One would never guess that this is literally right above the desert floor! From the valley floor in Chino Canyon near Palm Springs CA at 2,643 feet you can hike to San Jacinto Peak at 10,834 ft with the help of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The hike to San Jacinto Peak is supposed to be beautiful, and I had it in my head this was a good idea! However, on this day, we only made it Wellman Divide, which is the view above. The hike to Wellman Divide is about 6 miles round trip from the Upper Terminal Mountain Station. We did this hike in November, where it was a great temperature in the Valley. However, there were spots of snow along the trail in the shade.The park notes that weather is usually 30-40 degrees cooler on top than the desert floor. Be prepared for the temperature change!
To start your trip, you do need to drive to Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. In addition to getting you from the valley floor into the state park, they boast having the world’s largest rotating tram-car. As the tram car carries you up, it rotates 360 degrees so you can see the entire valley on the way up. There is plenty of parking at the base, but you will need to pay separately for the tram ride up and down. The tram has limited hours, and they depart every 30 minutes. Hours depend on the season, so make sure you plan your hike accordingly. If you miss the last one, it’s a long hike down!
The tram view is amazing. I did get a little dizzy but it was worth it. You can see Palm Springs from the tram. The tram ride is about 10 minutes. Only service animals are allowed on the tram. If you are afraid of heights, this may not be for you.
Once you get off the tram, you are at the Upper Terminal Mountain Station. This area as well as the tram, is wheel chair accessible. There are many things to do right around here, as well as the short 0.6 mile Discovery Trail. There is a cafe, a lounge, and a restaurant at the top. This area and trail is family friendly.
Once you get beyond the terminal station, you will need to obtain a day permit or overnight permit by visiting one of the ranger stations. If you are camping, you can obtain them in advance from the US Forest Service. Remember, your athletic ability will be compromised by the elevation and decrease in oxygen unless you are used to it. The terminal station sits at 8,516 feet and it is only uphill from there.
Here is the snow, and some mule deer. We also saw a variety of birds along the way too. I was grossly under prepared for this hike. While being in shape, I had hoped we could get to San Jacinto Peak, however, the elevation and lack of oxygen definitely affected my ability to hike. Here, a beautiful open field along the hike.
The trail is fairly shaded, hiking among large pine trees. The trail is well maintained and there are plenty of large boulders and areas to take a break and catch your breath!
As we got to Wellman Divide (elevation 9,700 ft), it was clear we (more like I) were not going to be able to make it an additional 5.4 miles round trip (est. 3 hours more round trip) to get to the San Jacinto Peak and back to Wellman Divide, let alone the remainder 3 miles back to the tram station from that point in the day light. Definitely look forward to completing the trip to San Jacinto Peak sometime, starting out earlier, and in better shape!
Despite not making it to the peak, the views at Wellman Divide were spectacular!
After resting, talking, and enjoying the view, it was time to head back down and enjoy dinner in warmer weather in Palm Springs. The Pacific Crest Trail passes through five California state parks, San Jacinto being one of them. The approx. 55 mile stretch of the PCT trail within San Jacinto State Park is known to be the best place to experience the PCT’s notorious elevation changes. Enjoy this hike!
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