What are Aerial Tramways?
According to Wikipedia, aerial tramways, aerial trams, sky trams, cable cars, or ropeways are a type of aerial lift that uses one or two stationary ropes (cables) for support while a third moving rope provides propulsion.
These systems are very prolific in the Alpine regions of Europe; however, (according to my research) there are only 21 in the United States and each is iconic and special. Since there are so few in the USA, they have become tourist destinations of their own right, and many have been featured in major blockbuster movies.
Tramways have been traditionally associated with ski areas, but today these systems are also used in other visitor attractions, material hauling, and urban transportation.
In British English, the usual term for an aerial tramway is cable car; however, in American English, cable cars refer to a cable-pulled street tramway. Aerial tramways are sometimes referred to (incorrectly) as gondola lifts. A gondola lift has cabins suspended from a continuously circulating cable whereas aerial trams simply shuttle back and forth on cables. Here in the U.S., “aerial tramways” or “aerial trams” is the correct terminology, so that is what I will use in this guide.
Based on my research, there are currently a total of only 21 aerial tramways in the United States. Some are located at ski resorts, some are located at national parks, 2 are commuter trams, and 1 is located at a winery.
- Aerial Tramways in the Northeast
- Aerial Tramways in the South
- Aerial Tramways in the Southwest
- Aerial Tramways in the West
- Aerial Tramways in the Northwest
- Aerial Tramways in the Midwest
This Complete Guide to Aerial Tramways in the USA will be continuously updated and will serve as an easy reference to help you plan your next ski trip or sightseeing adventure. Many of these tramways are seasonal as well as are subject to closure during extreme weather, so be sure to check their websites or call before you go for hours and updated information.
When I first began my research, I had assumed that they would be mostly used by skiers; however, although some of them are located at ski resorts, they are by and large aimed at tourists (with the exception of the two commuter aerial tramways that are mostly used by commuters, but many tourists ride them as well).
Oh, and which one would be my first choice to go on? While they all seem very appealing and I definitely do plan to ride one the next time I am in or near a city where one is located, I think my first pick would be the Palm Springs Aerial Tram, mainly because it rotates so you can get a 360-degree view as you ascend the mountain.
Aerial Tramways in the Northeast
Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway II
Franconia, New Hampshire
A variety of year-round sports, including hiking, climbing, skiing, and fishing are some of the reasons why Cannon Mountain is such a popular tourist area for both skiers and non-skiers alike. Tourists can enjoy Cannon Mountain’s beautiful scenery, an aerial tramway, a restaurant at the summit, and museum on the history of skiing.
Fondly nicknamed “ketchup” and “mustard” to represent their colors, these two brightly colored aerial trams at Cannon Mountain are the only aerial trams in New Hampshire. The original tramway first opened in 1938 and was notable for being the 1st aerial tramway in North America, attracting national news coverage. In order to build the passenger tramway, it was necessary to first build a freight tramway to carry the materials
The tramway became a major tourist attraction, carrying 163,000 passengers in the first year.
From 1938 until 1980, some 6,581,388 people took the scenic ride on the original tramway; however, in 1978, construction began to build a new tramway as the original tram became unsustainable and replacement parts became difficult — and expensive — to find. This time around, helicopters were used to airlift components and the existing tramway was used for moving materials.
The new $4.6 million Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway II was opened to the public in 1980. The new cabins each hold up to 80 passengers and 1 attendant, bringing visitors to the 4,080 foot summit in under ten minutes. Visitors enjoy stunning views of New Hampshire, and on a clear day, can see the mountains of Maine, Vermont, New York and Canada. At the summit, you’ll find spectacular scenic walking paths, a 360 degree observation deck, a cafe, bar, and restrooms.
More Information: www.cannonmt.com
Holds: 80 passengers
Summit: 4,080 feet
Nicknames: “Ketchup” and “Mustard”
Notable: 1st aerial tramway in North America
Roosevelt Island Tramway
New York City, New York
The Roosevelt Island Tramway spans the East River in New York City, connecting Roosevelt Island to Manhattan. Since it first began service in 1976, the tramway has carried close to 30 million people back and forth across the river. The tramway spans the East River, and offers an excellent view of the busy city, its bridge and more.
In 2010, the tramway was closed from March until November during a $25 million project to upgrade and modernize the system. With the exception of the three tower bases, all of the trams components were replaced. Among the improvements, the new tram cables and cars now operate independently of each other in a “dual-haul” system. Prior to this, the cars had to travel at the same time, presenting maintenance and emergency response issues.
