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Cycling Granite Pass, Wyoming: extraordinary rock and geologic formations on this bike climb.
Ride 17.7 miles gaining 5,240’ to 9,034 elevation at 5% average grade.
This is a climb in the Bighorn Mountains, which is an outlying mountain range separated from the rest of the Rocky Mountains by Bighorn Basin.
This one has one of the most rugged and distinctive beginnings to a Top 100 U.S. Climb. We begin the climb on Black Mountain Road just east of Shell, Wyoming, and soon enter a narrow and picturesque canyon that borders our bike climb for many miles up the mountain.
Start of the climb -- narrow canyon ahead.
The entire climb is on State Route 14 (this is far less busy than Alternate Route 14).
The rock and geological formations along this route are superb (comparable to Mt. Lemmon, Arizona), including multi-colored interbedded mesas, hoodoos, and palisades. This is a geologist’s (and cyclist’s) dream!
This climb into the Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming is #53 on the Top 100 U.S. climbs list, and is just 65 miles from #23 (Highway 14 Alt Route, Wyoming), and 137 miles from the start of #94 (Beartooth Pass, Montana). The route follows Shell Creek (to our left as we climb) for the first two miles until we part company and climb through two giant switchbacks on up to the summit. TripAdvisor reports give the area very high marks.
The climb is quite remote (93 Strava efforts over the route as of September 2020, which confirms our observation), but that is just another factor contributing to the unique nature of this adventurous climb. Legs permitting, you may consider doing both Highway 14 Alternate Route and Granite Pass (which is on the actual [non-alternate?] Highway 14) the same day since their start points are only 64 miles apart.
Cycling Wyoming is a great way to experience a lot of wildlife.
Final push to the top.
Steepest quarter mile begins at mile 6.8 (12.5%); steepest mile begins at mile 1.3 (7.6%).
Roadway Surface and Traffic Report: The roadway is in excellent condition, but has no shoulder for most of its length. However, we felt this to be a safe route with minimal traffic throughout..
PJAMM Cycling contributor David Stauffer of Ithaca, New York wrote an excellent and very informative blog about his climbs in this area. His description of Granite Pass West:
Starting steeply in a scenic canyon, you gradually climb out onto the open hills at higher elevation. There is a bathroom/parking lot at 10 miles that also has a drinking fountain. The top of the climb is somewhat shallower but grades are fairly consistent throughout. Quite a slog at 18 miles in length. As you leave the canyon the surrounding mountains tower above, providing the best views.
PJAMM contributor Edward Meyer of Norwich, Vermont provides an exceptional summary of this climb:
Shell Canyon/Granite Pass offers cyclists a Bighorn Mountain climb on a lightly used and well paved road. The climb starts in a narrow canyon just after crossing over Shell Creek. Large cliffs of sedimentary rock tower over the narrow canyon and the grade starts at only a few percent. After 1 mile of climbing the canyon begins to open up and the climbing steadily steepens to an average of about 6% as you approach a pair of hairpin turns. On and above the hairpins you start to get a great overview of Shell Creek, which sits below in a narrow gorge that has cut into 2.8 Ga rocks that underlie the Big Horn Mountains. At three miles into the climb you will pass the parking lot for the Shell Bench mountain bike trail and a pit toilet. The climb continues up highway 14 as it winds around giant landslides. At 6.7 miles you encounter the Shell Falls visitor center. In the summer months there is potable water and flush toilet access and a short path down to Shell Falls. There are no formal water services above this point. Just after the visitor center, the highway crosses over Shell Creek again and continues to climb into a more open valley. A new truck runaway ramp sits to the climbers left. From here you climb to mile 11 where you encounter another set of sharp turns and Forest Service Road 17 which provides access to a pit toilet just off the highway (A few miles further down Forest Service Road 17 is access to a Forest service campground and ranger station). Continue up highway 14. Grazing cows are common on the road so keep a heads up. You will pass the closed Antelope Butte ski area on your right at around 15 miles. From there it's a short climb to the top of Granite Pass.