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 #36 in the world with a Fiets Index score of 14.5. Located in the the heart of the Owens Valley (PJAMM Owens Valley Climb Page) which at 4,500' 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.
Climb begins on Lubken Canyon Road
Turn left on Horseshoe Meadows off Lubken Canyon Road at mile 3.2
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 Onion Valley 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’.
How to climb Onion Valley 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.
The most dramatic switchbacks in the United States
Switchbacks of Horseshoe Meadows (photo right center) from Whitney Portal Road
From Highway 395 just south of Lone Pine
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.
That’s a wrap!