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.
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.
We are surrounded by giant sequoias beginning at mile 17.
That is the God’s honest truth.
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.
Ride into both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks on this climb.
Our favorite - an experience of a lifetime - ride bike through tree!
On how many other climbs do you get to ride through a tree?
I mean, that is just one GIANT Sequoia . . .
Buena Vista Peak Trailhead - mile 21
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 Hwy 245.
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 2 other Top 100 climbs, Mineral King Rd (#30) and Hwy 198 (#35). The Whitaker Forest climb shares its first 6 miles with Top U.S. 100 Climb #43 (Hwy 21-245-180-198). This epic climb is remote and epic, 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)
Photo - from upper left clockwise:
Steepest ½ mile segment is 16.9% and begins at mile 16.3
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 9 and do not meet back up with it until Hwy 198/Generals Highway at mile 20. As Joey notes above, there are about 5 ½ 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 (mile 6). It can get very hot in the foothills (although there much shade as you climb through Whitaker Forest) so 2 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 Hwy 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 - avoids the 5.5 miles of dirt on Whitaker Forest Road - RideWithGPS Map).