Palm Springs Tramway – A Los Angeles Road Trip Travel Blog

Top of Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
A trip to the snow

Having my kids home from school for two weeks without anything to do (with the exception of ripping presents open in a manic frenzy for less than 60 minutes one Tuesday) seemed pretty daunting. So when I was offered tickets to take the family to the Palm Springs Tramway I jumped at the chance.

At first we were going to make it a day trip, because we are kind of crazy like that, but then my mom offered me a hotel room on her expiring Marriott points and we jumped at that. (Apparently the Ross family does a lot of jumping when things are offered for free.)

We dropped our beast of a dog off at my mother’s so she could dog sit and took off across the 118 to the 210 freeway for a little family adventure. Since traffic was light we let Chandler drive. He gets his license next month and needs practice. He did a great job, but there are a lot of trucks on the 210 freeway and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t fairly terrified the whole time. We stopped at Costco for pit stop (for the car and ourselves) and jumped down the aisles to snack on the plentiful free samples. (Okay, we didn’t really jump.)

Idyllwild, California
Rockin’ Idyllwild like the tourists do!

We decided to take a detour and drive to Idyllwild on the way to Palm Springs to eat lunch and poke around the town like tourists. We found a great little lunch place called The Red Kettle that had something for all of us – breakfast for Dave and Chandler, a burger for Marley, and a delicious grilled chicken salad (that probably had 1,000 calories, but at least I could semi-convince myself I was eating healthfully) for me.

Downtown Idyllwild

After our late lunch and tourist poking we headed down the California 74 to the Courtyard Hotel in Palm Desert.

CA-74 Idyllwild to Palm Springs
A long and winding road

The weather was cold, but we told the kids to bring their suits so we could sit in the Jacuzzi. Apparently I wasn’t listening to myself (why should I, no one else in my family does) and didn’t pack one for myself. But I’m resourceful. If I can MacGyver some slippers together with duct tape, I can certainly find a suitable bathing suit inside of my over-packed suitcase. So I just slipped on my super-tight Spanx-like camisole under a tank top and put on some black granny bikini underwear and joined my family in the hot tub. (Oh yeah, between the Costco free-food sampling and the makeshift bathing suit I am just one or two short steps away from submitting an audition tape to Redneck Island.)

After our jaunt in the hot tub we headed out to the Thursday night street fair in Palm Springs. We enjoyed walking in the crisp night air and looking at the artists’ booths. In a “it’s such a small world” type of way we ran into some friends from our neighborhood at the street fair. They told us they had tried to go to the Palm Springs Tram that day around noon and it was a three-hour wait to get up the mountain. Uh-oh. They suggested we get the 8:00 tram the next morning.

On our way back to the hotel we picked up some bagels and cream cheese from the market for breakfast so we could get an early start the next morning. When we got to the hotel we looked at a brochure for the tramway and saw that the first tram up the mountain was actually at 10:00. (8:00 is the first tram on weekends.) We were happy to have an extra two hours to sleep.

(Well, the family had extra sleep. I got up at 5:30 AM like a crazy person and went down to the hotel lobby to take advantage of the free WiFi, drink a lot of mediocre coffee, and get some work done.)

Courtyard Palm Desert Lobby workspace
My quiet little lobby workspace

I woke the family at 7:30, we showered, dined on bagels and orange slices, and checked out a little over an hour later. We arrived at the tram around 9:30. We were directed to a very full parking lot and took a shuttle to the tram station. It turns out that our friends were right and the first tram ride up was at 8:00. If we had checked the aerial tram website instead of the brochure we would have seen that holiday hours were in effect. There was a bit of a wait, but we were lucky, as the tickets I was given were good at any time. (I was told by the man at the information booth that my tickets were like gold!)

My advice: Be awesome like me and write a travel blog so you will have connections. Buy your tickets online and avoid the wait.

The ride up the mountain is pretty spectacular. You start at 2,643 feet and climb to 8,516 feet in just 10 minutes. (Gum is a good idea.) And the car actually rotates! Yes, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway has the World’s Largest Rotating Tramcar. I thought it would be scary, but the ride is so smooth and so beautiful, that all I felt was an incredible sense of awe.

Up we go

Once we reached the top we were greeted with a beautiful winter wonderland. (And 27 degree weather – BRRR!) We decided to hike the Desert View Trail – a mile and a half loop.

Desert View Trail

I insisted that Marley wear a ski jacket (much to her chagrin because she was sporting some cute new Christmas clothes) but didn’t stand firm on making her wear knee socks instead of little ped socks. I should have known better because Marley always beats her own little off-beat drum and preferred to walk off-trail in the deeper unpacked snow. This resulted in us swapping shoes (my hiking boots for the Merrells she had borrowed) mid-hike. I didn’t know if I was a good mom for taking over the snow-filled shoes or a bad mom for not having the foresight to insist upon a better shoe-sock combination in the first place.

My off-trail hiker

The Desert View Trail had five viewpoints of the Cochella Valley that were just spectacular.


The trail had some ups and downs, but was very easy and I think even a family with young kids could do it if they had snacks and time for “resting.” (We’ve been taking our kids hiking their whole lives and we learned quickly that when they are young they really like to rest!) There are plenty of rocks at the viewpoints for the kids (and grown-ups) to climb.

Palm Springs Tramway top
If you look closely you can see Chandler at the top.


Of course when Marley reaches the top of a rock there is no missing her!


Top of the world palm springs
She’s on top of the world


There is plenty to do besides hike. There are huge areas for snow play and a lot of families brought discs and small sleds on the tramway with them. The hills are quite small though, and probably more fun for younger kids (say under 10). There are also two restaurants at the top of the Palm Springs Tramway…

A cafeteria style restaurant…

Palm Springs Tramway cafeteria

and a “fine dining” restaurant called Peaks…

Peaks Restaurant palm springs tramway

They both looked quite nice. Of course we prefer to bring a picnic lunch and spread it out on a log. (Future Redneck Island contestants – remember!)

picnic lunch
Picnic in the snow

We ended up spending about three hours at the top of the mountain. It really was a fantastic little getaway. (I’d highly recommend it.) And the views… well, they were just spectacular.

View of Palm Springs


6 thoughts on “Palm Springs Tramway – A Los Angeles Road Trip Travel Blog

  1. What a wonderful roadtrip! And you truly sound like a MacGyver – making it all work. Or maybe that’s just being the awesome parent that you are. Great views!

  2. Too funny. would I be jumping to conclusions in saying I loved your travel blog? I love your adventurous soul and your ability to make a bathing suit out of granny panties! Great pics!

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