Photos, clockwise from top left:
Pikes Peak, CO; Mt. Washington, NH; Mauna Kea, HI; Kings Canyon NP, CA; Whitney Portal, CA (center).
Climbing hills and mountains in the United States is certainly different from cycling in places like France and Italy where there is such a long history of cycling. All of the Grand Tours (Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España) are in Europe. However, the US did boast one Elite Stage Race in the Tour of California (held every year from 2006 through 2019, though on hiatus as of 2020) which attracted top tier cyclists and cycling teams.
California has the most Top 100 US Bike Climbs in the state while Hawaii has the greatest concentration of Top 100 Climbs.
Even without the same cycling history that Europe boasts, there are still many unbelievably challenging as well as scenic bike climbs in the United States. US cycling climbs are much more spread out than in Europe, although there are several climbing areas in the US which offer a high concentration of HC and world class climbs by bike that are in close enough proximity to ride from a central hub. There are also two Top World Climb Areas in the US: Owens Valley (11 HC in a 50 mile radius) and Hawaii (Big Island + Maui; #1 Hardest World Bike Climb + #1 Longest World Bike Climb).
TOP US CLIMB STATES
Five of California’s Top 10 Bike Climbs
Photos clockwise from top left: Whitaker Forest (Kings Canyon/Sequoia NP);
Onion Valley (Owens Valley); Nate Harrison Grade (San Diego);
Mt. Baldy (Los Angeles) and Whitney Portal (center; Owens Valley).
The top bike climbing states are California (45 Top US 100 / 3 Top World 100 Bike Climbs), Colorado (10 Top US 100 / 1 Top World 100), Utah (10 Top US 100 / 1 Top World 100), and Hawaii (7 Top 100 US / 5 Top World 100).
Colorado Top 5 Bike Climbs, photo clockwise from top left:
#4 Trail Ridge; #2 Mount Evans; #3 Grand Mesa North
#5 Grand Mesa South; #1 Pikes Peak (center)
THE BEST US BIKE CLIMB RACE
In our opinion, the greatest bike climbing race is the annual Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb. The Bob Cook Memorial Bicycle Race (Mt. Evans, CO), Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb (Colorado Springs, CO), and the Cycle to the Sun (Haleakala, Maui, HI) are not far behind Mt. Washington in challenge.
Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb is held yearly on the third Saturday in August.
Noteworthy former champions: Tyler Hamilton, Tom Danielson, Phil Gaimon.
The following are the top challenging bike climb areas in the United States.
TOP US CLIMB AREAS
OWENS VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
Photos clockwise from top left:
Pine Creek, Onion Valley, Rock Creek, Horseshoe Meadows, and Whitney Portal (middle).
Owens Valley is the most challenging, and one of the most scenic and epic climb areas in the US and one of the best in the entire world. Nowhere in the US, and very few places in the world, have such a high concentration of HC climbs within a 50 mile radius.
HAWAIIAN ISLANDS (BIG ISLAND + MAUI)
Top Hawaiian Island Climbs
Photos, clockwise from top left:
Mauna Kea (top photos); Mauna Loa bottom right/middle; Haleakala bottom left.
Mauna Kea (#1 World & US), Haleakala (#2 US/#15 World), and Mauna Loa (#8 US/#71 World) are the most epic climbs in Hawaii and some of the best in the US and world.
COLORADO (DENVER AREA)
Top Colorado Climbs:
Pikes Peak (top left & right, middle); Trail Ridge (bottom left); Mt. Evans (bottom right).
The highest (14,130’; Mount Evans) and second highest climb (14,115; Pikes Peak) are the highest paved roads in North America and are within a one and a half hour drive of Denver International Airport. Denver has by far the highest number of bike climbs in the United States. Fifteen of the top sixteen highest road bike climbs are in Colorado, and only Mauna Kea (#3, 13,842’) prevents a clean sweep of the Top 15.
