South Lake Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

South Lake


Last 6 miles are a peaceful climb to a beautiful Sierra Mountains lake.

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

Explore this Climb

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Climb Summary

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!