensive at first, but was all smiles after his initial swoosh down a gentle slope. We also attempted to make a snowman, but didn’t have the proper gloves for the activity, so that was a slight bummer. In the late afternoon, we returned to Mt. Station where I purchased a slice of pizza and a cup of hot chocolate while Ry ate the lunch I packed him. As an added bonus, Santa just so happened to be visiting the day we were there.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, along with Mount San Jacinto State Park are certainly both fabulous attractions in Southern California worth visiting, especially when you’re craving a little snowy adventure.
THINGS TO KNOW
Before You Go
– During the winter months, come prepared and dressed warmly. This is especially important for our fragile wee ones whom we don’t want getting sick or frostbitten. For the kiddos, preferably waterproof and well-insulated clothing and gloves, along with beanies and scarves are all highly recommended if you decide to venture into the forest for some snow action. And don’t forget your sunscreen. Exposure to UV rays are more powerful at higher altitudes and snowy surfaces.
– You’re allowed to take on board the tramcar: sleds, strollers, picnic items, etc.
– In order to reach the first station (Valley Station) you need to drive 3.5 miles from the valley floor on 1 Tramway Road off of Highway 111 in Palm Springs. It’s a steep grade going uphill, so have your AC turned off.
Once at Valley Station
– Parking is $5.00 and there are several lots to choose from. The further lots provide shuttle service to and from Valley Station.
– Tramway ticket purchases and tramcar boarding occur at Valley Station.
– Tram ride prices as of 11/03/17 (refer to website for accuracy): Adults, $25.95; Children (ages 3 – 12), $16.95; Seniors (65+), $23.95; Kids under three are free.
– Children under 16 years old must be accompanied by an adult over the age of 21.
– No pets allowed.
– The tramcar departs every ten minutes.
– Before boarding, you’ll have an opportunity to get a souvenir photo taken of your party that you can purchase and pick up at Mountain Station.
During the Tram Ride
– You will encounter dips and sways along the 2.5 mile tramway route, especially when passing through the five towers. If you’re acrophobic, this may not be for you. But coming from someone who’s chicken about heights, I thought the ride was cool.
– The cable car floor rotates 360 degrees and does two full revolutions, allowing you to enjoy the spectacular views.
At Mountain Station
– The final destination on your tramway ride is Mountain Station. Exit through the back to reach the paved walkway, which is the start of the hiking trails of Mount San Jacinto State Park and descends into the forest.
– During snow season, the above walkway can become quite slippery, so make sure your footwear has good traction.
1 Tramway Road
Palm Springs, CA 92262
Originally published: Dec. 15, 2015
Updated: Nov. 3, 2017