Mt. Washington Auto Road Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

7.4 mi
4,678 ft
12 %


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


Mt. Washington Auto Road is home to the greatest hill climb race in the US and is the third most difficult bike climb in the country. The road is open twice per year, for the pre-race and actual race to the top. The climb begins at the auto road toll booth, ride through forest, then above tree line to finish on the highest peak in the Northeastern United States, and the coldest (wind chill -108 2-10-23) and one of the windiest locations (231 mph 4-12-34 - fastest wind ever measured in the Northern and Western Hemispheres) in the world.

"Murderers" Octave Lapize screamed at TdF organizers as he walked his bike to the summit of Col d'Aubisque in 1910.  Well, Mt. Washington Auto Road Hillclimb organizers - "Murderers" is a good description for you!  Check out that gradient profile above - you won't see that for more than 5 miles anywhere in the United States (plus 2.4 bonus miles at punishing grade!!).  

We have a statistic for distance over 10% and this is the steepest among eight climbs that fit that unique category. No climb open to the public in the US, other than Mt. Washington averages over 10% for five miles. 61% (4.5 miles) are at 10-15% grade and 11% (.8 miles) 15-20%.  The steepest quarter-mile on this monster is 16%, and the steepest mile is 13.8%.

See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the “Profile Tool” button above.
Roadway:  The roadway is in excellent condition, though a little less than a mile is dirt and gravel but easily managed on a road bike with normal tires, although we recommend no less than 25mm. 

Traffic: Zero.

Parking:  There is plenty of parking near the start on the day of the race. 
Gearing: Choose your own, but choose wisely - when I did this race in 2015 I was very fit and a lot younger and used a compact (34t) chainring and 30t cassette.  I would recommend a bigger cassette, however. 

Clothing:  They give you blankets at the finish which is a good indicator of what to expect at the top.  It can be windy and very cold at the top so ensure the your driver for the trip down brings warm clothing for you to put on at the top.  Check the PJAMM Weather tool for summit weather to assess exactly what clothing to pack - and pack a bit warmer.  
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.
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Booking your travels through one of these links helps us continue to bring you awesome info on climbing and cycling. Thank you! 

Gorham is a great place to stay; some cyclists ride from Gorham as a warm up before the race. 



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Aug 20, 2023
A word of warning: this event is given an extremely narrow window of time for staging. If the weather is unsafe at 8:30am, it does not matter if it is likely to improve within a couple hours, it will be cancelled. The high cost of admission does not influence the auto road's desire for an immediate early afternoon reopening. I surmise the founders of this website have a very high budget for regular travel; if that is not you, and a cycling journey reflects a special and occasional vacation, this might not be a great climb to plan on, as the risk of cancellation is healthy and there are simply no refunds. That said, I'll hope to do it next year
Feb 13, 2023
The road no longer has that dirt stretch. It is all paved.
Feb 13, 2023
Of the numerous big mountain climbs I've done, I can easily agree with PJAMM this is among the most difficult there is. After the very short flat start it immediately hits double-digit grades the entire way up, and nowhere will you encounter any section to relax for even a few seconds. Let alone what also used to be a mile long segment of gravel, making it even more difficult. An example of how steep from what happened to me: I shifted early out of my big chain ring and the chain fell off. I had to dismount to put the chain back on, and it was so steep I couldn't clip back in to continue up, so I had to face the bike downhill to get momentum then turn around to continue climbing! Approaching the summit you'll be cheered on by people, and see the writing on the pavement, both of which provide a little adrenaline rush as you cross the finish line. Truly a climb you can be proud to say you did. (that's me in photo, eyeing the finish line)
Jun 28, 2024
Hi Forza, I'm writing a piece about the worlds most Iconic KOMs and looking for a quote from a rider from Mt Washington, I like your 'After the very short flat start it immediately hits double-digit grades the entire way up, and nowhere will you encounter any section to relax for even a few seconds' Are you able to share your name and where you finished? Thanks, Simon Warren.
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Cycling Mt. Washington Auto Road - start of race - cyclists with bikes

US Top 10 Most Epic Bike Climb 

Ride 7.4 miles gaining 4,712’ at 12.1% average grade.

