South Lake Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

18.9 mi
5,538 ft
5.4 %


Page Contributor(s): Ron Hawks, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA


Cycling South Lake - another of the 10 HC Owens Valley bike climbs.  The first 11.7 miles of the climb are on Highway 168, although the higher you ride, the less traffic there is because the Highway ends at Lake Sabrina.  The final seven miles are on a very scenic and peaceful road to beautiful South Lake. 
The average grade of this climb is a healthy 5.4% (5.9% with descent eliminated from the gradient equation).  The grade is never overwhelming, but it is made more challenging by the high altitude we ride to - the climb ends at nearly 10,000' where we have 30% less oxygen.  6.8 miles (36%) of the climb are at grades 0-5%, 9.7 miles (52%) are at 5-10%, and 1.2 miles (6%) are in the 10-15% range.  None of the climb is above 15%.  The steepest quarter-mile is 12.5% and steepest continuous mile is 8.9%. 

See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the “Profile Tool” button.
Roadway:  The first 11.7 miles on the highway is excellent.  There is not much if any shoulder to ride in, but there are no visual obstructions to drivers on this part of the climb and we felt fairly safe the five times we have ridden up this route. The final seven miles are on paved road that can be somewhat rough at times, but it is still good roadway. 

Traffic:  Moderate for the first few miles on Highway 168 and minimal on South Lake Road.

Parking:  We either ride from our hotel in Bishop or park just off Highway 168 or on on Red Hill Road at the climb start - MapStreet View.
Provisions:  There are no provisions on the climb until you get to the Bishop Creek Store and Restaurant at mile 14 on South Lake Road. 
Also consider riding to Lake Sabrina which shares its first 11.7 miles with the South Lake climb.  The finish up to South Lake is 4 miles at 6.1% after you pass South Lake Road. 

Use the “Routes in Area” button on the menu bar above to see other bike climbs in this area. 

When we are riding the climbs in Owens Valley, particularly those in the central and northern end of the valley, we prefer to stay in Bishop. 



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Cycling South Lake, Owens Valley, California

#26 Top US Bike Climb

Ride 19 miles, gaining 5,625’ to elevation 9,840’, at 5.4% average grade.

Visit our Owens Valley Top World Bike Climb Area page.

The South Lake bike climb is one of the Top 100 most difficult climbs in the U.S. that begin in the Owens Valley on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the central/eastern portion of California.  Other Top 100s in the area include:  #6 Onion Valley, #7 Horseshoe Meadow, #10 White Mountain, #14 Whitney Portal, #29 Rock Creek, #34 Lake Sabrina, and # 81 Pine Creek.  

The first 11.7 miles of the climb are along Highway 168, which is a bit disconcerting at times with cars whizzing by at highway speeds.  The 11.7 miles to the turnoff to South Lake is a 5.6% grade with an elevation gain of 3,500'.  

Start at the intersection of Red Hill Road and Highway 168.

As with all Owens Valley climbs, we ride through Inyo National Forest much of the climb.

Inyo National Forest sign at mile 4.2.

The climb begins gradually as you ride for four miles towards the eastern Sierras (which seemingly take forever to reach) at an average grade of 4%.

First segment of the climb.

Highway 168, Bishop is the green patch top middle of photo.

Ride through a wide canyon from mile 6.5 for five miles to the South Lake Road turn off. 

Cycling South Lake - Hwy 168 - road sign

There’s a lot of straight for the first 11.8 miles of this one.

Turn left onto South Lake Road at mile 11.8.

First 11.8 miles = 5.8% to elevation 7,970’.

Final 7.2 miles at 5% to elevation 9,831’.

Store and restaurant at mile 14.

Fall colors in October.

But, you can also get snow in October!

End of the road.


One of the many Owens Valley climbs above 9,000’.

South Lake, just before the finish.

Dam and parking lot right bottom -- finish is in the parking lot.

Traffic and Roadway Surface Report:  The roadway surface is excellent and there is a good bike lane most of the way along Highway 168. Traffic, as can be seen in the YouTube video, travels by very fast along the 11.7 miles of highway and this is not a stretch of road for the faint of heart.  The last 7.2 miles are much calmer and very scenic.

That’s a wrap!