Southern California - Top Bike Climbs

#1
Nate Harrison Grade
USA, CA
#2
Mt. Baldy
USA, CA
#3
Palomar Mountain South Grade
USA, CA
#4
Hwy 330
USA, CA
#5
Hwy 18 - Old Waterman Canyon
USA, CA
#6
Gibraltar Road
USA, CA
#7
Hwy 39 - Crystal Lake
USA, CA
#8
Refugio Road
USA, CA
#9
Onyx Summit
USA, CA
#10
Hwy 18 North
USA, CA

Climb List: Southern California
(sort by distance, difficulty, elevation and more)

Cycling Southern California

Cycling Southern California - photo collage, Nate Harrison Grade, Gibraltar Road, Palomar Mountain, Mt. Baldy, and Glendora Mountain Road, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Cycling Southern California

Photos clockwise from upper left:

Nate Harrison Grade, San Diego; Gibraltar Road, Santa Barbara; Palomar Mountain, San Diego

Mt. Baldy, Los Angeles, and; Glendora Mountain Road,Los Angeles (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.

Cycling Southern California - Palomar Mountain, San Diego County; road sign reads "Caution: Sharp Curves Next 7 Miles", aerial views of curvy road along mountain, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner 

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.

Cycling Southern California - Glendora Mountain Road toward Mt. Baldy 

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:

  • Start in Ontario and ride to Mt. Baldy Road.
  • Ride Mt. Baldy Road to the village of Mt. Baldy.
  • Turn left at Mt. Baldy onto Glendora Ridge Road.
  • Ride Glendora Ridge Road to its intersection with Glendora Mountain Road.
  • Turn right onto Glendora Mountain Road and ride to East Fork Road.
  • Ride East Fork Road to Highway 39.
  • Ride Highway 39 south towards Azusa, past San Gabriel Reservoir to Sierra Madre Road.
  • Ride Sierra Madre Road to Glendora Mountain Road.
  • Climb Glendora Mountain Road to Glendora Ridge Road on to the village of Mt. Baldy.
  • Turn onto Mt. Baldy Road and continue five miles to the finish of the climb at Mt. Baldy Resort.

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.

Cycling Southern California - Gibraltar Road, cyclist rides on wide area of road curving uphill,  Santa Barbara in the background

Cycling Southern California - Gibraltar Road, cyclist gives thumbs up standing with bike overlooking Santa Barbara county

Cycling Southern California - photo collage shows sunset from La Cumbre Peak, Santa Barbara

Sunset from La Cumbre Peak - highest point in Santa Barbara

Photos: earliest photo center then clockwise from top left.

MT. BALDY, SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY

TOUR OF CA FAVORITE

Cycling Mt. Baldy - cyclist on bike riding up to Mt Baldy Resort sign

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.

Cycling Southern California - Mt. Baldy, aerial view  of hairpins along the climb

Seven hairpins on miles 10-11 at 9.7%.

Cycling Southern California - snow at Mt. Baldy

You WILL encounter snow during the winter . . .

. . . the climb ends at a ski resort, after all.  🙂

NATE HARRISON GRADE, SAN DIEGO COUNTY

LITTLE KNOWN BUT UNIQUE BIKE CLIMB

Cycling Southern California - Nate Harrison Grade, panoramic view of cyclist climbing along Nate Harrison Grade, overlooking San Diego County in the distance

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.

Drone photo of Nate Harrison Grade and orange groves

Drone photo of Nate Harrison Grade and orange groves

Backdrop for an amazing climb by bike -- Nate Harrison Grade.

MT. SOLEDAD (the best views)

360° VIEWS OF SAN DIEGO

Cycling Southern California - Mt. Soledad, photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, Veterans Memorial atop Mt. Soledad

Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial

Honors veterans from the Revolutionary War to present.

~2,400 plaques.

The 360 degree views from the top of Mt. Soledad are the most spectacular in the San Diego area. San Diego, the Pacific Ocean, La Jolla, UCSD, Miramar, and more can all be seen from this spectacular viewpoint.

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.

Cycling Southern California - Hilltop Drive as seen during the superbloom of California poppies

Cycling Southern California - signs for Angeles National Forest, Santa Monica Mountains, Pacific Coast

That’s a wrap for Southern California . . .

. . . but there's opportunity across the pond . . .

Cycling Mt. Fuji

Cycling Mt. Fuji