First, the facts and figures. By the time you reach the Palm Springs Tram visitor center, you'll be at a little more than 2,600 feet elevation. At the top, it's more than 8,500 feet. Two tram cars travel back and forth, each one holding up to 80 people. They pass over five towers along the way and cross five distinct vegetation zones (the botanical equivalent of driving from Mexico to Canada).
If you last visited the Palm Springs Tram back in the twentieth century, you'll find it has new cars, bigger than before and with a new twist: they rotate.
Don't let it worry you, though. The tram car itself stays stable while the floor moves inside, making two slow rotations during the 15-minute ride to the top.
While the rotation isn't scary, the Palm Springs Tram may be an uncomfortable trip for anyone who gets nervous about heights. The tram runs quite high above the ground and the cars rock a bit after passing over each tower. Standing near the center of the car and facing inward may help.
At the top of the Palm Springs Tram are two restaurants. Pines Cafe is a self-service cafeteria and Peaks Restaraunt is a sit-down dining spot. Both are open for lunch and dinner. Just want a cocktail with that beautiful view? Lookout Lounge offers a full-service bar, with a range of cocktails and appetizers.
You can watch a film about the Palm Springs Tram construction and go outside to enjoy panoramic views of the Coachella Valley. When the weather is nice, you can take a 3/4-mile, self-guided nature hike or let a volunteer guide show you around (summer only).
In winter, they rent cross-country skiing equipment if there's enough white stuff accumulated on the ground. The more energetic will find more than 50 miles of hiking trails, including a 5.5-mile climb to the top of Mt. San Jacinto.
Tips for the Palm Springs Tram
- Bring your camera. Take your binoculars if you have them with you.
- The temperature at the top of the Palm Springs Tram can be 30 to 40°F cooler than in town, leaving you shivering in your shorts if you're unprepared.
- You'll need sunscreen even more at the top than you do in the valley.
- If you have an extreme fear of heights or confined spaces, you may consider skipping the trip.
- Sunset and night are particularly pretty, with the city lights glowing below you. It can be less crowded too.
- Make reservations in advance for Peaks Restaraunt or call 760-325-4537 if you plan on dining there once you get to the top.
- The Palm Springs Tram is accessible, with an elevator at the visitor center. Some areas at the top can't be reached in a wheelchair, but you'll still find plenty to see.
What You Need to Know About the Palm Springs Tram
Open daily with tram cars leaving every half hour. The Palm Springs Tram closes during September for annual maintenance. The best time to visit is anytime, but snow may preclude hiking in the winter. Ticket prices vary by visitors' age. Allow at least an hour, more if you hike or have a meal. Check the Palm Springs Tram website for more on ticket prices and hours.
Palm Springs Tram
One Tramway Road
Palm Springs, CA
The Palm Springs Tram is north of Palm Springs off Palm Canyon Drive (Hwy 111). Turn west onto Tramway Road and go about 4 miles uphill to the Palm Springs Tram entrance. On busy days, you may have to park in one of the remote lots along the road and take a shuttle to the visitor center.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary admission for the purpose of reviewing the Palm Springs Tram. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.