San Jacinto - Tram to Summit

San Jacinto Peak is the highest peak in the San Jacinto mountain range at 10,834 feet of elevation; and the second tallest mountain in Southern California. It is also the sixth most topographically prominent peak in the contiguous United States.In the past, San Jacinto was known to the Cahuilla Native Americans as Aya Kaich, meaning an area with smooth cliffs. To them, the mountain was the home to Dakush, the meteor and legendary founder of their tribe. Today, San Jacinto is known to hikers and mountaineers as one of the “Three Saints”, a term that refers to the three tallest mountain ranges in Southern California – the San Jacinto Range, the San Gabriel Range, and the San Bernadino Range. The other mountain members of the Three Saints are Mount San Antonio, and Mount San Gorgonio. The mountain has also been popular with modern explorers and conservationists, including John Muir, who stated, “The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth”. The mountain is also a popular destination due to its proximity to Southern California, and has multiple points of access on both its Eastern flank (Palm Springs) and its Western Side (Idyllwild).

San Jacinto has a number of stunning views in a variety of directions.

While San Jacinto is a popular mountain among hikers and mountaineers in the Southern California wilderness community, it also can be a challenging mountain. The most challenging route is the Cactus-to-Clouds trail which leaves from the desert valley floor near Palm Springs, and ascends to the summit of the mountain, requiring the hiker or mountaineer attempting it to ascend some 10,400 feet of elevation gain. The most popular route to the summit of the mountain also departs from the Palm Springs side of the mountain, and is the Round Valley Trail, also known as the “Tram to Summit Route”. This trail is accessed from the aerial tramway station, and in the summer, is a twelve mile roundtrip hike. In the winter, the route can be traversed by ski, snowshoe, or in certain cases, ice axes and crampons.

Depending on the season, the peak, or the surrounding peaks can be covered in snow.

Directions: In order to climb the mountain by the Tram to Summit route, one must take the Palm Springs Aerial Tram, which operates year-round. For adults, as of 2018, the cost is $25.00 (plus tax) per person, plus the daily parking fee for vehicles. Based on the popularity of the route, and the popularity of the tram for general tourism and casual day hikers, the best course of action is to purchase tickets in advance online. Visitors to the tram should be aware that as the day progresses, the line for the tram increases, and does regularly sell out. It is also worth noting that on weekends, the tram departs much earlier - 8:00 a.m. - than on weekdays. Over the course of a ten minute rotating ride, the Palm Springs Aerial Tram ascends from 2,643 feet to the Mountain Station at 8,516 feet.

Summit, San Jacinto

From mid-April through early December yearly, hikers may proceed from Mountain Station down the paved route into Long Valley without any issues. In Long Valley, potential climbers must self-register at the Ranger Station at Mount San Jacinto State Parkfor a free wilderness permit. The Ranger station is directly off of the trail, and is a great source of information regarding conditions on the mountain, particularly in the winter months. From the Ranger station, the trail gradually ascends for 1.8 miles to a trail junction for Round Valley. 

To the North of San Jacinto, Mount San Gorgonio is a prominent and taller peak.

Once in Round Valley, hikers will want to follow the well-signed route into Round Valley and past the Tamarack Campground to Wellman’s Divide, which has great views of the surrounding area. From Wellman’s Divide, the route is well-signed and marked to the summit. Slightly before the summit, there is a Sierra Club Rescue Cabin which is worth a visit as it is quite picturesque. From the summit, there are excellent views of the desert, San Gorgonio, and if the air is particularly clear, Mexico and the coast. Once one is done with their time on the summit, the route back to the tram is the same as described above for a moderate twelve mile roundtrip hike with 3,020 feet of elevation gain.

During the winter months, an ascent up San Jacinto becomes a bona fide winter climb.

From mid-December to mid-April, or during El Nino or heavy precipitation years, the route can be partially covered in snow and ice, or completely covered. At these times, the route becomes less of a hike, and more of a climb. During these times, parties attempting to summit the mountain will either need snowshoes, cross country skis, or other traction devices to ensure that they can traverse the conditions safely. Separately, those wishing to attempt the summit at these times will also need excellent map and compass, or GPS skills, as the route at these times is mostly - or completely off-trail. Despite these warnings, a winter summit attempt on San Jacinto and its surrounding peaks, such as Folly Peak, is an excellent experience with different views and conditions than the spring, summer, and fall.

A winter ascent of the peak provides unique views and also a different perspective of the area.

Tips: On weekends, or busy days, the tram regularly has a long line by the mid-afternoon at Mountain Station. Similarly, hikers should be aware that the tram does have firm closing times and should judge their hiking time appropriately, or else they will be spending a long night outside the station at 8,000 feet elevation.

No matter when one climbs the peak, it is always an excellent - and relaxing experience.