Old Priest Grade Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

2.5 mi
1,604 ft
12.4 %



Cycling Old Priest Grade - third steepest 1 mile bike climb segment in Northern California at 14.9% behind #1 Socrates Mine Road at 16.6% and Mix Canyon at 15.8%.  This is a staple for us on our way to cycle in the Yosemite and Markleeville areas.
The average grade is 12.4% (13.1% if we eliminate a brief descent at the start).  This climb is steep grade heavy:  1.3 miles (52%) is at 10-15%; 25% (.6 miles) at 15-20% and a sliver, 2.8% (.1 mile) at ≥20%.  The steepest quarter mile is 16.1%.

See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the “Profile Tool” button above.
Roadway:  Excellent condition in 2020 with a shoulder most of the climb.

Traffic:  Mile to moderate.

Parking:  Park in Moccasin and ride up to the top and then back to your car or, as we prefer, park in the Old Priest Station parking lot, ride to the start, do the climb and have a meal at the café at the finish (check with someone at the restaurant for approval to park, but they will not have a problem with that) - MapStreetview.  
Nothing to report, other than bring a bike with gearing you can get up this climb . . . 
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We do this climb on our way to climbs in Yosemite (PJAMM Climb Area Page:  Yosemite National Park) and Markleeville (Markleeville - Death Ride).  We also love this climb which is just a few miles from Old Priest Grade - Wards Ferry Road South



Difficulty: Extreme



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Yosemite National Park
United States (CA)
33 POIs


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May 23, 2021
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 3
traffic: 1
road: 5
May 23, 2021
scenery: 3
traffic: 1
road: 5
Ive driven up NEW Priest a bunch of times in the past, always wondering "Where does that other road go??" Now, living up here and learning that it is the old road which is now bipassed by highway 120, ive incorporated it in some bigger loop rides. It is a monster. The grades are certainly extremely challenging but, what makes it so hard is the traffic. People often use this road instead of the bipass because it saves about 15 minutes driving. There is mostly zero shoulder and some tight turns. Make yourself visible on the turns by riding out in the middle of the road until the cars see you and slow down. I ride a lot but, im on a heavy bike so Im pretty slow. 45 minutes bottom to top. First time, it was pretty warm out and i stopped 3 times on the way up. Second time up, I was able to do it with only a quick stop to catch my breath. Hard ride. Traffic makes it not worth it unless you're in the area. But man, its an accomplishment!!

Climb Profile Not Found

Climb by bike Old Priest Grade - aerial drone photo of road

Cycling Old Priest Grade - one of the steepest bike climb in Northern California.

Ride 2.5 miles to 2,480’ gaining 1,630’ at 12.4% average grade.

It does NOT get any harder than this!  The road that is Old Priest Grade would not be built today.  Carved into the Western Sierra mountains, this beast was originally built for stagecoach and supply wagons to service the 1840-1850’s gold miners.  While the overall average of this grade being 12.9% is imposing enough (it places #2 by average grade for the Top 300 U.S. climbs), the final 1.9 miles (from the junction of Old and New Priest Grade, ½ mile up from the climb’s start in Moccasin) is 14%, the last 2/10th’s mile is 14.7%, and the last 1/10th mile is an eye popping and temple exploding 15.4%!  Check the Route Interaction graph below -- this is a color scheme rarely seen for such an extended distance.

  Biking Old Priest Grade  - Hetch Hetchy Power Station sign.

The climb begins in Moccasin, California (essentially a Hetch Hetchy/San Francisco company town -- servicing  the Hetch Hetchy Water & Power system).

Bike climb of Old Priest Grade - water pipes on steep hillside 

 Flow from Hetch Hetchy Dam to Power Station.

Climbing Old Priest Grade  by bike - street warning sign with cyclist


Biking up Old Priest Grade  - steep grade cut into hillside


Bicycle ride up Old Priest Grade - aerial drone photo of 2 cyclists riding on road

Bicycling up Old Priest Grade  - 2 cyclists climbing


Time your climb so you finish close to or soon after 8 a.m. for 2 reasons:  (1) you beat the heat, and (2) the Priest Station Cafe (History of Priest Station) is spectacular and full of history.  The current owners of the cafe have roots back to the origins of the Priest Outpost and the cafe is filled with interesting photographs and history -- including that one of the owner’s family members is legendary mountaineer, adventurer and climber Conrad Anker, team leader of The North Face climbing team.  The food is great and if you have the opportunity to speak with the owner, Steven Anker, you will benefit from an exceptional Yosemite and Old Priest Grade history lesson.  

Bike climb of Old Priest Grade - Priest Station Cafe sign

Cycling Old Priest Grade - Priest Station Cafe menu

History of Priest Station, from their menu.

The start of Old Priest Grade is 50 miles from Yosemite Valley floor (about one hour fifteen minutes by car).  As of 2015, the roadway had been recently paved and was in pristine condition.  Surprisingly, there is a fair amount of traffic on Old Priest Grade; we think this is because those “in the know” appreciate that since Old Priest is 13% and New Priest is 5%, it’s much faster to take OPG to the bottom than NPG.  The concept is sound, particularly when you travel 2.4 miles on New Priest Grade and look across the ravine and watch the vehicles across the way descending at twice your clip.  From this vantage point you have an excellent and unique view of the grade of one of the steepest roads in America (photos).

Visit our Yosemite National Park page.

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