It's solidly in the triple digits in the low desert as of last week, and it's likely going to stay there until September. But that doesn't mean the Palm Springs area hiking season is over: far from it. The trails within a few hundred feet of the valley floor are dangerously hot for all but the most seasoned (and thoroughly prepared) hikers, but those of us who prefer temperatures below 90 degrees for our long walks have an escape route: the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
The Tramway, which has been hauling travelers up Mount San Jacinto since September, 1963, is a quick and painless way to escape the heat of the valley. The ten-minute ride aboard a rotating tram car whisks you upward past the dizzyingly precipitous slopes of Chino Canyon, past spiky agaves and the occasional bighorn sheep up into the conifers. Temperatures at Mountain Station, the top end of the tramway at 8,516 feet above sea level, tend to run about thirty degrees cooler than on the valley floor 8,000 feet below.
Once you're there, you have all of Mount San Jacinto at your feet. with its eponymous State Park, the Pacific Crest Trail, and many miles of other hiking opportunities among the sugar pines and white firs. Two weeks ago spring wildflowers were still in bloom on the mountain at 5,300 feet; you're likely to find some at higher elevations well into July. Make sure to get a free wilderness permit at the Long Valley Ranger Station just downhill from the tram station. You'll need one for dayhiking as well as camping. You can also just chill out in the pines and eat at the restaurant at Mountain Station, but come on: those shady trails are calling.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is in Chino Canyon, at the end of Tramway Road off Route 111 north of Palm Springs. Tickets for adults are $23 round trip, $16 for kids 3-16. The first tram heads uphill at 10 am on weekdays, 8 on weekends and holidays, and about every half hour thereafter until 8 pm. The last tram down leaves at 9:45 pm. You can check conditions and weather at the Tramway website.
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