Passengers pay with the MetroCard, used on most of the rest of New York City’s public transport system. The tram is wheelchair accessible and bicycles are permitted on the tram. The two cabins each have a capacity of up to 110 people and makes approximately 115 trips per day, in 15 minutes intervals from 6am to 2am (3:30am on the weekends) and continuously during rush hours. The tram moves at about 17.9 mph and travels 3,100 feet in 3 minutes. At its peak it climbs to 250 feet above the East River, providing views of the East Side of Midtown Manhattan.
It is estimated that between 2.6 and 2.7 million people ride the tram each year; an average of 5,500 to 6,500 people on any given day. The tram serves both residents and tourists; Robert Wise of Leitner-Poma of America estimates that about 70% of the riders are residents, while 30% are tourists.
The Roosevelt Island Tramway was the first to be used for mass transit is one of only two aerial tramways in North America, the other being the Portland Aerial Tram, that is used as a mode of mass transit for commuters.
Things To Do on Roosevelt Island: www.newyork.com
Capacity: 110 passengers
Ride Duration: 3 minutes
Notable: 1st to be used for mass transit; 1 of only 2 aerial tramways in North America
Jay Peak Aerial Tram
The Jay Peak Resort opened for skiing in 1957, and it now includes year-round activities. The mountain offers 78 trails served by nine lifts and it receives the most snowfall of any ski area in the Northeastern U.S.
Jay Peak is currently serviced by 8 lifts; the oldest of these lifts is the Jay Peak Aerial Tramway, installed in 1966 and upgraded in 2000, and is the only one of its type in the state of Vermont. The tram is central to ski operations in the winter and is an important tourist draw in the summer.
More Information: www.jaypeakresort.com
Notable: Only one of its type in the state of Vermont.
Aerial Tramways in the South
Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram
The Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram provides riders with majestic views of the Great Smoky Mountains during the 10-minute journey between Downtown Gatlinburg and Ober Gatlinburg, an amusement park and ski area established in 1962.
For the first ten years of the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort’s existence, skiers wound their way to the top of Mt. Harrison by car. Then, in 1972, resort officials began thinking of ways to make the trip safer and more enjoyable. Construction began in September 1972, and on August 5, 1973, the tramway was completed and ready for use.
The tramway crosses the Gatlinburg Bypass transporting up to 120 passengers per cabin along the 2.1-mile route at a speed of 17 mph. Since its opening in 1973, the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway has transported about 18 million guests.
More Information: www.obergatlinburg.com
Capacity: 120 passengers
Ride Duration: 10 minutes
Wyler Aerial Tramway
El Paso, Texas
The Wyler Aerial Tramway at El Paso, Texas, ascends the Franklin Mountains as part of the Texas State Park system. The tramway was built in 1959 by KTSM radio to aid in the construction of a transmitter tower. Karl O. Wyler managed the project. First opening to the public as the El Paso Aerial Tramway, the facility provided rides from 1960 to 1986, when high liability insurance costs forced the tram to stop public operations and the tram was only used to service the transmitter towers. Wyler donated the tramway for public use in his will. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department accepted the donation in 1997 and renovated and re-opened the tramway to the public in 2001.
Driving the paved road that snakes up the east side of the Franklin Mountains from the intersection of McKinley and Alabama streets is half the fun. Visitors arrive at a parking area that sits at an elevation of 4,692 feet. The view of El Paso, to the east, is magnificent.
The four-minute ride soars above a vast canyon that is 240 feet deep in some places.
From Ranger Peak, 5,632 feet above sea level, the visitor can enjoy the view of 7,000 square miles encompassing three states and two nations. The tramway ride is a memorable experience offering a vista of the vastness and stark beauty of the Southwest.
More Information: http://tpwd.texas.gov
Ride Duration: 4 minutes
Pipestem Resort State Park Aerial Tram
Pipestem, West Virginia
The Pipestem Resort State Park Aerial Tram descends 3,600 feet down into the Bluestone River Gorge. It is a highlight of Pipestem and is the only way to access one of the parks two hotels. At the bottom of the gorge, there are 26 fully-equipped wood cabins, a regular and a par-3 golf course, several restaurants, and other recreational activities, including fishing, swimming, paddle boarding and horseback riding (they have a stable of horses).
The 6-minute ride treats riders to a spectacular view of the mountains and the surrounding area.
More Information: www.pipestemresort.com
Ride Duration: 6 minutes
Descent: 3,600 feet
Notable: The aerial tram is the only way to access Mountain Creek Lodge.
