Thunder Ridge Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

5.2
FIETS
12.5 mi
DISTANCE
3,344 ft
GAINED
5 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

Page Contributor(s): John Summerson, The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike), 2nd Edition.

INTRO

This is the fifth most difficult bike climb in Virginia. The grade is manageable, only very briefly moving into double digits a few times. As this is part of the spectacular Blue Ridge Parkway, we suspect the views from the viewpoints and openings in the forest bordering the roadway are spectacular. Unfortunately on the day we rode this climb, it was foggy and raining, hampering any distant views. The climb gets its name from a ridgeline near the end of the climb over which the Appalachian Trail passes. This climb takes us to the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia -- Apple Orchard Mountain. The route is entirely on the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway (VA to NC).
5% average grade.  43% of the climb is at 0-5% and 50% is at 5-10%.  The steepest quarter-mile is 8%. 

Use the “Routes in Area” button on the menu bar to see other bike climbs in this area. 
Roadway:  Excellent - completely on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  No shoulder but this is a safe ride. 

Traffic:  Mild to moderate (during peak season during summer and fall colors). 

Parking:  At the James River Visitor Center 100 yards east of climb start - MapStreet View
Provisions:  Water at Janes River Visitor Center.  There is a market and restaurant in Monroe, 1.6 miles south of the start of the climb (Map).
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.
Consider riding the Blue Ridge Parkway from beginning to end - Blue Ridge Parkway (VA to NC).  Use the “Routes in Area” button on the menu bar above to see other bike climbs in this area.

Cycle the entire Blue Ridge Parkway – see PJAMM’s March 2022, 467-mile adventure on the PJAMM Adventures App: Blue Ridge Parkway.  See also our Climbs of the BRP (NC to VA) and Climbs of the BRP (VA to NC).

ROUTE MAP

MEMBER RATING

Difficulty: Challenging
4
Road
5
Traffic
3
Scenery

CURRENT WEATHER

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NEARBY CLIMBS (0) RADIAL PROXIMITY

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Jan 26, 2023
difficulty: Challenging
scenery: 3
traffic: 5
road: 4
Jan 26, 2023
scenery: 3
traffic: 5
road: 4
Have ridden this many times. Strangely, cannot find a good photo, so the one I posted is from Skyline Drive 50 miles north of here, but you'll never know the difference. This is what 95% of the climb looks like! Good pavement, quiet and generally respectful traffic, never super difficult but a grind at 13 miles with zero flat spots. Weather can be fickle from sun to clouds to rain all in the same day. Beautiful in the fall! Keep going north or south on the Parkway and it's up & down for as long as you care to ride, the entire BRP & Skyline are magic to ride on.
Jan 26, 2023
I rode this many times when I lived in Richmond. There is a campground & store 2 miles north of the start at Otter Creek, and if you keep riding south over the summit, a descent and then climb into Peaks of Otter about 10 miles later, a very nice lodge/food/campground. Makes for a great & challenging 50 mile out & back. The climb is pretty consistent, never very steep, but a grind. The views are 100% Shenandoah Valley and not much variation. It's an isolated stretch, so little traffic. Weather can be crazy & changing, often with a cloud/fog line as low as 2,000 MSL. I've descended this many times in rain or heavy fog. No sharp turns, but still sketchy. Easily the longest climb in the area; Wintergreen to the north is very steep, and you can link these together for an epic day. Thunder Ridge holds a special place for me as my girlfriend was looking for a challenge years ago and gave this a try, and when we got to the top I proposed. Still married 15 years later :-).
ROUTE MAP
PROFILE TOOL

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CLIMB SUMMARY

Cycling Thunder Ridge, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia - sign for "View Terrapin Mtn", fall foliage behind it with mountain peaking out behind fog line

Cycling Blue Ridge Parkway -- Thunder Ridge

Ride 12.5 miles gaining 3,337’ at 5% average grade.

This is the fourth most difficult bike climb in Virginia.  The grade is manageable, only very briefly moving into double digits a few times. As this is part of the spectacular Blue Ridge Parkway, and we suspect the views from the viewpoints and openings in the forest bordering the roadway are spectacular.  Unfortunately on the day we rode this climb, it was foggy and raining, hampering any distant views.  The climb gets its name from a ridgeline near the end of the climb over which the Appalachian Trail passes. This climb takes us to the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia -- Apple Orchard Mountain.  The route is entirely on the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway.

Cycling Thunder Ridge, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia - photo collage, bike parked at various locations on climb (on guardrail on a bridge, in front of a large informational sign), two-lane, pristine roadway surrounded by tall, misty trees, fog line across mountains, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

“One of the most difficult individual hills on the Blue Ridge Parkway and perhaps the longest continuous climb in Virginia, Thunder Hill is a pleasant ascent.  A shallow start gradually gets steeper and turns into a fairly steady grade.  Of course the scenery and light traffic on the parkway are excellent and can help you to the summit.  There are no surprises on this hill and it ends at an unmarked top.  It is a speedy descendent along a smooth (as of 2011) road.” (This quote is provided with the approval of John Summerson from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike), 2nd Edition, pg 122.)

Cycling Thunder Ridge, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia - signs for Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway that runs 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, linking the Shenandoah and Smoky Mountains National Parks.  

Cycling Thunder Ridge, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia - PJAMM Adventure App showing ride overview and gradient

Elevation grid and ride stats per PJAMM Adventure App.

Cycling Thunder Ridge, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia - misty, overcast views along the climb, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Views, such as they were, along the ride.

Cycling Thunder Ridge, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia - photo collage, bike parked against wooden railing on wet stone-paved walkway, James River Visitor Center, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

The climb begins at the James River Visitor Center and the bridge over the James River. 

Cycling Thunder Ridge, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia - informational signs, James River Visitor's Center

Cycling Thunder Ridge, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia - Thunder Ridge Overlook

Thunder Ridge Overlook - turn off at mile 10.6

Photo:  Virginia Association of Counties

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