Eating Our Way Through the 4th: Sea Level to Mountaintops  /  July 4th on top of Palm Springs  
by glutenberg  

July 4th on top of Palm Springs

July 4th. Our nation's birth. Time to celebrate it on top of the world, or at least about 8,500 feet above sea level. Jean and I basically lazed around all day until the afternoon, at which point we decided we needed to move around. We hopped in the car and drove over to Palm Springs to take the aerial tramway to the top of the mountain.

As we approached Palm Springs around 5:30 PM, the temperature steadily rose to 105°F. I had expected it to cool down by then but I guess the day temperature was even worse. Once we got to the tramway, we parked (luckily there weren't too many people there at that hour so we didn't have to walk far to get inside the building) and went inside to buy a ticket for the tram. Because we got to the tram after 4 PM, the ride was $22.95 / person. The normal cost is $25.95 / person. We debated about getting the ride and dine package for $36.00 / person but we decided that we wanted to eat somewhere else later. As you embark on the tram, they will take a green screen picture of you for you to purchase at the top of the mountain (a bit of a ripoff per usual).

The tram itself is pretty bad ass. As it ascends the mountain, the cabin rotates 360° to afford all passengers an even view of the ride. The tram itself sways a bit as it goes up, so if you're afraid of heights, this may not be the ride for you (ahem, Mike and his seaweed dance). The ride itself is about 2.5 miles long and takes around 10 minutes to reach the top summit. The view is beautiful both during the day and the night and by itself is probably worth the $23 entrance fee.

Once you're at the top, you can walk around the mountaintop building for beautiful views of Palm Springs below, the Salton Sea, and Mt. San Jacinto State Park. The very first thing you'll notice is the drastic weather change from the valley below. Once we made it to the top, the weather had dropped to a nice and cool 67°F. Basically, mountaintops are the best places to be during the hot summer. The building at the top had a cafeteria with a hot food bar, snacks, and drinks. It also had a formal dining restaurant called Peaks Restaurant. Although we didn't eat there, the food actually looked pretty tasty from what we saw. I don't remember too much from the last time I visited the Palm Springs tramway , but everything felt pretty new at the top, so I'm guessing it had been refurbished since the last time I was there as a kid.

After looking around inside the building, we climbed some steps outside of the building to the top of the building. At the top, you are able to see the city below and the Salton Sea in the distance. The Salton Sea is definitely on my bucket list of weird places to check out and I'm sure it'll be one of my next stops when I head back out that direction again. Once we finished up around the building, we decided to hike around Long Valley in Mt. San Jacinto State Park. This valley was pretty neat because it was fairly green compared to the surrounding desert. There were a lot of Jeffrey Pines in the valley and they smelled like vanilla or butterscotch, which perfumed the air with sweetness.

We ended up taking the Desert View Trail, which has five notches that overlooks the desert valley below. You walk along a clockwise or counter-clockwise trail that's 1.5 miles worth of walking. The hike itself is pretty easy but I would recommend getting used to the thinner air a little bit before going as you will get winded much quicker than normal. The five notches all offered slightly different views of the valley below and were well worth the walk. Once we finished our hike, it started getting dark so we decided to make our way down the mountain. I forgot to take a picture from the building before descending but at least we got a great view of the city lights on the way down the tram.

Overall verdict for this the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway? A worthwhile trip for those who want to spend an entire day hiking (apparently you can hike all the way to Idyllwild on the trails up there) and camping or if you want to save a little money, go after 4 PM in the summer and enjoy the crisper weather and the beautiful city lights. The next time I come will definitely be during the winter so I can see some snow.

Entrance to Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It's right at the entrance of Palm Springs before you make it to the downtown area.
Smokey says, "only you can prevent forest fires."
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
$22.95 / person for the after 4 PM tram ride
We like these cables to be Kardashian thick.
Salton Sea way off in the distance
Cookies at the cafeteria. They also had a hot food bar that looked surprisingly good.
Mt. San Jacinto State Park
Desert View Trail. We decided to go clockwise from notch 1 to 5. Didn't really matter which direction we went as it's just a big loop. Beautiful views of the desert valley below.
Meet Jeff! Using all your senses helps you appreciate your surroundings more fully. Close your eyes and sniff the bark of this tree. Is it a familiar smell? The vanilla or butterscotch-like scent is characteristic of Jeffrey pine. The reddish-brown bark is also distinctive but varies from tree to tree. It is the most common pine in the valley, and grows in open stands of large trees. It's adapted to the warm, sandy soils of Long Valley.
Apparently you can hike to various camping grounds and can hike all the way to Idyllwild. I'll save that for another day . . . or life.
Blech, the climb back up to the building is discouraging.