Last March I visited Palm Springs on a business trip and found myself having dinner on the top of a mountain one night. Why? The Palm Springs Aerial Tram. This unique experience is one that can’t be found anywhere else in the U.S.; it’s the largest tram in the western hemisphere and travels 8,000 feet high to the top of a mountain.
It’s about a 20-25 minute drive from most of the Palm Springs hotels but is an easy enough trip (MapQuest before you go or get directions from the concierge). Once you get there you can purchase tickets. They’re on the pricey side, $21.95 for adults and $14.95 for children, but it’s worth the price of admission.
You’ll probably have some time to kill because the tram runs on a schedule, departing every half hour or so. Check out the "mountain gifts" shop in the lobby, full of knick knacks and mountain-related memorabilia. Be sure to pay attention to the announcements about tram departure warnings (we were pretty entertained by some of the novelties in the shop).
The ride itself is a real experience –- the tram sways when you pass over each tower on the ride up and down, but it’s fun (think roller coaster but super slow). It takes about 8 minutes and provides spectacular views. The gondolas are all glass so you can see 360 degrees, and the floor spins (slowly) to give everyone an equal view.
Once you reach the top there are several things you can do. You aren’t assigned a specific time to go back down, so spend as much or as little time as you’d like at the top — just be sure to make sure you make it on the last tram (or you’re sleeping on top of the mountain!). Also bring a camera — the views are amazing. You can hike, rent snowshoes in the winter shop, take a guided nature walk or just explore on your own. There will be snow –- and the temperature drops dramatically compared to the desert below so bring a jacket.
You can also eat at the top in either of the two restaurants. One is a very family-friendly casual cafeteria called The Pines Café; the other, Peaks Restaurant, is a sit-down restaurant with great food (be sure to make reservations in advance). We ate at Peaks and had a great time. The building is all glass so you can see for miles! It was built into the mountain, and there’s one section with the mountain exposed; rocks and snow right in the middle of the restaurant (encased in glass of course).
Our tram ride down was a little on the scary side — we were on the last tram of the night (9:45 p.m.) with the employees who weren’t phased by it being pitch black outside…but we were. I at least was found it a little unsettling (you might consider leaving while it’s still light if you have kids or if you want to enjoy the view both ways) but really fun.
P.S.: Don’t forget to MapQuest return directions from the tram back to your resort. We almost got lost in the desert, which made it feel like more of an adventure!
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Erin Kregor is an Orbitz merchandising analyst.
Tagged: California Vacation