Guardsman Pass Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

12
FIETS
8.8 mi
DISTANCE
3,927 ft
GAINED
8.5 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

Page Contributor(s): Ron Hawks, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

INTRO

After Powder Mountain, Guardsman Pass is the hardest bike climb in Utah. This is one of many fantastic and challenging climbs by bike in the Salt Lake City-Park City area. There are three routes to Guardsman Pass (this climb from Midway, from Park City via Empire Pass, Park City, and from Big Cottonwood Canyon).  The route from Midway is clearly the most difficult. 
This is one very steep bike climb.  The 8.8 mile climb averages 8.5% and is only 24' of descent along the route (for the life of me I have never seen, but would have welcomed those blessed -24').  There is an entire quarter-mile on this route that average nearly 15% and an entire mile averages 12.5%.  30% of the climb is at or above 10% grade. 
Roadway:  As of 2020 the road was in excellent condition. Big Cottonwood Canyon Road is open during the winter, but Guardsman Pass Road is closed, normally from early November to mid-late May - check roadway conditions at the udottraffic.utah.gov. 

Traffic:   Although the road is narrow with no shoulder, the climb is safe as there is minimal traffic on this climb and what we have encountered has always been moving slowly. 

Parking:  There is parking near the start of the climb - MapStreet View, or at Wasatch Mountain State Park (MapStreet View) just 0.7 miles from the start of our climb. 
Proper gearing is important on a climb that has extended 15% segments.  Also, you will be above 9,500' at the finish, so be sure to check the PJAMM Weather Tool for the forecast at the top near the time you expect to arrive there. 
Before heading out on any cycling adventure check out our Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip and use our interactive check list to ensure you don't forget anything.
We have stayed in Salt Lake City and Park City for our climbing trips to this area.  Park City is probably the most central location for the climbs in this area.  See Park City, UT.

If you are staying in Park City there are many great resorts and hotels to choose from. If your stay is going to be longer term, there are several condos and homes to rent in this popular ski area.   

ROUTE MAP

MEMBER RATING

Difficulty: Extreme
5
Road
4
Traffic
5
Scenery

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May 19, 2021
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 5
May 19, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 5
Beautiful but brutal.
ROUTE MAP
PROFILE TOOL

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CLIMB SUMMARY

Guardsman Pass from Midway.

Ride 8.8 miles gaining 3,927’ to elevation 9,698’ at 8.5% average grade.

“A recent gift to cyclists (the upper stretches of this one were paved in 2011 and 2012), the east side of might Guardsman Pass near Park City is very likely the most difficult climb in the state and is one of the most difficult in the U.S. A majority of its route was introduced to cyclists through the 2012 Tour of Utah (and Mr. Leiphiemer) and although those riders did not go up and over Guardsman Pass (they used nearby and lower elevation Empire Pass to get back to Park City to finish the stage) viewers could certainly tell the hill is a stiff test.

A modest beginning in a spectacular setting soon leads to steeper grade as you leave signs of humanity behind and begin to twist up the hill from the fork in the roads. The first double digit grade ramp arrives just under a mile into the ascent. Thick trees (many aspens) soon greet you as you climb higher. The grade on this hill is quite variable as the multiple sections of double digit grade are mostly fairly short and followed by lesser slope although the constant variability adds to the hill’s difficulty. A twisty route with multiple switchbacks somewhat prevents you from seeing the agony to come although you can generally see (and sense) the wall of rock ahead of you. Around 3.5 miles in you reach another ramp of steep grade that contains the maximum grade of the climb. The slope then eases and soon you come to the first of two short descents, which occur fairly close together. Once beyond the first, the grade soon touches double digit again before the final descent. From that point you have less than a mile of solid grade up to a junction. The trees part just before the point and afford excellent views of the high altitude mountain slopes. From here head to the left...to encounter another double digit ramp that lasts for just over one half mile that is over slightly rougher pavement. The grade then eases a bit before steepening again for a short stretch. Just before the summit the grade eases for a final time as you encounter exposure to your left and reach high altitude Guardsman Pass and its excellent views to the east. This is also the top of the Big Cottonwood Canyon climb...from the west side of the pass…” (This quote is presented with the approval of John Summerson, from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), 2nd Edition, pg. 216.)

