Every spring break, we go to Palm Springs, California with family and this year, we decided to do something I haven’t done since I was a kid–the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
Palm Springs is traditionally known as a playground for movie stars and hip people from LA. To us, it’s just the place I’ve been coming every year since I was ten. There are lots of things for families to do in this desert paradise. A great option for taking a little break from the pool is the aerial tramway, a tram that rises from around 2000 feet above sea level to over 8000 feet above sea level, into the San Juacinto Mountains above Palm Springs.
We heard that the lines get really crazy during this time of year so we, as is typical for our family, made great plans to get up early, be organized, and leave the house by 9am so we could be there in time to catch the 9:40 ride up. And in typical family fashion, we absolutely failed at any hope of organization and managed to leave the house at 11am. The drive was fairly uneventful and we parked and waited in line to catch the bus up to the tram base. This would mark the first of many waits, which my father simply does not do and he was ready to push old ladies over in his anxiety to get to the ticket line. And obviously, visiting the tram with children meant that everything involved took twice as long, so we were off to a great start.
At the base of the tram there was a line for the tickets and THEN a line for getting on the tram, which sent my father into heart failure. Luckily we scored a table in the casual cafeteria so we settled in for the hour long wait until the 12:20 tram went up the mountain. There are several patios for people to hang out in and a little park with picnic benches for those who choose to picnic before they go up to the top. If you’re wondering if the cafeteria has anything edible, the answer is no. Our choices were tortilla chips, granola bars and beer. And enormous sodas, which of course resulted in a huge whine-fest from the kids because they needed sodas the size of a small car.
At long last, the announcement was made for the 12:20 tram and we joined the throngs of people to get in line (MUST BE FIRST IN LINE!) The kids were fascinated and really excited. When the tram pulled in to the station, we hopped on and got a space right by the window facing the mountain, but quickly realized it didn’t matter which way you were facing because the floor rotates so you get a 360 degree view of the mountain and the valley. It was awesome.
The tram goes fast and rises over 6000 feet, from around 2000 ft to around 8000 feet. The ride is a ten minute ride and is a 2.5 mile trip. Along the way, you pass 5 different life zones, from Sonoran desert to Alpine wilderness.
On the top of the mountain, we were immediately attacked by sales people, asking us if we wanted to buy a picture of our family with the tram in the background, so we blew past that in search of some lunch. The top offered a bar, a casual cafeteria called Pines Cafe and a sit down restaurant called Peaks. We choose the restaurant and, after waiting in another ten minute long line to be seated, the hostess finally appeared to inform everyone that they were not taking walk in customers – only reservations. Hmm, good to know for the next time and thanks for informing us after letting us all stand in line for ten minutes! We set off for the cafeteria, which served some of the grossest food imaginable, but the kids finally got their giant sodas so they were happy. The top also offers a movie theatre showing a movie about the history of the tramway, various viewing areas and some nature exhibits.
Bellies full of sickening food, we set off on a hike in the San Juacinto National Park. As family custom called for, we brought George and took a picture….
There are a variety of hikes available to people in the national park, from novice to experienced and given that we were visiting with children, we took the .75 mile loop, an easy walk that we did not think would take us very long. There are self-guided hikes and guided hikes available. In addition, there are camp grounds available throughout the park ($5 per person and reservations are recommended). Hiking at high altitude should not be taken lightly and you should always have water and food and various supplies for difficult hikes. We only had some water and some wind breakers so we didn’t want to risk getting into a bad situation. The walk was easy and the kids had a great time bonding with grandpa over pinecones, walking sticks and even a little snow that hadn’t melted. A far cry from the 90 degree heat on the valley floor in Palm Springs. The only drawback to the easy hike was that there were a lot of other people around and we never really felt like we were alone. But overall, it definitely made up for the long lines and terrible food. I highly recommend it when you are visiting Palm Springs with kids.
Some quick tips for a trip to the Aerial Tramway when doing Palm Springs with family:
- Bring warm clothing – even if it’s 90 degrees in Palm Springs, it won’t be much warmer than 60 at the top of the mountain. Dress accordingly.
- Bring a backpack with water and some little things to nibble on…..there is a lot of waiting around in lines and kids get crabby and, as I mentioned, there isn’t great food unless you plan ahead and make reservations at the restaurant.
- Bring a camera – the scenery is beautiful up there.
- Buying tickets online can get you some savings and you cannot get tickets online on the day you are riding the tram….get them the day before.
- If you want decent meal, make reservations at the restaurant.
- Leave yourself plenty of time to get up there. There are several different parking lots and it gets crowded. Especially during high season, which is between January and April.
- Cell service is spotty up at the top so be prepared.
- If you are planning on serious hiking and camping, lot’s of information here. Please don’t take kids out into the wilderness unless you know what you’re doing and are prepared!
Visiting Palm Springs for vacation? Contact me here and I can help you with everything for your trip 🙂