Hawks Nest State Park Aerial Tram
Fayette County, West Virginia
Nestled in the heart of whitewater rafting country, Hawks Nest State Park encompasses 276 acres bordering a rugged section of the New River Gorge National River and known for the panoramic views. The New River was designated an American Heritage River on July 30, 1998. There are currently fourteen American Heritage Rivers in the country.
The Hawks Nest State Park Aerial Tram in Fayette County, West Virginia, carries park visitors from the rim of the New River Gorge to the bank of the New River, a descent of more than 800 feet.
More Information: www.hawksnestsp.com
Descent: 800 feet
Aerial Tramways in the Southwest
Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The 2.7 mile trip on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway transports you high above deep canyons and breathtaking terrain. The view from the tram includes all of Albuquerque and roughly 11,000 square miles of the New Mexico countryside. The Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway is notable for having the world’s third longest single span and it is the longest aerial tram in the United States.
At the top of Sandia Peak there are many year-round recreational options. The High Finance Restaurant is directly adjacent to the top tram terminal and offers scenic views. Many Forest Service trails offer recreational hiking, backpacking and nature hikes to visitors. Additionally, the tram terminal is located at the top of Sandia Peak Ski Area which is on the opposite side of the mountain from the tramway and the city. Skiing is available in the wintertime, and during the summer over 26 miles (42 km) of mountain biking trails are available. Bikes cannot be brought on tram cars. There is no public transportation in this area of Albuquerque; the tram is only accessible by taxi or personal vehicle.
The tram is a type known as a “double reversible jigback aerial tramway,” where “jigback” implies that when one tram car is ascending, the other is descending. Its two cars are capable of carrying 50 passengers each.
Stone Mountain Skyride
The rock’s top attraction is the Summit Mountain Skyride. This high-speed Swiss cable car provides a stunning view of the Confederate Memorial Carving as it transports guests more than 825 feet above ground to the top of Stone Mountain. From the top, experience amazing views of the Atlanta skyline, the Appalachian Mountains and more up to 60 miles away.
More Information: www.stonemountainpark.com
Summit: 825 feet
Aerial Tramways in the West
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Palm Springs, California
Palm Springs is a desert resort city in Riverside County, CA. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating aerial tramway and one of only three in the world, takes you on a 2 ½ mile approximately 10-12 minute journey from the Sonoran Desert to an alpine forest, offering panoramic view of the mountains, valleys, desert and on a clear day, all the way to Mount Charleston north of Las Vegas, Nevada. California’s Salton Sea is plainly visible to the southeast
The floor of the 18-foot-diameter aerial tram-cars rotates constantly, making two complete revolutions throughout the duration of the journey so that the passengers can see in all directions without moving. With a maximum capacity of 80 passengers, it is the largest of the three rotating aerial trams in the world.
Passengers disembark at the Mountain Station in the alpine wilderness of Long Valley and Mount San Jacinto State Park. The air can be as much as 40° F cooler at the top than in the desert. Visitors can walk along nature trails or play in the snow during the winter months. Back-country hiking can be done with a permit from the U.S. Forest Service. There are two restaurants at the summit, one of which specializes in fine dining.
The tramway was opened in September 1963 as a way of getting from the floor of the Coachella Valley to relatively near the top of San Jacinto Peak and was constructed in rugged Chino Canyon. Before its construction, the only way to the top of the mountain was to hike a number of hours from Idyllwild.
As it was in 1963, the only way up the mountain to deliver supplies and water is via the aerial-tram cars themselves. Supplies are loaded into the passenger area before the attraction’s opening while fresh water is pumped into storage tanks in the car’s underbelly.
More Information: www.pstramway.com
Capacity: 80 passengers
Ride Duration: 10-12 minutes
Notable: world’s largest rotating aerial tramway; 1 of only 3 rotating aerial trams in the world
Recommended Reading: Palm Springs from Above
Heavenly Ski Resort Aerial Tramway
South Lake Tahoe, California
A 2.4 mile ride up the Heavenly Mountain Gondola will leave you breathless as you take in panoramic views of Lake Tahoe. At the end of the ride is a massive 14,000-square-foot deck. From here, you can see breathtaking panoramic views of Lake Tahoe, the Carson Valley, and the dramatic Desolation Wilderness.
