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This ride has to be on your bucket list. It is one of nine Top 100 U.S. climbs located in the Bishop area, and is said to be the highest paved accessible road in California.
“This very big climb up the spectacular eastern side of the Sierra Nevada begins on scenic Lower Rock Creek Road over moderate grade with giant mountain walls to your left. After just over five miles of variable grade ascending you encounter a nearly mile long descent and then climbing resumes over solid grade. Soon after you reach four lane and busy at times Route 395. At the junction with 395 continue north for 0.9 miles and then turn left on Rock Creek Road at the small community of Toms Place. Fairly shallow to start, the grade soon increases as you ascend into a shallow canyon. The grade through this section is fairly steady and there is shade in places as the route follows the drainage uphill. Towards the very end the grade eases, the canyon opens up and the road reduces to a wide single lane with jagged mountain views in places. You soon enter the trees again in places as you near the summit. The road then opens and the climb terminates at the Mosquito Flat trailhead. This route ends as the highest paved road in California.” (This quote is presented with the approval of John Summerson, from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), 2nd Edition, pg. 134.)
Rock Creek has it all: scenery, challenge and altitude, making it a must-do bike climb. 👍
The bottom portion of the ride takes us through the northern Owens Valley with great views of the steep and dramatic Eastern Sierra Nevada range to our left for the first five miles of this 20 mile journey. Beware that the temperatures during the summer can be stifling.
Rock Creek Road is as bike friendly as it gets.
There are more bike signs and road markers here than we have seen on any road (35 in all).
Climb start, Lower Rock Creek Road.
This ride is really two climbs linked together -- the lower portion (Lower Rock Creek Road) has an average grade of 4.3% over a 9.2 mile stretch (to Highway 395).
Lower Rock Creek Road for 9.2 miles.
Approaching Sherwin Pass.
Sherwin Summit: Mile 7.3 of the Rock Creek climb.
We are then on busy Highway 395, though with a very wide bike lane, for about one mile, then we turn west onto Rock Creek Road and climb 10.5 miles at 5.7% average grade to the end of the line.
On Highway 395 for 1 mile.
The last 9.2 miles are in an alpine setting with views of the majestic Eastern Sierras as we climb. The Rock Creek Resort Grill and Cafe is located at mile 18.8. The scenery is spectacular along the second portion of the climb, which, even without the first 10 miles, would be a Top 100 climb on its own. The roadway from Tom's Place to Mosquito Flat (the end of the road) is pristine -- one of the top five roads in the U.S. Top 100, right up there with Whiteface Mountain in New York. There are over 40 Share The Road signs and painted roadway cyclist images over this section -- the highest concentration we’ve ever encountered.
Turn onto Rock Creek Road at mile 10.2.
Several Campgrounds along the way.
We are in Inyo National Forest for most of the climb.
Rock Creek Lake on our left 1 ½ miles from the finish.
The road narrows to unmarked narrow two lanes just past the lake.
Entering Mosquito Flats.
Finish at Mosquito Flats, the highest paved road in California.
Hike Mono Pass.
If you haven’t had enough just yet, you can continue on with a hike. AllTrails tells us, “Mono Pass from Mosquito Flat Trailhead is a 8.7 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Bishop, California that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding, and is best used from March until October.”
When to Climb Rock Creek Road by Bike: The average high temperatures for the summer timeframe are 92°F in June, 98°F in July, and 96°F in August. We suggest planning your trip for May or September, as you could encounter snow during the months just before or after since the finish of this climb tops out just over 10,000’.
How to Climb Rock Creek Road by Bike: Train well for this climb because not only is it very challenging (20.7 miles/5,983’/5.1%), it is also the highest road in California. Altitude will likely have an effect on you during this climb, so if you can ride a few of the lower rides along the 395 corridor (e.g. Mt. Rose, Monitor Pass East, Sonora Pass East, Tioga Pass from north or Onion Valley, Whitney Portal, Nine Mile Canyon from the south), this would prove helpful. Be sure to avoid July and August if possible. There are campgrounds and a cafe along the way, so you will likely have opportunities for water and food -- thus, no need to pack it all from the start. The climb begins at the intersection of Lower Rock Creek and Boundary Roads (3.7 miles north of the intersection of Pine Creek and Lower Rock Creek Roads; Latitude: 37.46332, Longitude: -118.59316). We stay in Bishop, California a few miles south of the climb start at the Creekside Inn, next to Erick Schat’s Bakery for this ride.
The steepest ¼ mile begins at mile 12.1 (10.4%) and the steepest mile begins at mile 11.6 (9%).
There is fantastic hiking, fishing, lake activity, and scenery along Upper Rock Creek Road -- all around this is a wonderful and must-experience area -- we LOVE IT. During our 2016 trip, we camped at East Fork Campground and had a blast. There are grills/stores at Rock Creek Resort and Tom's Place, as well as pay showers at Rock Creek Resort.
Traffic and Roadway Surface Report: The roadway surface throughout the first portion of the ride is excellent. The ride has one mile on busy Highway 395, but there is a nice wide bike lane the length of this segment. The roadway leading up to the top of the climb is as pristine as you will ever encounter, and as a bonus, there is actually a bike lane the entire length of this lightly traveled road -- it is just perfect!
That’s a wrap!