Cycling and climbing by bike the top climbs in Southern California (riding by bike in Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Santa Barbara counties). Cycling, riding and climbing the top, most difficult, hardest, arranged by difficulty, distance (longest climbs in Southern California), altitude gained, highest elevation (highest summit), average grade (sort the grades by varying distances), lowest start point, etc.
Cycling Southern California
Photos clockwise from upper left:
Nate Harrison Grade, Gibraltar, Mount Palomar, Glendora Mountain Road, and Mt. Baldy (center).
While we’re from Northern California, we love cycling Southern California. Below are our Top Five Southern California bike climbs. This is a subjective list based on our many trips to Southern California to climb the exceptional mountains the bottom half of this gorgeous state has to offer.
PALOMAR MOUNTAIN, SAN DIEGO COUNTY
THE ALPE D’HUEZ OF THE US
We have climbed Palomar Mountain six times, and always encounter multiple cyclists on our rides here, especially on the weekends. This, along with Gibraltar Road (Santa Barbara County) and Mt. Baldy Road (San Bernardino County) are the most popular big climbs in Southern California. It is hard to pick favorites from so many fantastic bike climbs available in Southern California, but Palomar, Glendora Mountain Road and Gibraltar Road have to be included at or near the top of every list. The switchbacks are what really make Palomar Mountain stand out.
Palomar Mountain is best known for its Alpe d’Huez-like hairpins.
GLENDORA MOUNTAIN ROAD, SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA’S MOST SCENIC BIKE CLIMB
At 26.9 miles, GMR, as it’s referred to by the locals, is a long climb. It’s the third longest in California and second in Southern California (behind the 30.4 miles Onyx Summit climb) which shares its last five miles with the Mt. Baldy Road climb.
We consider the Glendora Mountain Bike climb to be the most scenic in Southern California, but it is rivaled by Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara County. With over 10,000 Strava members having used this route, it is the most popular HC climb in California.
Riding on Glendora Mountain Road towards Mt. Baldy.
The route for all five ToC GMR/Baldy mountain-top finishes (2019 Map).
The Tour of California Route that includes GMR+Mt. Baldy Road:
GIBRALTAR ROAD, SANTA BARBARA COUNTY
A CHALLENGING AND WONDERFULLY SCENIC CLIMB
Home to the Hill Climb World Championships, Gibraltar Road is a special climb. It is fairly long (9.8 miles) and steep (7.3% average grade, with the steepest ½ mile being 11.1%). The World Championships start a little further up the mountain and end a little further down than our route, making the length for their version of this climb 6.1 miles. The views of the Pacific Ocean to the south and Santa Ynez Mountains to the north/northeast make this a stunning ride. This is a Top Three Southern California Bike Climb.
MT. BALDY, SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY
TOUR OF CA FAVORITE
Mt. Baldy may be the most well known of Southern California climbs, made more famous by having been featured prominently in the Tour of California five times. Though it starts out less scenic than some of our other climbs, we traverse many switchbacks and end up in a ski resort, making this is a must-do climb.
Seven hairpins on miles 10-11 at 9.7%.
NATE HARRISON GRADE, SAN DIEGO COUNTY
LITTLE KNOWN BUT UNIQUE BIKE CLIMB
Most of this climb is on dirt and gravel but is nonetheless manageable on a road bike. We’ve done it on a Specialized Roubaix with 28mm once, and again with 32mm knobby tires. This is likely the most unique bike climb in Southern California, riding out of the desert-like Pauma Valley, through Native American reservation land, with incredible hairpins and exceptional views of the valley far below. We highly recommend this bike climb.
Backdrop for an amazing climb by bike -- Nate Harrison Grade.
HILLTOP DRIVE -- Just for the photo . . .
Not one of our Top 5, but an honorable mention goes to one we just lucked into on our March 2019 Southern California bike trip: Hilltop Drive, Lake Elsinore. The location of 2019’s Poppy Apocalypse. The picture says it all.