A Giant Tramway from Desert to Mountain

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For 54 years, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway has carried residents and visitors 8,000 feet above Southern California’s Coachella Valley.

I escaped Jackson Hole’s early snow this weekend and headed southwest, destination tramway number fourteen on my hit list.  One I should have gotten to long ago, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the king of North American jig-backs with a ridiculous vertical rise of 5,873 feet.  That’s second highest in the world, though the German number one was retired in April with a replacement not scheduled to open until December, giving SoCal’s tram the loftiest lift worldwide title for the moment.  At 2.5 miles, it’s just 317 feet longer than Jackson’s Big Red but with almost 1,800 more vertical in Chino Canyon.  A modest sign points to the tram from a traffic light 670 feet above sea level on the edge of Palm Springs and the access road (Tram Way) and the tramway combine to lift visitors to 8,516 feet on Mt. San Jacinto.  Of all the lifts I have ridden, this one rivals the best, both in terms of the core machine and the impressive operation surrounding it.

Francis Crocker, an employee of the California Electric Power Company first envisioned the tram while on vacation to Palm Springs in 1935.  It took almost thirty years and a war for his dream to come alive, beginning with the creation of the Mount San Jacinto Winter Park Authority by the California legislature in 1945.  Construction began in 1960 and from the day California Governor Pat Brown cut the ribbon in September 1963, the tram was a hit.  It would be the first of seven large aerial tramways for VonRoll in the United States.

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