If you’ve ever driven to Palm Springs, either coming from the Inland Empire or the Los Angeles region to the west – or from Blythe and Arizona to the east – you cannot miss the magnificent, looming mountains that contain the peak of Mount San Jacinto. This is the first range of mountains you see when driving in from the barren Sonoran Desert (the desert you spend a majority of time driving in from Phoenix) into the Colorado Desert (where Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley sit).
Located in Riverside County, in the San Jacinto Mountains, Mount San Jacinto is a mighty peak. The entrance starts near the beginning of Palm Springs, where you turn right onto a long, straight road that slowly rises in elevation as it begins to twist and turn. Eventually you’ll approach a medium-sized parking lot, which we came to find out was the “overflow” parking lot. The base of the lift to the top of the mountain, called the Valley Station (you must take a shuttle lift to the top), is quite far away from this parking lot, however, there’s a bus-tram that routinely shuttles visitors to and from. It’s free and runs quite frequently. The main parking lot is much closer to the entrance.
The thing about the little shuttle spaceship (officially called the Palm Springs Ariel Tramway) that takes you from the bottom to the top is that you must go during your allotted time. You can purchase tickets beforehand or at the base, but again, you are only allowed to go on the spaceship during your allotted time. If you miss it, they will leave without you, but I’m sure you can go on a later one.
The spaceship takes roughly 10 minutes to slowly slither its way up the cable and to the top. It rotates, offering all a 360-degree view of the barren desert straight ahead and the mountains that frame it from the side and behind. If you are deathly afraid of heights, my sympathies, because this will not be fun. Luckily, the spaceship doesn’t rock and roll too much, except for 2 large bumps that we were warned about in advance by the operator.
Once you make it to the top and are shooed off like a herd of cats, you make your way into the large building that is the epicenter of the Mount San Jacinto State Recreation Area. Here are the restrooms, souvenir shop, food, a viewing room with two short educational videos, as well as front and back outside patio areas where one can get a remarkable view. The address is One Tram Way, Palm Springs, CA. 92262 and the hours of operation are Monday – Thursday, with the first tram up at 8am, the last tram up at 4:20pm, and the last tram down at 6pm, with trams departing at least every 30 minutes. So, if you don’t plan on camping at the top of Mount San Jacinto, I’d strongly suggest not missing the last 6pm tram!
We went for a family outing, most notably so my then 3-year-old could see and touch snow for only the second time in her life (the first time was Mount Baldy. We were banking on this time being better – it wasn’t). What we were hoping was going to be a wondrous time for my little tot turned out to not be such. It was not the fault of Mount San Jacinto or our experience getting there, but with my daughter’s opinion of snow. She’s NOT a fan. As with our experience at Baldy a week prior, the snow had hardened into that weird, hard, slick but crunchy snow. It was not fun to walk in, build a snowman, or make a snowball with.
One thing I wish I knew – the ramp down to the snow/trails is very long, and very steep coming back up. It’s not the worst, however if you’re like me, and have a young child, it can be the worst. My small toddler was so tired from the hectic day outing and no nap that I had to carry her back up the ramp. It was brutal. Just something to keep in the back of your mind if you have small children.
Speaking of my poor daughter, who has spent most of her life in balmy, sunny Southern California, as mentioned she was NOT prepared for the cold, wet snow. We thought she would love it and have a joyous time, but she hated it. We played around in it for a while, attempting in vain to bring out some joy in my grumpy toddler, before calling it a day. There are numerous hiking trails all throughout this area, but sadly we did none because of the snow and small child we had with us.
You can also camp if you so choose. Again, if you miss the last 6pm tram, you might be camping against your will anyway. 😶
Children: $16.95 (ages 3-10)
Seniors: $24.95 (65+)
Summer Pass (available May 1): $80 for Adults
& Seniors, $40 for Children
Overall, despite my daughter being less than thrilled about the snow, cold, and lack of nap, visiting Mount San Jacinto was a fun time and wonderful day-outing. It’s a beautiful, scenic, fun area to spend a day, or weekend, with friends or family. I can only imagine how gorgeous, peaceful, and fun it is during the summertime! Adults and kids alike will enjoy riding up on the tram, because it really is an otherworldly experience. Just don’t look down!