Empire Pass, Midway Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

Empire Pass, Midway


Empire Pass Midway Utah Cycling Guide: Conquer one of the Hardest Bike Climbs in the US

Page Contributor(s): Ron Hawks, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

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Climb Summary

View of Rocky Mountains from Empire Pass

Routes along Empire Pass, from Park City and from Midway.

Note:  Empire Pass from Midway is the last climb of the 2019 Tour of Utah.  This climb is just before the descent into Park City for the finish of Stage 6 and the Tour of Utah on August, 18, 2019.

Beginning of the bicycle climb to Empire Pass - road sign

Empire Pass Tour of Utah History:  As best we can tell from our research, Empire Pass has been included in the TofU 7 of the last 10 years (2012-2016, 2018-2019).

Epilogue:  Joe Dombrowski (USA; winner 2015 Tour of Utah) won the stage in 3:11:09 (24 seconds in front of João Almeida (Por)).  Ben Hermans (Bel) won the Tour of Utah at 18:46:09 by 50 seconds over James Piccoli (Can).


Empire Pass from Midway.

Empire Pass from Midway shares its first seven miles (and by far most difficult stretch) with Top 100 #14 cycling climb, Guardsman Pass. Guardsman/Empire Pass begins just north of Midway, Utah and can be  reached by either the Midway (more difficult), or Park City (least difficult) sides.  We can also connect with Empire Pass from Big Cottonwood Canyon, U.S. most difficult bicycle cimb #39. The Midway ascent to Empire Pass has been recently paved as of 2018 and is in excellent condition.

Beginning of the bicycle climb to Empire Pass - road sign

Start of climb: Intersection of Warm Springs and Pine Canyon Roads,

 about two miles north of Midway.

Roadway sign on Pine Canyon Drive on climb by bike to Empire Pass Utah

Enter the state park soon after the start.

Pass through cottonwood groves in the upper half of climb.

Nice views south to Midway and Deer Creek Reservoir.

The climb is steep cycling throughout its first seven miles (8.6%, 3,098') and levels off significantly after turning right at the junction of Guardsman and Empire Passes  (at the seven mile mark).  The last 0.9 miles of the "climb" are very mild with a 2.7% average grade and only 105' of elevation gained.

Roadway sign at turn off from Pine Canyon Road to Empire Pass.

Turn right at mile seven after 7.1 miles/3,115’/8.5%.


Travel the remaining nine-tenths mile at 2.5%.

Traffic and Roadway Report:  The roadway surface since 2018 is exceptional as the road has been repaved.  Traffic is very light.  

Steepest ¼ mile begins at mile 1.8 (15%); steepest mile beings at mile 1.2 (12.4%)



Route travels the border of Deer Valley Ski Resort and under Ruby Express Chair lift.




Photo: Wikimedia.commons.org.

The Empire Pass climb from Park City is much less difficult than starting from Midway (which is effectively Guardsman minus 1.7 miles).  This climb begins at the south side of Park City and essentially splits two ski resorts (Park City and Deer Valley).  The roadway surface is excellent along this climb and the descent is the fastest we have ever experienced, there is no doubt this is one of the fastest descents in the U.S.  One stretch, referred to as “The Drop” on Strava has a KOM averaging 75 mph for 0.8 miles (Strava Link) and our friend Bruce Hamilton went 58 mph on an MTB over that stretch!  

This climb can be done as an out and back from Midway (capturing both sides of Midway), or the “Big Kahuna” (Big Cottonwood/Guardsman + Guardsman/Empire from Midway + Empire from Park City, go here for a Map of The Big Kahuna). Our map begins and ends at the base of the Big Cottonwood Canyon climb, but you could also drive to the top of Guardsman, park there, then drive down to the bottom of any of the three climbs and begin your ascents, finishing at the top of Guardsman (since you will pass your vehicle at least once during the climbing, this is a good option as it gives you easy access to provisions along the way.

Finish of bike climb to Empire Pass from Park City Utah 


Steepest ¼ mile begins at mile 4.1 (13.2%) and steepest mile at 3.7 (10.9%).

Traffic and Roadway:  Traffic is mild for the route, the roadway wide and in very good condition.  Both routes ascending to Empire pass feel safe.

Here’s what Tour of Utah (2016) says about Empire Pass:

“Just say “Empire Pass” to a veteran of the Tour of Utah—then watch their face twist to an expression of excruciating anguish. Few climbs in the world have a reputation similar to Empire Pass. Topping out at over 9000 ft, with rough pavement, average grades of 10% and pitches reaching over 20%, Empire Pass is quite simply the toughest climb raced in the United States. But this stage isn’t won on the summit. The winner needs a phenomenal ascent up Empire that’s followed by an equally brave descent down through the technically challenging Deer Valley Resort and into Park City. New this year will be a quick tour through downtown Park City, where our stage winner will need to save a little something special for the stage’s finish line; now positioned—after one last grinding climb—at the top of Main Street.”