Red Mountain Pass North  Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

Red Mountain Pass North


Gorgeous climb in the southwestern corner of Colorado

Page Contributor(s): Bruce Hamilton, La Quinta, CA, USA; Penny Fink, Westlake Village, CA, USA.

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Climb Summary

Cycling Red Mountain,  Ouray, Colorado - two cyclists with their bikes standing in front of sign for Red Mountain Pass, Elevation 11,018

Cycling Red Mountain

Ride 12.8 miles gaining 3,385’ to elevation 11,018’ at 5% average grade. 

Cycling Red Mountain,  Ouray, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, sign for Red Mountain Pass, creek running along roadside, weathered metal sign with information on mining town, old homes in Ouray

Photos by Penny Fink of Westlake, CA.

This southwestern Colorado road bike climb begins in Ouray, Colorado, known as the “Switzerland of America.”  Ouray is a restored 1870’s silver and gold mining town that had a population of 1,019 in 2019.  The town’s main street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ouray was named after Chief Ouray (“The Arrow”)  of the Native American Utes tribe. Ouray was respected for his moderate manner and focus on negotiation and peace.  Chief Ouray met with three presidents (Lincoln, Grant and Hayes) on behalf of the Ute Nation.

portrait of Ute tribe Chief Ouray

Chief Ouray

Photo: Our Community Now

The climb to Red Mountain Pass is fairly mild (the steepest quarter-mile is 9.3% and the steepest five-mile section averages 6%).  There is a nice two-mile segment in the middle of the climb that is close to flat.

Cycling Red Mountain,  Ouray, Colorado - cyclist riding on highway 550 surrounded by mountains near road sign for Silverton (23 miles away) and Durango (74 miles away)

Ride report and beautiful photos from PJAMM contributor Penny Fink.

I biked this iconic climb as my last climb in Colorado, and I really think it was the most beautiful of all the iconic climbs I completed.  I stayed in and started my climb in the town of Ouray, which is know as the "Switzerland of America.” Although it is not Switzerland (no cows), when looking down the valley from the climb onto Ouray it definitely reminds you of towns in the Alps.  Just cute little houses -- no multimillion-dollar places -- just local and cute.

Cycling Red Mountain, Ouray, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike parked against guardrail on roadway overlooking town of Ouray, valley with lots of trees where Ouray is, surrounded by tall mountains

The town of Ouray.

I stopped at the tourist office on the way into town to get a map and they told me I was crazy to even think about biking the pass.  It has no shoulders, drop-offs, and blind corners on the many switchbacks.  They highly recommended I not do it.  Well, I’m used to the Santa Monica Mountains and their crazy motorcycles and racecars, so it didn’t deter me.

Cycling Red Mountain, Ouray, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, views along the climb of rugged mountain terrain, a small waterfall along roadside underneath bridge

On the ride up I was just highly focused and took the road as if I were a car, pulling over when I could if a car was behind me.  I had no issues with cars as they were all polite.  The beauty of the pass was in coming down, as that is when you can look all around.  I stopped multiple times for photos since I took none on the way up, not wanting to hinder any cars for a stop then, but I could go faster than the cars on the way down.  It was beyond beautiful with the mining towns and ruins.  

Cycling Red Mountain, Ouray, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, informational sign "Mine Reclamation Improves Water Quality", view of old mining homes along creekside

Cycling Red Mountain, Ouray, Colorado - PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, tall rugged mountain with dark clouds behind it

Since I started in Ouray, I then went on halfway to Ridgway and came back to get some easy climbing in to recover.  The ride up to the pass is nonstop switchbacks and was 3200ft in 13 miles to the pass.  In total I did 40 miles and 4900ft, as I went a bit over the pass and back then halfway to Ridgway.

Cycling Red Mountain, Ouray, Colorado - large U curve in two-lane roadway, mountains in background

The grade hit 9% and probably an average of 7%, but there is really only a mile of resting at 2-3%.  You have to be prepared to just keep moving in order not to hinder cars.  

Cycling Red Mountain, Ouray, Colorado - PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, mountains dotted with evergreen trees in background, two-lane roadway

Cycling Red Mountain, Ouray, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike parked next to sign for Red Mountain Pass, old metal cast plaque for Red Mountain Pass

This was a great finish to a most spectacular trip through Colorado.  I ended up biking (mostly) and hiking 932 miles with 75,000 feet of gain, so not to shabby if I do say so for this 71 year old woman.  Also funny to note is that when I was back in town on my bike, several people stopped and asked if I was the girl on the pass.  They thought I was crazy and couldn’t believe I did it.  Later, back at my lodge on the river a few people came out that were cyclists and wanted also to know if I was the girl on the pass.  There was no other bike rider to be seen all day on the pass and they hardly ever see any because of the drop-offs.  It was kind of cool to get that attention.

I met 71 year young Penny Fink at the top of Mt. Evans.

It was getting late and she was worried about riding down by herself, but, she said,

“After I was stranded overnight on a mountain last year,

my family made me carry a cell phone, so I’ll  be okay.”

Read the great article on Penny in the Palisadian Post.