Climb summary by PJAMM’s John Johnson.

The Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb benefitting Tin Mountain Conservation Center is held each year on the second Saturday in August.  

Fastest times up Mt. Washington:  Phil Gaimon USA 2022 (0:50.38) and Jeannie Longo CAN  2000 (0:58:14).  Phil Gaimon and Tyler Hamilton (USA) are tied for the most wins with four and Marti Shea (USA) has the most women’s wins, also with four.

Mt. Washington is the steepest 5 mile segment in the United States at 12.7% (#23 World) and the third most difficult US bike climb behind Mauna Kea and Haleakala and #36 in the entire world.

Wikipedia summarizes the cycling opportunities on Mt. Washington:  “In July, the mountain road hosts Newton's Revenge, and in August the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb, both of which are bicycle races that run the same route as the road race. The hillclimb's most notable victor to date has been former Tour de France contender Tyler Hamilton. The climb is regarded as one of the world's toughest for cyclists - it features a greater altitude gain, and is steeper, than the Mortirolo Pass, the Monte Zoncolan, and the Alto de El Angliru, and is far steeper than any of the famous climbs featured in the Tour de France.”

Mt. Washington Bike Climb - the 2017 Mt. Washington climb jersey

2017 Jersey featured PJAMM Cycling.

Mt. Washington, according to The Climbing Bible -- John Summerson’s The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike) -- is “the most difficult hill climb race in the U.S. and perhaps the world,” and “the annual hill climb race up its slopes is perhaps the most brutal on earth” (Summerson 62, 249).   For more on what John has to say about this race and climb, see his full quote, below.

Mt. Washington Bike Climb - Mt. Washington on a non-race day

Mt. Washington on a non-bike day (i.e., the other 363 days).

We have traveled the world and researched, ranked and documented the top bike climbs; we can attest to the validity of Summerson’s claims.  Mt. Washington is one of the hardest climbs you will ever encounter and it is, in our opinion, the most difficult bike climb road race that we are aware of anywhere in the US.

Mt. Washington Bike Climb - crowds gather on Mt. Washington's race day

Race Day.

The race normally has four starting groups and each is sent off with the report of a full cannon.  No popgun start for Mt. Washington!  You can hear the cannon at the 21 and 48 second marks of the full climb video at this link:  Mt. Washington Hill Climb Video.  

You will not see an elevation profile grid as consistently steep anywhere in the United States as the one below. Mt. Washington is unanimously and justifiably always included in the Top Three Most Difficult U.S. Climbs by Bike on any climbing chart or index.

Nowhere in the US will you find a gradient profile like this over three miles . . .

. . . other than the Mighty Mt. Washington.

PJAMM’s Mt. Washington Interactive Profile

Mt. Washington Bike Climb - first 4.35 miles of climb -- even pavement

The start to mile 4.35 is well paved.

You begin with a very short lived flat section and thereafter experience nothing short of serious grades on to the top (okay – there are a few very short sub 10% segments – enjoy them while you can).  

Mt. Washington Bike Climb - a one mile section of gravel roadway

We encounter gravel from miles 4.35 to 5.35 -

12.5% grade and 627' of ascent during this stretch.

No problem on road tires.

This is the pitbull of U.S. climbs, sinking its teeth into you deep and early and not letting go until the top, all the while shaking the life out of your legs.  Steep is an understatement for this one – although 11.9% is itself enough of a calling card for greatness, there are spots that clearly exceed 12% for extended lengths.  And, while you appreciate the many obvious 12+% segments, there just doesn’t seem to be any offsetting <11.9% group of segments!  It all contributes to the lore of Mt. Washington and validates Summerson’s references to it as perhaps the toughest bike hill climb in the world.

Mt. Washington Bike Climb - huge sweeping turn in roadway toward climb's finish

Big arching and steep left turn 8/10th’s of a mile from the finish.

Mt. Washington Bike Climb - steep sections of roadway toward the top of the climb

The last two miles average 11.4% - there is no escaping the grade anywhere on this climb.

There are several nasty switchbacks in the last mile, and the final ascent on Mt. Washington is one-tenth of a mile that includes two switchbacks and 20% grade.

Mt. Washington Bike Climb - steep section of roadway just shy of the climb's finish

The final 200 yards average 16%.

There will be a big group of supporters ringing cowbells and cheering you on – along with the many colorful chalk messages written on the pavement over this stretch, giving riders the experience of being pros finishing a mountain TdF stage – very, very cool.  We captured the atmosphere on this Finish Video.


PJAMM video taken while finishing the race in 2015.

It was a chore riding 16% while holding the camera . . . .

Mt. Washington Bike Climb - crowds of cyclists and supporters form at summit, climb's finish

It is nearly always chilly at the top.

Blankets are handed out to cyclists at the finish.

John Johnson stands at climb summit after finishing race


Rides Down:   There are no bike descents on Mt. Washington.  Your options are to have a friend or family member drive up and take you down, or set up a ride down with one of the many racers who offer spots in their cars.  We had no problem arranging rides for the two of us months before the race (via the MWARHC Facebook page) and we are told it has never been a problem getting a ride down (in 2015, there were more ride offers down than those in need).  

Mt. Washington Bike Climb - cars assembled to take riders down the mountain

Staging area at the top for rides down.

This is more than just the most difficult hill climb race by bike in the U.S. – it is an extraordinary event.  This “race” has been held since 1973.  We put “race” in quotes because whether you race or just enjoy the climb, you must be entered in either Newton’s Revenge (held in July and affiliated with the main race) or the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bike Race (held on the second Saturday in August;  2018 Official Race Summary).  Technically you are in a “race” though you don’t need to rush the climb, as the road remains open to cyclists as long as they can push the pedals (the last finisher took about three hours in 2015).  This is an extraordinarily well-run event hosting about 600 cyclists annually and raising funds for the Tin Mountain Conservation Center, which supports environmental appreciation.  From check-in the day before on through to the turkey/mashed potatoes/dressing/salad/ice cream awards lunch at the end – I mean, seriously . . .

Mt. Washington Bike Climb - riders line up to eat at buffet style lunch, eating at picnic tables

The event is run in a world-class fashion and has the most exceptional meal we have ever experienced at the end of a race/ride/event (other than food-based rides – but it rivals those, too).  We cannot say enough about how well this race is managed and if you are a climber, this one just has to be on your Must-Do/Bucket List!  

Mt. Washington Bike Climb - PJAMM's John Johnson smiles with Mt. Washington Race organizer Jotham Oliver 

Race Director Jotham Oliver and PJAMM’s John Johnson.

The email messages and Facebook information from signup to post-race are first class and extremely informative.  Packet pick-up is the Friday before the race (at Mt. Washington), so keep that in mind.  Parking on race day is to the left of the toll booth.  While many folks park across Highway 16 (White Mountain Road) from the Toll Road, you are permitted to park on the race side and there is plenty of space.

Before heading out to tackle the mighty Mt. Washington, 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.

Practice Ride: This is included with the registration for the race itself and is held the third Sunday of July.  For 2018, this is the link to the Practice Ride.  

Note to Juniors Riders:  In an effort to increase junior ridership of the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb, Tin Mountain Conservation Center invites clubs to create a team of five junior riders and one  adult. With the support of a $500 sponsor, your full team can participate in the Hillclimb Practice Ride. Additionally, on race day, you may choose one of those riders to represent your team/club in the competition. Sponsors would receive publicity and would be announced several times as supporters of the race.

Where to Stay: If you are from out of the area, Gorham, New Hampshire is a good place to stay.  This is a small town (population less than 3,000) in the White Mountains, and we suggest getting your reservations early, as it’ll fill up for the event.  

Roadway Surface, Traffic, and Weather Report:  Like Mauna Kea, Mt Washington is not fully paved.  Approximately one mile of hard packed gravel presents itself from miles 4.35 to 5.35 (12.5% grade and 627' of ascent during this stretch).  However, there is absolutely no traffic because the climb is only open to bicycles twice a year and vehicle traffic is closed during those rides.  Weather can be quite temperamental and extreme -- the race has been canceled due to weather before (1994, 1995, 2007) and until 2010, for 76 years the summit held the record for the highest wind gust directly measured at the earth's surface  (231 mph).  The average high temperature for the summit of Mt Washington is 53-54 degrees in July and August. ​

Weather statistics from  MWARBH.

The authority on climbing by bike in the US, John Summerson, writes of this ride:  

“In the universe of notable ascents, there are climbs and there are climbs so where does one begin for this one?  Very likely the most difficult road bike hill climb in the United States and perhaps the World, the Mount Washington Auto Road is also one of the most spectacular alpine routes in the country.  It is only open to bikes during annual hill climb races and at times for several hours for a practice ride shortly before those races.  No concession to gradient was made on this hill as it starts out steep and never lets up all the way to its high elevation and wind swept summit.  When you turn off of the main road you descend a bit down to the tollbooth.  This stretch accounts for the frequent inaccurate listing that the climb of Mount Washington is 7.6 miles in length (the Mount Washington road is 7.6 miles in length while the portion of the road that is uphill is 7.5 miles long).

Begin just beyond the tollbooth where there is a brief shallow section and then the fun begins.  A ramp of 12-14% grade smacks you in the face to let you know what is in store the rest of the way up the mountain.  The route is tree covered early on as you continue uphill over very solid slope, the narrow roadway taking you through multiple curves and is rolling in places as you continue to gain altitude.  You get a brief glance at the top of the mountain in this section before the trees close back in.  Double digit grade climbing continues with only brief respite.  Soon the trees begin to thin with some great views although it is difficult to appreciate them as you grind higher.  Approximately 3.5 miles into the climb, the trees recede for good, revealing amazing views.  A short distance later you round a bend and for the first time you see what is ahead of you (and it is not a pretty sight).  The gradient then steepens through a section of multiple S bends.  

At mile 4.4, the road turns to gravel for just less than one mile (as of 2015, 12% of this road is not paved, however, the unpaved section of the road is easily ridden as the route receives so much traffic that the dirt/gravel is packed tight and smooth, and frequent rain eliminates dust much of the time.  There are plans to eventually pave the entire climb) with sustained grades of 11-16% along a spectacular and exposed a bit easier just before the road makes a right hand turn.  Pavement returns at mile 5.3 and the grade gradually steepens again.  Big time exposure is present in places here and a very steep turn to the left contains 20% slope briefly.  The grade then eases as you climb into a tundra-like setting with rolling and wide open rocky terrain.  At mile 7.4 a parking lot appears on the left and the grade ramps up.  Just beyond the lot the steepest part of the climb is encountered as you bear to the right but the end is in sight.  The grade eases over the last few yards as you finish the climb at the brown souvenir hut (with newer facilities nearby).  If you make it, congratulate yourself as you have conquered what is perhaps the most challenging paved hill in cycling.  Some of the best views on earth greet you at the top of the hill on clear days.  The descent of Mount Washington should be among the most difficult but of course, who really knows?

As mentioned, currently opportunities to legally ride this monster are limited as it is raced only twice a year but in a sense this only adds to its legend.  Mount Washington is about the same length but considerably steeper than the famous Mortirolo in Italy and Angliru in Spain, and longer and steeper than the Zoncolan in Italy, generally considered among the hardest hill climbs used in European cycling towns…” (This quote is presented with the approval of John Summerson, from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike) in the Northeast, pgs 90-92.)

As if getting up on 2 wheels isn’t enough of a challenge . . . try it on a unicycle as Chuck Haskins did in 2017 . . .

As far as details about my effort, it was the hardest climb I've ever done and a massively rewarding experience.  Being the only unicyclist in the '17 race I got TONS of encouragement from fans as well as fellow competitors so that was very special.  Weather cooperated rather well - mix of sunny and partly cloudy but no high winds or really cold temps.  

I chose a setup that would be the equivalent of a very low geared bike for the unicycle world: 24" wheel and 170mm cranks.  I told myself I'd have to ride at least the first 1-2 miles without a rest and I did.  I stopped to rest briefly every mile or half-mile after that.

A nice touch at the finish was everyone who crossed the finish line before the disqualification time got a medal. Normally I'm not a fan of "participation" medals but for this it was warranted :-)