View north of hairpin 2 just before hairpin 3.
Horseshoe Meadows Road is ranked the second most difficult climb in California and #7 of the most difficult cycling climbs in the United States and #69 in the world with a Fiets Index score of 14.5. Located in the heart of the Owens Valley (PJAMM Owens Valley Climb Page) which at 4,000' and surrounded by 14,000' peaks makes it one of the deepest valleys in the U.S. The Owens Valley is a mecca for road bike climbing and boasts the greatest concentration of Top 100 U.S. and Top 75 California Climbs than any other area in the country. Owens Valley is a graben (“down dropped” block of land between 2 vertical faults) which creates the unparalleled extended steep grades along its eastern border with the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Unquestionably the greatest and most admired part of the Horseshoe Meadows climb is its dramatic hairpins carved into the mountain that can be seen from miles away. However, the first 3 miles of the climb up Lubken Canyon Road are some of the most scenic you will find in the United States.
One mile up Lubken Canyon road from the start.
Lubken Canyon Road - note the 4 giant hairpins in the background (6 miles)
Turn left on Horseshoe Meadows off Lubken Canyon Road at mile 3.2
View up to the first hairpin after turning onto Horseshoe Meadows Rd from Lubken
We enter Inyo National Forest (1,903,381 acres, est. 1907) at mile 7.4
View approaching hairpin #2
11 mile mark; Elevation 7,550’ - Owens Valley is at 4,000’
Behold . . . 😉
This is a view north of the southern section of the Owens Valley.
The 4 giant hairpins that can be seen from miles away on both Highways 395 and 136 (road to Death Valley) are the most dramatic that are visible from any roadway in the United States - the sign of Zoro is carved into Horseshoe Meadows Road! The hairpin segment is 5.2 miles beginning at mile 8.6 and carries a 7.7% average grade.
Legend has it . . . nah . . .
There are actually 6 hairpins but only 4 are visible from ground level at a distance.
This is a drone aerial photo from 1,600’
As seen from Hwy 395 just south of Lone Pine near Lubken Canyon Road.
As seen from Highway 136 coming from Death Valley.
As seen from the lower portion of Horseshoe Meadows Road
Hairpin #1mile 8.7, elevation 6,530’
Hairpin #2 - 10.3 miles, 7,220’
Hairpin #3 - 12 miles, 7,800’
Hairpin #4 - 13 miles, 8,275’
Hairpin #5 - 13.6 miles, 8,580’
THE LAST 5 MILES AFTER THE HAIRPINS
Just before the .9 mile -5.2% (255’) descent at mile 16.
This ride does not have the grade its #6 most difficult cycling climb in the US neighbor Onion Valley Road. 21 miles north (8.2% average grade vs 6.5%), but it is 4 1/2 miles longer with 800' higher elevation and 1,200' more climbing. There are no provisions along this route and the temperatures during the summer will often exceed 100 degrees for the first half of the climb (see weather map, below). One of the most unique features of this ride are the massive switchbacks which are easily observable from Highway 395, 4 miles to the east. The first switchback begins at mile 8.5, is 1.7 miles, gains 651' with a 7.1% average grade (switchback #2 1.2m / 467' / 8.3%.)
When to climb Horseshoe Meadows Road by bike: The average high temperatures for the summer time frame are 92 June, 98 July and 96 August. We suggest May or September as the months just before or after could put you into a snowstorm as we climb towards the top of this dead end climb that tops out just above 10,000’.
It can be mighty cold up there . . .
PJAMM’s Bruce Hamilton braves the elements May 28, 2019
How to climb Horseshoe Meadows Road by bike: Pick the right time and train well as this is the second hardest climb in California at 19.3 miles, 7,041’ gained at 6.2% average grade (¼ mile at 14.7% and ½ mile at 11.6%). Climb begins just south of Lone Pine, CA on Lubken Canyon Road at 36.54224, -118.05151 latitude/longitude. We commonly stay in Bishop, California (57 miles north of Lone Pine, CA and the start of the Horseshoe Meadows and Whitney Portal climbs) at the Creekside Inn, next to Erick Schat’s Bakery, but have also stayed 3 times in Lone Pine at the Best Western Plus Frontier Motel which is a decent, although not great, place to stay.
Stacy Topping checks off yet another US Top 100 Climb!
In 2013 and 2015 we included Horseshoe Meadows in our 4 of the Top 5 Climbs in California in a Day trip - at 22,000’ of climbing with an average grade around 7% in 100 degree temperatures, this is quite the adventure.
Horseshoe #1 of 4 in 2013
Horseshoe #4 of 4 in 2015 (stupidly 2 days before Death Ride)
Roadway Surface and Traffic: The roadway surface in July, 2014 was poor (video of roadway) and descending should be done with caution. Traffic has been very light the 5 times we have made this climb between 2011 and 2015. The road was in great shape our last trip in 2017.
We hopped the gate and bootlegged this one May, 2011
Ran into snow at the top, though.
Sign near the finish.
That’s a wrap!
No . . . Wait!
FROM WHITNEY PORTAL/HORSESHOE MEADOWS INTERSECTION
Switchbacks of Horseshoe Meadows (photo right center) from Whitney Portal Road
The alternative route begins at the intersection of Horseshoe Meadows and Whitney Portal Roads. On this route we ride 19.5 miles, gain 5,821’ at 6% average grade at a Fiets index of 10.98 (versus PJAMM’s charted route: ride 19.2 miles, gaining 6,582’ at 6.2% average grade). Alternate Route map.
Travel through cool canyon and rock formation at the outset of this route.