TOP 3 NATIONAL PARKS TO CLIMB BY BIKE
To qualify for our top three, the National Park must have more than just one excellent bike climb in or very near it.
#1: ZION NATIONAL PARK
Photo, clockwise from upper left:
Kolob Canyon; Zion Canyon; Highway 9 to Tunnel; Kolob Canyon; Kolob Reservoir (center).
This was a tough one. It was very hard to choose between Zion and Yosemite because we absolutely love cycling it both of these parks, in addition to many others in the US. However, Zion has four great bike climbs within its borders, and on top of that, the hiking is extraordinary.
#2: YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Yosemite Valley: El Capitan left center, Half Dome center background.
We have cycled in and around Yosemite five times in the past four years and consider it one of the most scenic places to ride by bike in the US. There are no Top 100 US Climbs in the area, but the Tioga Pass, Glacier Point, and Hetch Hetchy Dam road bike climbs are a tough threesome to beat in terms of breathtaking views surrounding us during the ride.
Photos, clockwise from upper left:
El Capitan; Western Entrance; Tioga Pass; Hetch Hetchy Dam; Glacier Point (middle).
#3: KINGS CANYON/SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARKS
Photo, clockwise from upper left:
Bear Creek; Mineral King; Highway 198; Whitaker Forest.
These parks abut each other and a couple climbs travel through each of them. What we enjoy most about these two National Parks are the Giant Sequoia Redwoods that appear around 6,000’ on most of the climbs we have documented there.
Glacier National Park in Montana (and specifically Logan Pass) is an extraordinary place to climb by bike, but there is but one epic pass, thus we excluded it from our Top 3 National Park Climb Areas. Nonetheless, it must be included on all US Bike Climb Bucket Lists, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention it here.
Yellowstone National Park is also an extraordinary park to cycle up, around, and through. The stunningly scenic Beartooth Pass is only 88 miles from Yellowstone NP Northeast Entrance. Getting around Yellowstone via the Grand Loop (PJAMM Grand Loop page) via bicycle is a great adventure. You can see our Yellowstone National Park page for more details.
PJAMM cycling Yellowstone’s Grand Loop (2016).
PJAMM’S TOP PICKS
The following are our picks for The Top US 100 Bike Climbs by category. Only two are objective: hardest (using the FIETS formula), and longest. For the subjective categories, we appreciate that if you ask 10 cyclists their top pick for, say, the most beautiful climb, you will get 10 different answers. That is the reason most of our website is based on the FIETS formula to rank climbs. Using a formula at least takes the subjectivity out of the ranking process, although we do acknowledge that there is always debate about the actual merit and accuracy of the formula one selects to rank bike climbs.
HARDEST BIKE CLIMB IN THE US (AND WORLD)
The hardest bike climb in the United States is Mauna Kea, Big Island, Hawaii, which is by far the most difficult bike climb in the world. Mauna Kea has it all: length (42.5 miles), altitude (sea level to nearly 14,000’), and gradient (the last 10 miles are from 8,120’ to 13,779’ at 10.7% average grade).
Mauna Kea -- THE hardest bike climb in the world.
Well . . . you can’t say they didn’t warn you . . . 😨
LONGEST BIKE CLIMB IN THE US (AND WORLD)
Just across “the saddle” from Mauna Kea is the great shield volcano Mauna Loa. Beginning from the opposite side of the island from the start of Mauna Kea (coming from Hilo is shorter, but steeper) in Waikoloa we climb 62.2 miles at 3.4% average grade gaining 11,848’ from near sea level to 11,848’.
Mauna Loa Observatory Road (the last 17 miles at 5% to 10,989’).
THE MOST POPULAR BIKE CLIMB IN THE US
The most popular bike climb in the US, in our experience, is Mt. Lemmon in Tucson, Arizona. Popular because of the fantastic winter (not summer, although it is always cooler 7,000’ up the mountain than at the bottom of the climb), saguaro cactus at the start, and amazing hoodoos at the midway point.