More Information: www.skiheavenly.com
Squaw Valley Aerial Tramway
Olympic Valley, California
The Squaw Valley Aerial Tramway rises from the valley floor and ascends 2,000 vertical feet to a mountain-top paradise called High Camp at 8,200 feet. Enjoy views of sky-piercing peaks and beautiful Lake Tahoe. Panoramic front and roof tinted windows provide bird’s-eye viewing of spectacular scenery that your mind will photograph.
Once you arrive at High Camp, you can enjoy a variety of activities and dining options during the day and evening, winter, and summer. The only way to return to the valley floor is the way you came. The scenery on each ride up and down the mountain is colored by the season and time of day, making each ride memorable.
Squaw Valley Ski Resort in Olympic Valley, California, is one of the largest ski areas in the United States, and was the host site of the entire 1960 Winter Olympics.
More Information: www.squawalpine.com
Ascends: 2,000 feet
Perched 300 feet above the town of Calistoga, Sterling Vineyards offers panoramic views of Napa Valley. An aerial tram carries visitors up the hill to the winery, whose architecture was modeled after that of the Greek island of Mykonos, where Sterling founder Peter Newton once lived. The brilliant white stucco stands out dramatically against the rugged Mayacamas and Vaca mountain ranges that flank each side of Napa Valley.
Sterling Vineyards is a popular destination for tourists, in part for an aerial tram that shuttles visitors from a parking lot to the winery, which sits on a volcanic hill 300 feet (91 m) above the valley floor. The building is designed to appear like the white villages of the Greek island Mykonos, and incorporates bells from St. Dunstans’s in London, England, a church destroyed in World War II.
More Information: www.sterlingvineyards.com
Ascends: 300 feet
Notable: Only way to access the winery is by aerial tram.
Aerial Tramways in the Northwest
Alyeska Aerial Tramway
The Alyeska Aerial Tramway is a 3 to 7-minute scenic ride from The Hotel Alyeska to the top of Mt. Alyeska, 2,300 feet above sea level. You can see for miles in all directions from the tram, including views of the Turnagain Arm, up to seven “hanging” glaciers, and endless peaks deep into the Chugach Mountain range.
At the Upper Tram Terminal, there is an observation deck, two mountain-top restaurants, and a museum.
More Information: www.alyeskaresort.com
Ride Duration: 3 to 7 minutes
Notable: Conde Naste Traveler rated Alyeska “Best view of any U.S. ski resort.”
Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway
The Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway opened in 1996 and operates May through September. It is the only aerial tramway in southeast Alaska. The tram makes a six-minute ascent of 3,819-foot from the cruise ship dock in downtown Juneau through the rainforest to the Mountain House, offering expansive views of Juneau and Gastineau Channel. The Mount Roberts Tramway is one of the most vertical tramways in the world and received the Governor’s Award for facility accessibility design. It is fully ADA compliant and can easily accommodate guests with accessibility requirements.
A restaurant, theater, nature center and retail shops are located at the top of the tramway, as well as connections to trails leading both up and down the mountain. One trail up the mountain leads to a large cross erected by Roman Catholic Father Brown in the early 1900s.
The tram has two 60-passenger cabins, capable of a maximum uphill capacity of 1050 people per hour. Maximum speed is 2000 feet per minute or 10.2 meters per second. This type of tram is known as a double-reversible or “jig-back”. Both cabins are coupled to a common haul rope and they move in unison, one up and one down.
The Mount Roberts Tramway is one of Southeast Alaska’s most popular tourist attractions, with around 200,000 visitors each summer.
More Information: www.mountrobertstramway.com
Ascends: 3,819 feet
Capacity: 60 passengers
Ride Duration: 6 minutes
Lone Peak Tram
Big Sky, Montana
Big Sky Resort is primarily known for its winter activities, which include skiing and snowboarding, seven terrain parks, zip-line and snowshoeing, but it has become an increasingly popular summer attraction. Several zip-lines, paintball, archery, tennis, hiking, and mountain biking trails are available on the mountain, with golf and Horseback riding available near the Meadow Village, situated at an elevation of 6,300 feet, between the ski area and US-191.
In the fall of 1995, Big Sky gained prominence with the installation of the Lone Peak Tram, built to take expert skiers to the summit of Lone Mountain at 11,166 ft to copious extreme treeless terrain.
The Lone Peak Tram is an aerial tramway at the Big Sky Resort that begins at the top of the Lone Peak Triple chairlift and unloads at the summit of Lone Mountain at 11,166 ft. The 15 passenger cab climbs 1,420 ft over a distance of 2,828 ft, with two cabs traveling in opposite directions. It provides access to the most difficult terrain at Big Sky Resort, including former Moonlight Basin terrain.
