Photos, clockwise from top left:
#4 Mt. Washington, NH; #5 Mauna Kea, HI; #2 Mauna Loa, HI
#3 Whitaker Forest, CA; #1 Pikes Peak, CO (center).
What makes a bike climb “epic”? Since this is a very subjective topic, we will give you our thoughts on the matter, but by no means do we consider this an end-all, exhaustive list. While we can surely debate what are truly the most “epic” US bike climbs, we feel confident that all of the climbs included in our Top 10 list belong there. We also welcome your thoughts and input on this category via our Contact Us page.
#10 OF 10 US MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB
NATE HARRISON GRADE, CALIFORNIA
Spectacular backdrops to this ride: Pauma Valley in background with Pacific Ocean beyond.
Nate Harrison Grade road moves from center photo to center-right.
We have climbed Nate Harrison Grade twice and thoroughly enjoyed each of our ascents. The climb is challenging, remote (we only saw one car total in our two trips), and has spectacular views of San Diego’s Pauma Valley for much of the ascent.
Pavement ends at mile 1.1 but picks up again at mile 8.
The first mile is paved, but the majority of the climb is on a dirt fire trail with very steep grades. There is intermittent pavement along the seven mile stretch from miles one through eight, but we would estimate 90% of the climb is gravel and rock, with miles five through eight being particularly challenging, including a couple of stretches that are barely manageable on a road bike. We used compact chainring with 30t cassette and 28mm tires on a Specialized Roubaix. This one is a must-do for anyone in the area that loves an adventurous climb.
Hairpins up gravel road (manageable, but challenging, on road bike) to the top.
#9 US MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB
TIOGA PASS, YOSEMITE NP, CALIFORNIA
This fantastic bike climb ends at the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park.
Cycling Tioga Pass: One of the greatest bike climbs in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range
Ride 12 miles to 9,948’ gaining 3,272’ at 4.9% average grade.
Tioga Pass is named after an Iroquois and Mohawk term (Tioga) meaning "where it forks". The most spectacular part of Tioga Pass is the sheer drop off that is dramatically obvious when you look back at the viewpoint at mile 8.3.
Tioga Lake, located one mile from the park entrance and climb’s finish.
#8 US MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB
HALEAKALA, MAUI, HAWAII
Haleakala Crater as seen from the air on approach to Maui.
Boasting amazing hairpins, a 36 mile ascent, and 10,000’ above the sea -- Haleakala is one of a kind.
Maui is a wonderful cycling destination, what with the Haleakala volcano, Road to Hana and Waipoli Road. Haleakala is an epic and challenging volcanic climb that takes us into a National Park on one of the most beautiful Hawaiian Islands. The 35 mile climb from Paia to the Haleakala Lookout and the Visitor Center (located half a mile below the lookout) shares its first eight miles with another US Top 100 Climb (Baldwin Avenue/Olinda Road). We have climbed Haleakala five times and it never gets old; this is a must-do bike climb for adventurous cyclists traveling to, or living on, Maui. We would even say that it is worth the trip to Hawaii just to climb this magnificent mountain.
Start the climb at sea level and finish 10,000’ later!
Markers on the roadway from 4,500’ to 6,500’
Only 4,000’ more to go. 👍😅
At the finish, feeling on top of the world!
#7 US MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB
MOUNT EVANS, COLORADO
Cycling Mt. Evans: The highest paved road in North America.
Ride 27 miles gaining 6,740’ to 14,130’ at 4.5% average grade.
Last hairpin to the top.
There are not many rides you will do where you can say, "This is the highest . . ." but this is one of them. Mt Evans, Colorado -- the highest paved road (therefore the highest paved climb by bike) in North America! For all that strive to climb the hardest, the longest, the steepest, the highest of anything, this is a must-do!
You cannot cycle any higher than this in North America.
#6 US MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB
SHAFER TRAIL, CANYONLANDS NP
Cycling Shafer Trail, Canyonlands National Park
Ride 5.3 miles gaining 1,436’ to 5,823’ at 5.1% average grade.
First half of the climb is at 9%.
One of the most epic and unique bike climbs in the US.
