Mt San Jacinto ascent was hands down one of the top ten experience in Southern California for me. This spot is on the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge™, and perhaps the most spectacular of all six in my humble opinion.
“Towering high above Palm Springs and Idyllwild, the trail to this peak travels through alpine terrain that will remind you of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.”
The first time I scaled the top of the San Jacinto Mountain was perhaps the most unforgettable experience, since I never really hiked that high before. In fact I didn’t do much serious hiking up until that day.
For an amateur explorer, wearing sneakers, walking a small segment of the trail was an experience, forever imprinted in my memory. Nevertheless, once we reached the summit the feeling of accomplishment was so overpowering that from that day on I began hiking a lot more regularly. For me San Jacinto played a pivotal role on life-long journey of mountain hiking and California exploration.
Lets dive into some details that make this location near Palm Springs simply one of the 7 wonders of Southern California.
Getting to Mt San Jacinto trailhead
While driving from Los Angeles, the landscape will change from urban jungle to rolling hills of Orange County to a desert full of windmills and sand. Like a compass needle pointing toward your destination, Mt. San Jacinto will always be visible from highway 10 – which is probably the quickest route to get to the visitor’s center and the trail head.
Once you get closer so Palm Springs, one of the first turns that actually lead somewhere is the “Tram Way.” I know that this information is probably irrelevant in the day of GPS navigation, although there’s just something nostalgic about driving without a map and paying attention to the landmarks like street signs.
The road to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway already will give you a preview of how atypical this place is from the rest of California. A signs along the road of the steep inclined route will remind you to turn of AC, so that your car can function properly with the additional exertion needed for the sharp incline.
Parking at Aerial Tram
There’s typically plenty of absolutely free parking at the very top, near visitor center. Also, don’t forget to place sun-screen shields on your car windows. It might be winter up in the mountains, but it’s a desert down below. One of the least things you’d like is to get back to sauna-hot cockpit of your vehicle.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
This is such a dope feature – the only funicular in SoCal (besides the ski resorts) that will deliver you from scourging hot Desert to pleasant Alpine climate within minutes. The price for the ride (up and down) is just under $30, and well worth every penny.
Mind blowing views unraveling from the 360 rotating cabin overlooking the desert, Salton sea, Palm springs and Joshua Tree Desert are simply memorable. Following exhilarating ride up you will have a chance to explore the Long Valley Discovery lollipop trail.
This is easy going hike in a Butterscotch scented (the pine trees in the valley seriously smell like candy) valley is a perfect option to explore with kids or family. You can also scale the San Jacinto peak, just keep in mind that you will need a minimum 4-5 hours allocated for the trip
Long Valley Ranger Station
You ascent journey to San Jacinto Peak will start at the Long Valley Ranger Station. Filling out a FREE day-use permit is an absolute must before bagging another one from the six peak pack challenge. Before you go into the mountains you will need to a make sure that you fill out proper paperwork.
In case you accidently wonder off and go on into the nature you might want to make sure that someone (rangers) know where you are upon the completion of the route. So… MAKE SURE to fill out the day use permit and keep a stub for yourself as a proof in case you encounter a ranger later on.
The trail to the San Jacinto summit
The trail all the way up to the top is convoluted and has several switchbacks. The only challenging portion is to make sure to follow the signs in the very beginning; and after about 20-30 minutes of hiking you will stay on the same trail for the entire duration of the ascent.
There is a small hut all the way at the top of the range, however almost the entire trail if free of buildings or rest stops. One exception is a small camp site (also almost at the very beginning of the trail – the Round Valley Campground.
Make sure to bring layers and inquire about the weather conditions at the Long Valley Ranger Station. The wind at the top can be brutal and be a serious constrain while you make your way up.
Palm Springs Arial Tram with kids
Important note: Children under 2 years old are free but require a boarding pass which can only be obtained on the day of your visit from the Tram’s ticket booth. Children under 16 years must be accompanied by an adult of 21 years or older.
There’s a little non-conjunction regarding an age for a child that needs a ticket; the cost is listed as follows – $16.95 (ages 3-10. So it is a little unclear whether the children between 2 and 3 need a ticket or not. We’ll give you an update once we investigate it a little further. Also don’t forget to check out the Long Valley Discovery Trail (perfect for hiking with infants and toddlers). There are multiple Instagram worthy overlooks of the Palm Springs and the Joshua Tree Desert.
Mt San Jacinto Peak with kids
First of all – this is a very doable trail to go on with a little baby or a toddler if you regularly hike and have the necessary stamina to go the distance. If you’re not a consistent hiker, I wouldn’t recommend scaling the summit with a little one. Although we have seen plenty of people with children in carriers hiking all the way to the top. It is important to understand that it will take you roughly 4-5 hours though to get to the peak with extra weight.
Also, you will need to factor in weather conditions. Even though the trail to the top is relatively safe and doesn’t require any mountaineering gear, if there’s snow on the trail we wouldn’t recommend this hike with kids at all. It is ideal to hike the mountain with little children during the summer.
A better alternative is the Long Valley Discovery Trail, a flat and a pleasant stroll through the pine trees – with magnificent overlooks of the Joshua Tree Desert Valley. It’s a perfectly safe route with plenty of turnouts and private spots to have a lunch and enjoy the nature with your little ones.
Summary of all our visits to Mt San Jacinto
Simply OMG! This is THE hike to check out if you live in LA or ever visiting Palm Spring. Imagine all the hikes around LA, add them up and then multiply by 10. This is a real experience and you should definitely take your time planning this hike. There are two way to approach San Jacinto Peak: 1. From north by taking the aerial tram near Palm Springs or 2. From south by hiking Marion Mt trail nearIdyllwild.
You will arrive at the trail head by taking a tram, which rotates full 360* on the way up, opening views on nearby mounts, Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs and Salton Sea. Once you up at the trailhead stop by the ranger station to fill out a daily permit.
The first thing that you’ll notice is how clean the air is. It is filled with unique sweet butter scotch smell of the pine trees. Just writing about it makes me want to go back right this moment just to have another whiff. This welcoming warm scent will change to a clear mountain breeze as you ascend the mountain. This cool draft is going to be quite pleasant and invigorating, seriously, it is a life saver after a strenuous hike.
As you arrive to the peak, at 10,834 ft, you will truthfully feel on top of the world. You will earn extensive bragging right as a summit conquer and you will also earn a serious appetite, so we advise to bring some sandwiches and drinks of your choice. Beef jerky, dry fruits, maybe some trader Joe’s sandwiches are my personal favorites. Also, you might want to bring some pain killers for the joints.
Other things to do in Palm Springs
If you came to check out the premier desert of SoCal with the family and enjoyed the aerial tram experience, head to the Living Desert in Palm Springs to see some purple tongue giraffes! Also you should swing back to the Cabazon and Desert Hills Premium outlets on the way back. Honestly the best shopping outlet in all of California not just SoCal.