The tram was built with the aid of 3,000 helicopter flights and hundreds of specialized high-altitude workers. Even heavy construction equipment had to be torn apart and reassembled at the summit.
Starting in the summer 2012 season, Big Sky Resort introduced daily summer tram rides to take visitors effortlessly to the top of Lone Peak, called The Lone Peak Expedition.
Today, the tram continues to transport technical skiers and riders to some of the most difficult terrain in the country while welcoming the less advanced skiers and sightseers to 360 degree views of three states, two national parks and dozens of peaks.
More Information: www.bigskyresort.com
Capacity: 15 passengers
Notable: largest ski resort in the United States by land area with 5,800 acres
Portland Aerial Tram
The Portland Aerial Tram is a commuting tram in urban Portland, Oregon, with a capacity of 30,000 passengers per day.
The tram cabins travel 3,300 linear feet from South Waterfront to Marquam Hill. Traveling at 22 miles per hour, the tram cabins rise 500 feet during the four-minute trip. Each of the two cabins have a capacity of 79 people, including the operator. The tram operates load-n-go. If you miss one, expect another in just a few minutes.
The upper terminals deck has views of downtown Portland and the largest enclosed sky bridge in North America.
The Trams are named Jean and Walt. The north cabin is named after Jean Richardson–the first female engineering graduate from Oregon State University. The south cabin is named after Walt Reynolds–the first African American to graduate from OHSU (University of Oregon Medical School at the time). The real life Jean and Walt rode their namesake cabins for a naming ceremony in 2007.
The station names come from the local Tualitin language. The lower station is named Chamanchal (“on the river”) and the upper station is named Chemeffu (“on the mountain”).
More Information: www.gobytram.com
Capacity: 79 passengers
Ride Duration: 4 minutes
Notable: largest enclosed sky bridge in North America
Aerial Tramways in the Midwest
Estes Park Aerial Tramway
Estes Park, Colorado
The Estes Park Aerial Tram will take you above the treetops to the cool summit of Prospect Mountain where you can stay all day or return whenever you wish. From the observation platform you can plan your itinerary and be thrilled by the panoramic view of Longs Peak, the ranges of the Continental Divide, Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park Village. There is a coffee shop at the top that serves breakfast and lunch.
Since 1955, it has carried more than 3 million people to the summit, where riders spend as much time as they wish observing and photographing the gorgeous panoramas, hiking family-friendly trails, or sometimes even getting married!
More Information: www.estestram.com
Weber County, Utah
Snowbasin Resort is a ski resort located in Weber County, Utah, 33 miles northeast of Salt Lake City.
Unfortunately, I was not able to find out very much information about this tram, and none that I was able to use with reasonable certainty of accuracy.
More Information: www.snowbasin.com
Notable: Hosted the 2002 Winter Olympic alpine skiing races for downhill, combined, and super-G. The movie Frozen was filmed there in 2009.
(more info available soon)
Ski & Summer Resort Aerial Tram
First opened in 1971, Snowbird’s Aerial Tram whisks passengers along a 1.6-mile cable and up 2900 vertical feet during the 10 minute trip to the top of Hidden Peak. The round trip can be done in 40 minutes, including about 20 minutes of sightseeing on Hidden Peak, but guests may spend as long as they wish. The Tram and the Hidden Peak Terminal are handicap accessible.
In the summer, tickets for the Peruvian chairlift and the Tram are interchangeable, allowing guest to ride up on one lift and down on the other. This requires a hike on jeep trails between the top of the Tram and the top of Peruvian Express.
More Information: www.snowbird.com
Ascends: 2,900 feet
Ride Duration: 10 minutes each way
Jackson Hole Aerial Tram
The Jackson Hole Aerial Tram has become an iconic symbol of the town. Located at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, it takes people to the top of Rendezvous Mountain.
In winter, skiers take the tram to the top of the mountain where they are able to ski Rendezvous Mountain as well as out of bounds locations. Many also eat at Corbet’s Cabin. You pay for your ticket in your ski pass.
In summer, tourists, as well as locals, take the tram in order to look at the views; on a clear day you are able to see Jackson Hole, the Snake River Valley, Grand Teton National Park, and the summit of the Grand Tetons. Many go for sightseeing, paragliding, as well as hiking.
More Information: www.jacksonhole.com
Ride Duration: 9 minutes
Length: 4,139 vertical feet
Capacity: 100 passengers
Nickname: Big Red, The Red Heli
Birthdate: December 19, 2008
Construction Dates: April 2007 – December 2008