Article & photographs by Greg Aragon
The Palm Springs Aerial Tram is often called the 8th “Wonder of the World” because of the groundbreaking engineering behind its construction. This year, the modern marvel is celebrating its 60th anniversary, so I thought it would be a great time to visit, while also spending a couple days relaxing in the warm paradise of Palm Springs.
My getaway to the area began at the beautiful Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel, where the family and I checked into a luxurious suite for two nights. The spacious room came with two queen beds, mini-fridge, coffee maker, office desk, comfortable chairs, a spacious bathroom with a tub/shower combo, and a balcony overlooking the property’s large, sparkling pool.
Beyond the suite, the Renaissance Hotel also features onsite restaurants and bars, fitness center, convenience store, meeting space, and free wi-fi. My favorite spot at the hotel was the giant outdoor pool area, where guests can lounge beneath umbrellas or in private cabanas between dips in the water.
The hotel is located in Downtown Palm Springs and is set against a backdrop of swaying palm trees, giant spinning windmills, and the majestic San Jacinto Mountains. Once acquainted with the hotel, we drove a couple miles through town to the Aerial Tram for a thrilling ride up the mountain.
Our adventure began at the base of Mt San Jacinto, at Valley Station at an elevation of 2,643 feet. Here we picked up our tickets and boarded a pumpkin-shaped tram car, which can hold up to 80 passengers. Once inside, the conductor closed the doors and the tram began climbing straight up a mile of rocky cliffs.
The tram is pulled by 12,000 ft of cable and passes through five huge support towers along the way. At each tower, the car shimmies and shakes, giving riders a roller coaster thrill. Inside the tram, all passengers get great views of Coachella Valley because the car rotates 360 degrees. According to officials, these are the world’s largest rotating tram cars!
During the ascent, visitors are transported through five unique ecosystems – a change in landscape and life, equivalent to a drive from Sonora, Mexico to the Arctic Circle in Alaska. It makes this trip in about 11 minutes!
While enjoying the ride, I marveled at the views and thought of the immense challenge it was to build this project. It all began in 1935 when a young engineer named Francis Crocker was sweating in the Palm Springs desert heat, when he looked up and noticed that there was snow atop Mount San Jacinto. There must be an easy way up to that snow, he thought. And with that, the dream of a mountain tram was born.
After years of planning and political hurdles, a bill was signed in 1945 to build a tram up the mountain. By
1950, engineers were hammering out designs and preparing construction until the Korean War caused a 10-year delay.
To overcome the challenges of building up the side of a rock mountain, engineers ingeniously employed helicopters to help erect four of the five supporting towers. Because of this, the tram was labeled the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and was designated an historical civil engineering landmark. The tram was officially completed in 1963.
The tram ride up the cliffs ends at Mountain Station at 8,516 ft above sea level. Here there is a lodge-like visitor’s center with two restaurants, a gift shop, small museum, and lots of spots to look out over the valley below.
Outside the visitor center is Mt. San Jacinto State Park, which offers 54 miles of hiking trails and a few primitive campsites within a 13,000-acre pristine wilderness. The weather is usually about 30 to 40 degrees cooler up here, so riders should bring a coat. When we got outside, we hiked Long Valley, following a three-quarter-mile-long loop trail through a large meadow.
The temperature was about 55 degrees and the meadow was lined with tall pine trees and native plants and grasses. Along the trail we scratched the dark brown bark of a Jeffrey pine tree (the most common tree in the valley) and breathed its natural vanilla and butterscotch scent. There was also a small, raging stream flowing through the valley.
After hiking we returned to the visitor’s center and had lunch at Pine’s Cafe, where we enjoyed chicken tenders, a deli sandwich and some of the best pizza I’ve had in a long time. The Aerial Tram also offers a special ride and dinner combination ticket from 4:00 p.m. daily with meal service from 4:30 p.m. Prices for the combination ticket are $38.00 for adults and seniors, and $24.50 for children ages 3-10.
After lunch we bought a t-shirt at the gift shop, and a commemorative gold coin for $5, and then relaxed on the Mountain Station terrace, looking down over the entire Palm Springs desert valley, with views from the Salton Sea to the San Gorgonio Pass.
Back at the Renaissance Hotel, we lounged by the pool in our own private cabana, which comes with a small fridge, comfortable sofas, deck chairs, and plenty of shade and privacy. The cabanas are available for rent from the front desk. For more info on the hotel, visit:
The Palm Springs Aerial Tram is located at One Tram Way, Palm Springs, CA 92262. Tickets are $29.95 for adults, $17.95 for kids 3 – 10, and $27.95 for seniors. For more information call 888.515.TRAM or visit: