Whitaker Forest Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

11.3
FIETS
23 mi
DISTANCE
7,023 ft
GAINED
5.2 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

INTRO

Whitaker Forest is much more than a challenging climb - it is an exceptional experience.  The climb is ranked the 21st most difficult bike climb in the US. In addition to tackling another very hard climb, with this one, you get some experiences that range from unique, to exceptional, to one-of-a-kind, including the only Ride-Through-Tree we have ever come across on a climb. 
 Average grade is 5.2% (6.9% climb only).  46% of the climb is at 5-10% grade and 10% is at 10-15%.  The steepest quarter mile is 24% and steepest mile 12.1%. 

See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the “Profile Tool” button.
Roadway:  The majority of the paved portion of this climb is good to excellent.  There are some sections of the paved climb that are a bit rough and in low-good condition.  There are 4.5 miles of dirt from miles 16.5 to 21 that are easily manageable on road bike and are my favorite part of the climb - epic!!

Traffic:  Negligible.  I encountered a vehicle on the dirt section my first trip up Whitaker (a rancher looking for stray cows - she directed me to the ride-through tree - she rides her horse through it).  There is never more than minimal traffic anywhere on the route. 

Parking: Anywhere near the start of the climb - there are many places to park along the side of the road.  We parked at the start of the climb here: Map; Street View.
Gear:  If you have concerns about the 4.5 miles of dirt, bring a gravel bike.  I would recommend at least 28mm for the climb, but I did it the first of two times on 25mm.

Provisions:  There are no stores along the route.  There is the Baker Mountain House café at the junction of J21 and Highway 245 at mile 5.2.
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 stayed in Visalia the two trips we took to this area to do the Kings Canyon/Sequoia NP climbs.  The area also has options for vacation rentals.  See the PJAMM climb pages for Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park for more information on climbs in this area.  

Ride through tree - I missed this both times I did the ride and had to ride back to see and do it.  The tree is on you left 18.8 miles from the climb start and 1.2 miles before you reach Hwy 198 - Route Map.  Also consider riding another 20 miles to view General Sherman Tree (largest tree by volume in the world) - Route MapGoogle Map + Reviews - whether by car of bike, we do recommend you visit this spectacular natural wonder. 


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CLIMB SUMMARY

panoramic views of evergreen forest and mountain setting, informational sign in forground

Cycling Whitaker Forest - one of the most difficult road bike climbs in California.

23 miles, gain 7,240’ to elevation 7,586’ at 5.2% average grade.

US Top 10 Most Epic Bike Climb.

Before heading out to cycle Whitaker Forest, 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.

Climb summary by PJAMM’s John Johnson.

giant Sequoia trees

This climb is extremely special for the giant sequoia trees . . . and . . .

PJAMM Cyclists ride their bikes through bottom of a hollowed out live Sequoia tree

Our all-time extraordinary cycling experience . . .

. . . riding through a tree . . .

Whitaker Forest is much more than a challenging  climb - it is an exceptional experience.  Whitaker Forest is ranked #22 in the U.S. so there can be no disagreement to its claim as a very tough ascent.  In addition to tackling another very hard climb, with this one, you get some experiences that range from unique, to exceptional to one-of-a-kind.

Signs along the climb - sign reading Pavement Ends, sign for road sign for Whitaker Forest

Wider knobby tires recommended, but we did it on 28mm smooth tires.

4.5 miles of dirt from miles 16.5 to 21.

             

This 22 mile route takes us into both Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Forests - legendary national parks, and deservedly so - check them out at the U.S. National Park Service website.  There are plenty of places to camp in the park, or you could stay Visalia, California (32 miles from the beginning of the climb.

PJAMM Cyclist rides on roadway past sign for Sequoia National Park

We ride into both Sequoia National Forest and Kings Canyon National Park on this climb.

panoramic aerial drone view shows Highway 190 (General's Highway), Whitaker Forest Road, and the finish of the climb

Panoramic views at the Buena Vista Peak trailhead

Buena Vista Peak Trailhead - mile 21.

 Sign for Kings Canyon Overlook

PJAMM Cyclist stands next to sign for Big Baldy Trailhead

Finish on Highway 198 at Big Baldy Trailhead.

The climb is remote and rustic, although there is a fun grill at mile 5.2, at the junction of Dry Creek Drive (the road we start on) and Highway 245.

Roadside restaurant: Mountain House

 Great burgers!

  brands burned into the bar top at the Mountain House restaurant

Locals are permitted to burn their brands into the bar.

