Palm Springs, California, is one of those places most often thought of as an adults-only weekend getaway spot. But it has nature, adventure and history all rolled into one. All you have to do is hop on board the Palm Springs Tram Way to experience it all.

Palm Springs for Families

Palm Springs Tram

View from the tram as you make your way up the mountain. Photo Credit: Sara Pittman-Frugal TravelingMom

When we made the decision to take our children on the Palm Springs Tram, we had no idea what the prices were.  Upon discovering the ticket prices, we changed our minds…temporarily.

Adults: $23.95

Kids: $16.95

My first thought was “wow! A family of 5 is $98.75 just to ride a tram? Not worth it.”

However, a more in depth discussion with the family made us change our minds simply for the experience.  I envisioned a tram taking us up a mountain, stepping out to look at the view and then descending back down the mountain.

Boy was I wrong. This is an experience, not just a ‘tram.’

A Word of Caution

We had been hearing about the Palm Springs Tram—officially called the Palm Springs Aerial Tram Way–for years but had never made an effort to experience it. My children enjoy hiking, have no fear of heights and are very physically active, so we decided to give it a try. If someone in your family is afraid of heights, it might be best to stay on terra firma.  There is a sitting area outside of the Palm Springs Tram building with a cafe, waterfall and paved paths to stroll. Either way, you and your children can still enjoy the beauty of the location and time spent together.

How the Palm Springs Tram Works

The first tram heads up Mt. San Jacinto at 10 am. Get there EARLY.  This is no joke.  People mean business. They briskly make their way from the multiple parking lots, up the hill (at a 30 degree incline I might add), and into the tram building packed with people to purchase tickets.

This is because a tram departs to the top of the mountain every 20 minutes. Depending on the number of people on any given day, you could potentially have a wait of up to 2 hours before your turn. We waited only 10 minutes to buy our tickets and then another 20 for our tram ride.  We were told it was a “slow day.” I would really hate to see a busy day.

The tram holds 80 people and provides 360-degree views.  The floor slowly rotates so you have the privilege of seeing everything from all angles.  I’m not gonna lie, acrophobia tried to creep up on me but the views were amazing. 8516 feet up and about halfway to the top, the tram car starts to sway slightly, so make use of the handrails.

Beware the Squirrels

Palm Springs Tram

This is me standing at one of the Desert View Trail view points. Photo Credit: Sara Pittman-Frugal TravelingMom

Once you reach the top you need to know that the air temperature is at least 30 degrees cooler than at the bottom of the mountain. The tram building was 64 degrees.  The top of the mountain was 34 degrees.

Even though the temperature is posted in the tram building, there were many people in tank tops and dresses who immediately asked to be taken back down the mountain due to the weather.  Dress accordingly so that you can be comfortable and enjoy the activities on the mountain.

There are 5 hiking trails to explore once you exit the tram. Boulders, bridges, and squirrels oh my!

There is also a bar on the 3rd floor of the lodge. The trees and views are amazing so if hiking isn’t your thing, head to the bar, get a cocktail, sit on the deck and take in the view that way. Just be aware of the squirrels. Squirrels everywhere! Bold, fearless squirrels that will knock over your precious beer, take the food from your table and even snatch it out of your hand.

There are two dining options at the top of the mountain, a casual cafe (The Pines) and a fine dining restaurant (The Peaks). We chose to wait and eat elsewhere in Palm Springs for more variety and value.

Rather than eat, we hiked the Desert View Trail, a 1.5 mile loop with 5 stunning view points. The last quarter mile is the most strenuous and primarily uphill, but the views make it worth it.

Bring Gum for the Ride Back Down the Mountain

Once we had had our fill of adventure, we made our way back to the tram and waited just 5 minutes to head back down the mountain. The tram ride is faster on the descent and at the halfway point, two of three of my children began to complain of ear pain from the altitude change. Sharp ear pain resulting in tears. Although I instructed them to exercise their jaws to alleviate the pain, I really wished that I would have had gum for them to chew. Upon arrival to the car all ears had equalized, but the 10 minutes of tears and pain could have been avoided.  I would advise you to bring gum and let the whole family chew their little hearts out once you head back down on the tram.

This is a great activity to experience with your family and give your kids an adventurous and unique way to see the outdoors. For more ideas on activities to do with kids in Palm Springs, click here.

How do you decide when it’s worth splurging on a travel experience? Share with us in the comment section below.