THE MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB IN THE US
If we use the traditional and common definition of epic to equate to “legendary” or “monumental,” you would be hard pressed to ignore Pikes Peak, Colorado. This is mountain is well known, if not famous. It is host to The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (aka Race to the Clouds), every year since 1916, the Pikes Peak Peak Ascent and Marathon (since 1956), and the Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb. Pikes Peak leaves nothing off the Most Epic Bike Climb Checklist: difficulty (#4 US/#23 world), elevation (#2 US), distance (#19 US) and varied scenery -- forests, lakes, hairpins and unobstructed views of surrounding mountains and the Colorado Plains 8,000’ below.
Set of six giant hairpins at miles 19-20 (12,180’-12,700’) at 9.5%.
Pikes Peak, Colorado #4 US Bike Climb.
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ROAD TO CLIMB IN THE US
Beartooth Pass from Redlands, Montana
30 miles (sixth longest US), gaining 5,745’ to elevation 10,905’ at 3.3% average grade.
We defer to the late CBS news correspondent Charles Kuralt (“On the Road with Charles Kuralt”) for this category. Kuralt referred to Montana’s Beartooth Highway (and pass) near Yellowstone National Park as "the most beautiful drive in America.” Travelling the country for 25 years in a motorhome (going through six times in all) reporting on roads, beautiful scenery and landscape, and winning a Peabody Award for his efforts, Charles Kuralt seems to be a trusted and reliable source for this US bike climb category.
THE MOST SPECTACULAR VIEWS ON A US BIKE CLIMB
GLACIER POINT ROAD, YOSEMITE NP, CA
On this one, you could ask a group of adventurous cyclists what US bicycle climb has the most breathtaking views along the way and you’d probably not get any duplicate answers. In our opinion, the Glacier Point bike climb from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point offers the most stunning views of any we have experienced in the US, and thus warrants discussion for greatest views on a bike climb in the world, for that matter.
Half Dome and Nevada Falls from Glacier Point
Yosemite National Park.
THE GREATEST “UNKNOWN” US BIKE CLIMB
Our vote here goes to the anonymous yet spectacular Whitaker Forest bike climb in California’s Sequoia National Forest. Ride through pristine redwood groves on a remote and seemingly private dirt National Forest Road (easily done on a road bike), through a ride-through giant sequoia, then onto General’s Highway, and a short distance past the finish is the largest tree by volume in the world, known as the General Sherman.
THE US BIKE CLIMB MOST SIMILAR TO A TOUR DE FRANCE STAGE FINISH
Nearly all serious cyclists have heard of Alpe d’Huez (although not all know how to pronounce it 😕) and its famous 21 hairpins. Well, the US has its own Alpe d’Huez in Palomar Mountain, located in San Diego, California.
We count 18 hairpins on Palomar, but some report 21 . . .
. . . hmmm . . . coincidence?
MOST REMOTE TOP 100 US BIKE CLIMB
BEAR CAMP WEST
The Bear Camp bike climb in southwestern Oregon is “out there.” This is a very remote and isolated climb. We made the mistake of riding this one alone in sketchy weather, and it was a bit spooky. But, it IS and adventure, that’s for sure.
BIKE CLIMB MOST FEATURED IN TOUR OF CALIFORNIA
Surprisingly, Mt. Hamilton, Santa Clara County, California, has been featured most often (six times from 2006 to 2019) in the Tour of California, the United States only Elite Professional Stage Race. Mt. Baldy and Glendora Mountain Roads are a close second, having each been featured five times.
Center photo: Lick Observatory at the summit of Mt. Hamilton.
THE GREATEST BIKE RIDE IN THE US
THE ROAD TO HANA, MAUI, HI
If someone put a gun to our head and demanded we choose just one favorite out of all the exceptional bike rides in the United States, we would probably have to choose The Road to Hana. That being said, there are so many other amazing and diverse options in these vast United States we call home.
The Road to Hana, Maui, Hawaii
44 miles, gain 4,625’ from Paia to Hana.