Whitaker Forest travels up towards and into Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and is within 30 miles of two other Top 100 climbs, Mineral King Road (#30) and Highway 198 (#35).  The Whitaker Forest climb shares its first six miles with Top U.S. 100 Climb #43 (Highway 21-245-180-198).  This epic climb is remote, running up the west side of the Sierras just over from the fabled Owens Valley climbs - Onion Valley (#6 U.S. #1 CA), Whitney Portal (#13 U.S. / #4 CA) and Horseshoe Meadow (#7 U.S. / #2 CA).

Ride down from top of Whitaker Forest climb 20 miles

to the largest tree by volume in the world (General Sherman Tree):

base of General Sherman Tree - the largest tree in the world

    General Sherman Tree

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

Sequoia trees in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Photo - from upper left clockwise:

Bear Creek; Mineral King; Highway 198; Whitaker Forest. 

Strava member, ultra climber, and KOM of many of the climbs in this area, Joey Galloway has graciously provided an exceptional summary of this climb for us:  

"Dry Creek to Big Baldy through Whitaker Forest is a great climb!  Dry Creek is a steep, narrow climb, about 5.5 miles @ 6%.  It kinda stair steps up to Mtn House/245.  There are around five double digit grades separated by two short descents and three short "flat"  sections.  The road surface is good pavement.  Then you're on 245 for only about one mile before turning right onto Whitaker Forest.  Climb for about a mile then descend for another mile (going by Sierra Glen in the process, a great little restaurant to refill the bottles and get something to eat).  Eventually you'll make a hairpin right, and cross a bridge, ushering in the Whitaker Forest/Redwood Canyon climb, my #2 all-time favorite climb, behind Kings Canyon.

​​It's 11.5 miles @ 6.5%, an HC climb on its own.  The first 5 miles is paved @ 7.5% avg grade.  Stay left at the top of the ridge then you'll descend for about a mile.  After the descent the dirt climb begins, 5.5 miles @ 7%.  Now deep in thick alpine forest the dirt is pretty firm throughout, but it does get pretty rocky in some spots.  With about two miles to go you enter Kings Canyon Nat'l Park and Redwood Canyon.  Redwood Canyon is home to the biggest grove of Redwood Trees in the world.  The scenery is legendary with towering trees all around you.  It's like riding through a tunnel.  Riding through Redwood Canyon there are some short, steep pitches to keep you honest.  Gotta stay seated on these steep sections so as to not lose traction on the dirt.  Eventually you reach pavement @ Generals Hwy/198 and turn right to continue up to Big Baldy Trailhead, around 5 miles up the road.  The climb tops out at 7,500+ ft.  Overall it's a very fun climb because you get to climb a little dirt in the process.  The climb is all about Whitaker Forest/Redwood Canyon.  The vast majority of altitude gain takes places in that 11.5 mile stretch (4,000+ ft), and the scenery is top notch, and the difficulty makes you work!"

We climbed Whitaker July 6, 2015 and all we have to say is “THANK YOU JOEY!!!”  There is not much we can add to Joey’s excellent and very accurate summary above, other than to endorse the ride as a “must-do” with a significant caveat.  You leave civilization at about mile nine and do not meet back up with it until Highway 198/General’s Highway at mile 20.  As Joey notes above, there are about 5.5 miles of dirt from around mile 15 to mile 20, but it is easily negotiated on a road bike (we had a 28mm tire on the back and 25mm on the front of a Specialized Roubaix with compact chainrings).  At the least, take extra tubes, a patch kit, a small hand pump, sidewall patch, and a universal tool.  Also, download our route and use a Garmin to navigate, or, at the very least, plot out the forks in the road and which way you are to turn along the way.  You will not have cell coverage throughout this climb.  

The 10 miles of Whitaker Forest (Forest Road 14S75) is 6.4% and 3,660’ of ascent. There are no provisions to speak of along this route, unless Mountain House Grill is open (at mile six).  It can get very hot in the foothills (although there much shade as you climb through Whitaker Forest) so two 24 oz water bottles and a hydration pack are recommended.  Since you are climbing from 1,300’ to 7,600’, you may need another layer for your descent.

Descent:  We recommend descending the Highway 21-245-180-198 route (i.e., doing the reverse of how we have documented it as a climb - descending rather than ascending).  Here is a link to the 198-180-245-21 fully paved descent which avoids the 5.5 miles of dirt on Whitaker Forest Road - RideWithGPS Map.