Page Contributor(s): Bruce Hamilton and Stacy Topping.
Cycling Alternate Route 14, Wyoming.
Ride 13.2 miles gaining 4,840’ at 6.7% average grade (8.4% climb only).
This challenging ascent is ranked as the twenty-first most difficult bike climb in the United States, leading riders into the Bighorn Mountains from the Bighorn Basin.
The Alternate Route 14 climb is the hardest road cycling climb in Wyoming.
Alternate U.S. 14 runs east-west across northern Wyoming. This bike climb is exceptionally scenic, yet one of the more remote Top 100 U.S. Cycling Climbs. This is the only signed alternate route in Wyoming and is just 65 miles from the start of the other Top 100 Climb in Wyoming (Granite Pass, #58). The distant views to the south of Wyoming's northern plains and mesa formations are phenomenal. These exceptional views are to our right as we climb out of the “flatlands” (keeping in mind we start the climb at 3,745’) and are with us for at least half the climb until the brutal grade softens a bit as we enter the last segment consisting of rolling hills and grasslands.
START TO BEGINNING OF GIANT HAIRPIN AT MILE 4.3
View at the start of the climb.
We chose to begin our climb adjacent to a gravel mining/quarry road, as this location not only reduces the distance traveled on highway straightaways but also offers convenient parking and stunning views. At the 1.7-mile mark, the road inclines sharply, significantly slowing down any trucks beyond this point.
This is one of many gravel roads that we would have loved to have explored had we brought a gravel bike or 30mm tires. There are many gravel roads off Alternate Route 14 that are open range and seem available to ride with the proper tires and bike.
Old US 14A is another gravel opportunity at mile 4.3
Highway 14A is also known as the Medicine Wheel Passage Scenic Byway, formerly Dayton-Kane Highway.
Aerial view of the hairpin at mile 4.3
MILE 4.3 TO CRYSTAL CREEK OVERLOOK (MILE 9.8)
The first mile up the giant hairpin averages 9.2%.
We leave the Bighorn Plains far below us as we cycle up Alternate Route 14.
Aerial photo of the steepest mile of the climb (mile 7.1-8.1)
There’s no doubt about the steepness of this climb. Along the way, we encounter (a) 2 runaway truck ramps, (b) 2 brake check/brake cooling points and (c) several % grade and use low gear signs.
We enter Bighorn National Forest just after mile 7 although the monument is at Crystal Creek Overlook at mile 9.8) . This is one of the oldest forests in the US (established 1897) and consists of 1,107,571 acres. Bald Mountain Campground is a few miles past the summit.
There are great views of Bighorn Basin from this overlook.
MILE 9.8 TO FINISH (MILE 13.2)
The final 3 ½ miles average 8.3% with one brief descent around mile 12.2 and a fairly flat final 150 yards.
This is not a “pass,” neither on the map nor by definition, as the east side does not drop off but rather continues eastward but not downward from the peak elevation on the west side of the climb (no out-and-back here; 10 miles past our stop point we are still above 9,000’ elevation).
Traffic and Roadway Surface Report: The roadway is in good shape, in spite of the several “Road Damage” signs we encountered in August 2015 and September 2023 along the brutally steep section of the climb – it appears roadway repair had been completed, but the signs not removed. Traffic can be quite disconcerting until about five miles in -- essentially all of the big rigs that seemingly “fly by” over the first five miles turn onto a dirt road that by our review appear to lead to a couple of quarries (born out by the sign at the beginning of the turnoff which includes several warnings not encountered on normal rides – e.g., “Heavy Truck Haulage,” “Explosives in Use,” “Warning Signal: Prior to Blast Short Audible Horn Sounds,” etc.). Traffic from mile 5 to the top is mild.
In a nutshell: This is an incredibly scenic climb that is highly recommended and can comfortably be included in a Yellowstone/Beartooth Pass/Chief Joseph/Granite Pass trip. Highway 14 Alternate Route bike climb begins 59 miles from Cody, Wyoming (the start of the Chief Joseph Highway/WY Highway 296 climb), 84 miles from Red Lodge (the start of Beartooth Pass North), 134 miles from the beginning of Beartooth Pass South, and 178 miles from the northeasternmost Yellowstone National Park Lodge (Roosevelt Lodge).
The out and back from Granite-Alternate 14 or Alternate 14-Granite is an epic adventure with stunning scenery and great challenge at 123 mile ant 14,000’ of climbing. Beware there is no support along this route a except the Bear Lodge Resort, if it is open - check in advance.
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