Guardsman Pass from Midway is amongst the best cycling climbs in Utah.  This is also the second most difficult climb by bike in Utah, and shares its first seven miles with Empire Pass.  Guardsman Pass begins just north of Midway, Utah and can be reached by three routes: from Midway, Park City, or via Big Cottonwood Canyon. The Midway ascent to Guardsman Pass is very narrow road but with very little traffic.  The climb is steep throughout with its most challenging section the 1.4 miles from 0.95 - 2.3 miles at 11.8% average grade.

Cottonwood Groves along the bike climb up Guardsman Pass from Midway, Utah 

Enter the state park just past the start of the climb.

Nice views south to Midway and Deer Creek Reservoir.

Several hairpins on the first half of the ride.

 

Nice stretch surrounded by Cottonwoods two-thirds up the climb. 

Views along the route include look-backs to Midway and Deer Creek Reservoir, thick aspens bordering the roadway in places during the middle of the climb, and finally views of sharp mountain ranges and the grade of the final several hundred yards of Guardsman Pass far above (examples of all are on the slideshow, above).

Views southeast of forest towards Midway from Guardsman Pass.

Views southeast of forest towards Midway from Guardsman Pass.

Stay left to Guardsman Pass (right to Empire Pass)

Guardsman Pass is upper middle of photo.

Views southeast of forest towards Midway from Guardsman Pass.

Views southeast of forest towards Midway from Guardsman Pass.  

Top of the climb.

   

It is a brute of a climb, but well worth the effort.

Steep grade sign at the top of Guardsman Pass

Before climbing Guardsmans Pass, be sure to rely on our list of Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip, and use our interactive checklist to ensure you don't forget anything.

Traffic and Roadway Report:  PJAMM’s Ron Hawks reports “I did Big Cottonwood and descended down the last part of Guardsman and the pavement is like glass.  So the entire climb from Midway is great.”  Traffic is very light and minimal for the entire route, with a wide roadway in very good condition but for the final 1.7 miles on Guardsman Pass Road.  

Guardsman Pass from Park City:   The Guardsman Pass climb from Park City is much less difficult than starting from Midway, but is still rated the 12th most difficult climb in all of Utah.  This climb begins at the south side of Park City and essentially splits two ski resorts (Park City and Deer Valley).  At mile 5.6, turn right onto Guardsman Pass from Highway 224 (9/10th mile of flat riding west after passing over Empire Pass) and travel the final 1.7 miles to Guardsman Pass on a very smooth and newly paved (as of 2018) surface gaining 778’ at 8.3% average grade.

The roadway surface is excellent along this climb and the descent back down into Park City is the fastest we have ever experienced, there is no doubt this is one of the fastest descents in the U.S.  One stretch, referred to as “The Drop” on Strava, has a KOM averaging 71.5 mph for 0.8 miles (Strava Link).  

Note - as of June 4, 2017, the road was paved according to Strava members

  1.  Matt Snyder “All paved except the park city side of guardsmans pass. 2-3 miles.”  
  2. Rich Morris writes as of 2017  ”The entire ride up from midway is newly paved (last year) and very smooth. The only section that is crumbly asphalt is the short section to the top of Guardsman pass. The very top is a bit gravely but really nothing to shy away from with any road bike.”
  3. Mike Montrose - “Hey John, technically none of this particular route is dirt, but in effect that last 2 miles to the summit on Guardsman the pavement is so old it's almost like dirt. However on the plus side, the Midway side of Empire Pass was just paved last fall and is awesome. Also to note, there is a variation of this route where instead of going down the Sundance side of Alpine Loop, you go down to Cascade Springs and take the dirt road from there to Soldier Hollow. I've done that 3-4 times, it's not too bad, about 2-3 miles I think, have never had a flat. It's saves having to go up Canyon road and around Deer Creek.”
  1. Regarding the dirt/gravel routes:  “Yes, they are commonly used routes, only "dangerous" inasmuch as it's a lot of climbing :) The combination of the Midway side of Empire Pass and the last two miles of Guardsman are--if done together--rated as the most difficult climb in Utah. Guardsman of course is a seasonal road, so only recommended when the road if officially opened in the late spring, and prior to closure in the fall. On the short dirt road shortcut, if on a road bike I would also add a note to take it slow and to stay fully in control, but there are no dramatic or steep descents on it.”
  2. Mike also provided a couple of his Strava routes that include dirt/gravel if you are up for that type of adventure:  “ here's the full loop https://ridewithgps.com/routes/15227739  and here's the version with the shortcut -https://ridewithgps.com/routes/21909703  .

That’s a wrap!!