Got 10 minutes? That’s all it takes to go from the hot desert floor to cool, piney highlands, thanks to this engineering marvel. Spinning slowly as it ascends—it’s the world’s largest spinning tramcar—the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway traverses 2.5 miles along Chino Canyon in one smooth ascent to 8,516 feet at Mountain Station, on the flanks of towering Mount San Jacinto. On the ride up, you’ll be Instagramming nonstop as you take in wonderful views of jagged cliffs and canyons (keep your eyes peeled for waterfalls in spring). Celebrated naturalist John Muir once wrote that “…the view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth,” and he wasn’t exaggerating.
Up top, there’s access to more than 50 miles of trails into the Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area. The tram operates through winter, and don’t be surprised if fellow tram riders are carrying snowshoes or cross-country skis to explore the snowy backcountry (rentals are available at Winter Adventure Center, at Mountain Station). Tip for outdoor lovers: it’s a short hike to Round Valley, offering picturesque campsites (reservations must be made five days in advance), even in winter.
But you don’t have to hike or ski to have fun. At the top there are two restaurants (fine dining at Peaks Restaurant; cafeteria fare at Pines Café), a full cocktail and beer bar (aptly named The Lookout Lounge), an observation area, natural history exhibits, and a small theater showing documentary films.