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