Trailhead: Palm Springs Tram
Length: 11.5 miles RT
Elevation Gain: 2500 ft.
Difficulty: Moderate (due to length)
Total time: 6 hrs
Parking: Free, but $25 for the tram
Want to try your first peak but still need to work up to true peak bagging? Then San Jacinto is a great first trek for you.
The first tram ascends at 8:00 a.m. but you can arrive at 7:30 to purchase tickets. I’ve heard that the line is crazy, so you may want to get there even earlier to avoid the crowds. Please also note that this tram rotates your view as you go up, so if you’re afraid of heights this might not be your favorite thing ever.
Once you get to the top, you’ll head down a never ending, windy, paved road that is super fun to come back up when you’re tired. Head toward the right to the ranger station where you’ll fill out a permit to enter the San Jacinto wilderness. Keep the permit with you and you’ll return it in a mailbox on your way back.
The trail to the peak will be on your right. It’s fairly well marked except when you come to round valley and you come to a juncture with no sights that say “Peak this way, bro.” Stick to the right, and you’ll get there.
The trail meanders along with a relatively easy elevation gain. There are some spots where it does climb fairly quickly, but take heart, traveler, as it will calm back down again.
About 3 miles in you will reach Wellman Divide which has a preview of the sights you’ll have at the top.
After Wellman Divide, you will enter the switchback section of the trail, which, again gains elevation fairly gently and offers great views of the valley below.
The switchbacks on this section are quite long, but there are only two of them. It was at this time we also heard a search and rescue helicopter overhead that was blasting its siren above us. I later found out it was one of our friends from Instagram, who didn’t even offer us a ride. THANKS A LOT, ERIC.
Once you finish the switchback section, you’ll go to the right and meet up with Marion Trail, and you’ll only be .3 miles from the top. When you reach the end of this trail you’ll see a big rock heap that you get to climb for the rest of your summit. Once at the top, head to the left and you’ll see the San Jacinto sign, where if it’s like when Boo and I went, people decide to sit right by or walk through because they like to ruin your pictures.
One of the best places to take in views is at the far side of the rock mound, which is a bit harder to get to which means you’ll have fewer people.
There are a lot of haters out there for people who do San J via the tram, including one at the top who got all judgy with me and Boo for not climbing Marion. I informed him that I’ve actually done the Marion trail four times, and climbed San J via Cactus to Clouds (one of the hardest day hikes in the US), so I’ve suffered quite enough on that mountain, and he can just mind his own business.
Also, it’s a 11 mile trek so it’s still a workout and a great option for people who are new to peaks as a first try.
Also, who asked you for your opinion, Mr. High and Mighty?
And for more aggression, on the way back down, Boo and I ended up running into THE Marion for whom the trail was named. I mean, we assume it was her because when we passed her she passive aggressively threw up her arms and sighed in annoyance for reasons we didn’t quite understand. We figured that she must own the trail and our presence there must have annoyed her so I apologized, letting her know we didn’t realize she owned the trail.
Hopefully you won’t run into so many haughty people on your climb.