Top Five Places to Dangle Mid-Air

Ever have days when you want to just let it all hang out there? Skip the public nudity—these are the days to rock the aerial tramway.
By Melanie D.G. Kaplan
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway  (Greater Palm Springs CVB)

Located in some of the most scenic parts of the country, these aerial trams deliver passengers to magical views—of desert, forest, mountains, craters, flora, fauna, and, in some cases, other countries. Not crazy about hiking? Got a bum knee? Extended family in tow? Trams are ideal for checking out the landscape without having to don hiking gear.

I recently found myself riding California’s Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which bills itself as the world’s largest rotating tramcar. A poster in the lobby showed some of the wildlife I might see—mountain lions, black-tailed deer, and gray foxes. The most movement I saw was a waterfall, but I was fascinated by how close we got to the mountain, where we could see the granite core of the rocks and the rugged crevasses. I almost felt like I was rock climbing, except for the mere fact that I was relaxing in a safe, climate-controlled orb. The 10-minute ride was surprisingly smooth. The only way I knew the floor was spinning was that I was looking at the mountain, then moments later, I was looking out to the desert, where I saw a sea of giant wind turbines (that looked like toothpicks). At the top—Mount San Jacinto State Park—it was crisp and cool. I looked out from the observation deck, where I was an equal with the clouds.

Here are some of our favorite places to check out the view while dangling in mid-air.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Along 2.5 miles of cable, a 10-minute ride, you’ll pass through several different zones—from desert to mountain wilderness. The 360-degree rotating car provides spectacular views of Palm Springs from every angle as it climbs the tallest mountain in Southern California. In summer months, when city temperatures are well over 100 degrees, you’ll welcome the 30-degree difference at the summit of Mount San Jacinto, at 8,516 feet. Along with hiking trails, you’ll find a restaurant, a snack bar, and 14,000 acres of pristine wilderness.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Aerial Tram
Big Red, as it’s affectionately known, is Jackson Hole’s 100-person-capacity tram. In the winter, it takes skiers and snowboarders up Rendezvous Mountain at full speed. In the summer, it slows for a 15-minute scenic ride. Taking passengers from an elevation of 6,311 feet at the lower terminal to 10,450 feet at the top, the tram gives visitors an exquisite view of surrounding mountains. The summit offers moderate hiking trails and a panorama of Jackson Hole, the Snake River Valley, and Grand Teton National Park. Plus, you can fuel up on homemade Nutella waffles at Top of the World Waffles.

Stone Mountain Summit Skyride
Located 16 miles east of Atlanta, Stone Mountain is known for the Confederate Memorial Carving, which the park touts as the world’s largest high-relief sculpture (and the world’s largest piece of exposed granite). The three-minute tram ride takes visitors right past the carving, which depicts Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. It measures 90 by 190 feet, but it’s hard to get a sense of the size of it until you’re dangling about 50 feet away—and you can see that a human could actually stand in the horse’s ear. The tram ascends 825 feet, where there’s a terrific view of the Atlanta skyline and the Appalachian Mountains. You can take the tram back or hike down the 1.5-mile trail.

Alyeska Aerial Tram
Forty miles south of Anchorage, Alaska, you’ll be thankful you’re secured in a tram car, especially when you look down and spot a moose or a bear. The ride starts from Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, a valley surrounded by the mountains of Chugach State Park. The summer ride is seven minutes and ascends 2,300 feet to the top of Mount Alyeska. From the tram, you can see countless snow-covered peaks and spruce trees, glittering streams, and seven hanging glaciers. At the upper terminal, there’s a restaurant, bar, and small museum. If simply observing the breathtaking panorama, picking berries, or watching the sun set bores you to tears, other summit activities include paragliding or donning crampons for a glacier hike.

Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway
You can’t go wrong with red and yellow cable cars nicknamed Ketchup and Mustard. The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway at Franconia Notch State Park, in Franconia, New Hampshire, takes passengers up the mountain, to 4,080 feet, in eight minutes. On a clear day, you can look out over thousands of acres of lush green, including New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, New York, and even Canada. At the summit, there are hiking trails, plus a cafeteria and observation tower.

Published: 25 Jun 2012 | Last Updated: 17 Jul 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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