Also visit our PJAMM Canyonlands page
In our opinion, this is the most epic bike climb in Utah, and is one of the only US climbs resemble the great Death Road of Bolivia, although there are many significant distinctions between the two. What the two have in common are sheer cliffs bordering very narrow dirt roads.
I did this trail on my Roubaix with 28mm road tires without any difficulty . . .
That is, other than the 9% first 2.5 miles in 100+ degrees.
#5 US MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB
MAUNA KEA, BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
If you have spent any time on our site, you know that Mauna Kea is A SPECIAL PLACE! It is the World #1 Most Difficult Road Bike Climb, by far. Mauna Kea almost defines the term epic. However, sheesh, we cannot constantly give our all-time favorite bike climb top billing in every category . . .
Warning Signs: They don’t give you much incentive to continue past the Visitor Center.
Notwithstanding our Mauna Kea bias and hesitancy to give it top billing nearly everywhere, there is no doubt it is an epic bike climb -- by anyone’s criteria and by any fair standard.
Mauna Kea -- THE hardest bike climb in the world.
(And simply one of the most epic, too!)
PJAMM + MK, throughout the years.
We have climbed Mauna Kea 4 times - 2011, 2013, 2014, 2018.
#4 US MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB
MT. WASHINGTON AUTO ROAD, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Start of the annual Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb.
Mt. Washington, according to “The Climbing Bible,” John Summerson’s The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), is “the most difficult hill climb race in the U.S. and perhaps the world,” and “the annual hill climb race up its slopes is perhaps the most brutal on earth” (Summerson 249, 62). We have travelled the world and researched, ranked and documented the top bike climbs. We can attest to the validity of Summerson’s claims. Mt. Washington is one of the hardest climbs you will ever encounter and it is, in our opinion, the most difficult bike climb road race that we are aware of anywhere in the US.
#3 US MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB
WHITAKER FOREST, CALIFORNIA
Cycling Whitaker Forest, one of the most difficult road bike climbs in California.
Ride 23 miles, gaining 7,240’ to elevation 7,586’ at 5.2% average grade.
Whitaker Forest is much more than just a challenging climb -- it is an exceptional experience. Whitaker Forest is ranked #22 in the U.S. so there can be no disagreement to its claim as a very tough ascent. In addition to tackling another very hard climb, with this one, you get some experiences that range from unique, to exceptional to one-of-a-kind.
We are surrounded by giant sequoias for much of the ride.
#2 US MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB
MAUNA LOA, HAWAII
Did you ever wonder what it would be like to ride a bike on Mars?
We feel like this climb gives us a bit of an answer.
We have ridden this magnificent climb twice from Hilo (the southern and steeper route), and twice from Waikoloa (northern and longer route). Mauna Loa is one of the great bike climbs in the United States and the world. How often can you say you have ridden the “#1” of anything in the world? At just over 62 miles, Mauna Loa is the longest bike climb in the world and it will just flat out wear you down, but it is well worth the effort you’ll put into it. The bonus round after knocking off the longest climb in the world, is the hardest climb in the world -- Mauna Kea. These two volcanoes are just across the road from each other and each are clearly visible from the flanks of the other.
This climb is remote and at times can seem downright spooky.
Photo taken from upper Mauna Loa Observatory Road.
Mauna Kea in the background.
#1 OF 10 US MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB
PIKES PEAK, COLORADO
Cycling Pikes Peak
Ride 24 miles gaining 8,037’ to elevation 14,115’ at 6.1% average grade.
For cycling in the US, it just doesn’t get any better than Pikes Peak. Located in the Rocky Mountains an hour outside Denver, Colorado, this one has everything you will ever want in a road bike climb: length, challenge, altitude, and breathtaking scenery.
We have ridden Pikes Peak three times and consider it one of the most epic climbs in the world. The climb is extremely challenging (#4 US/#22 World), scenic, and unique in that it is the second highest paved road in North America (a mere 15’ behind Mt. Evans). The hairpins at 12,500’ are extraordinary and give us unobstructed views to the Colorado plains over a mile below.
That’s a wrap! There you have it: Our 10 US Most Epic Bike Climbs. We welcome your thoughts and further contributions to this page.