Southern California Most Epic Bike Climbs

#1
Nate Harrison Grade
USA, CA
#2
Palomar Mountain South Grade
USA, CA
#3
Gibraltar Road
USA, CA
#4
Glendora Mountain Road
USA, CA

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

Cycling Southern California

Photos clockwise from top left: Nate Harrison Grade; 

Glendora Mountain Road (2019 Tour of California); Palomar Mountain

 Gibraltar Road;  Center:  PJAMM’s Top US 100 jersey at the So Cal beach 🏄

While we normally use the Fiets Index as an objective tool for ranking the difficulty of bike climbs, selecting the “Most Epic” climbs is purely subjective.  We have cycled many times in Southern California and traveled the US and world in search of “epic” bike climbs so we do have a decent foundation for the conclusion we present on this page.  Nonetheless, the climbs included in the Southern California Most Epic Bike Climbs is certainly subject to debate and we welcome your input on the topic.

Our country and world most epic pages include at least 10 epic climbs.  However, because of the relatively smaller pool of climbs to choose from, we have restricted our selections to only the Southern California cycling climbs we consider extraordinary.  To qualify for our Southern California list, the climb must be challenging, scenic and fun (or in some fashion “unique”).  The list is short, but we unequivocally and highly recommend each of the four climbs on our “short list.”

#4 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB

GLENDORA MOUNTAIN ROAD, GLENDORA, LOS ANGELES COUNTY

Cycling GMR - Ride 27 miles gaining 6,645’ at 3.8% average grade.

Many cyclists familiar with Glendora Mountain Road (GMR) and Mt. Baldy Road will question why we selected GMR over Baldy - here’s the reason:

  • The last 5.6 miles (the hardest part) of GMR overlaps the Mt. Baldy Road ride - therefore, we technically have not “excluded” Mt. Baldy Road by selecting GMR over it for the Southern California Most Epic list.
  • GMR is by all accounts more scenic.
  • GMR is just as hard as the Mt. Baldy climb - it only ranks lowered because of several descents between the start and merge with Mt. Baldy Road that dilutes its Fiets Index.
  • The route is much longer than Baldy (26.9 to Baldy’s 13.1 miles) and the roadway has very little traffic compared to the substantial traffic on Mt. Baldy Road below Mt. Baldy Village.

#3 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB

GIBRALTAR ROAD, SANTA BARBARA, SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

Aerial drone sphere photo at sunrise

La Cumbre Peak with Sunrise beyond.

On this amazing bike climb, we ride from the city of Santa Barbara to La Cumbre Peak, the highest point in Santa Barbara County.  Along the way we have many clear views of Santa Barbara below us, the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands.  This is the 7th hardest bike climb in all of Southern California and may be the most scenic.

Sunset on Gibralta (earliest photo center then clockwise from top left).

#2 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB

PALOMAR MOUNTAIN, PAUMA VALLEY, SAN DIEGO COUNTY

Climbing Palomar Mountain by bike - intersection E Grade and Crestline Road San Diego County

Full disclosure - I am terribly biased in favor of Palomar Mountain - but, in my opinion, this bias is wholly justified.  During the four years that my daughter played soccer for UCSD, I left a bike in San Diego and would ride each weekend the team played in San Diego.  About half the time I would ride Palomar, even though it was an hour each way to get to the start from La Jolla.  I know that mountain like the back of my hand and absolutely adore it.  It is also the scene of my worst accident ever on a bike - tire blew at 40 mph on the descent (after the hairpins) and the result was not pleasant 😢.

What makes Palomar such a great climb?

  • It is challenging at 12.4 miles and 7% average grade.
  • It is one of, if not the, most popular bike rides in Southern California.
  • It arguably has the greatest set of hairpins in the US (Haleakala is a close second, in my opinion).  It is the Alpe d’Huez of the US - so much so that many claim there are 21 hairpins (equal to Alpe d’Huez), but I count 18.


  • Mother’s Kitchen at the top - fantastic cafe - you will not go wrong ordering apple pie ala mode.

Menu board at Mother's kitchen at finish of Palomar cycle climb.

#1 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB

NATE HARRISON GRADE, PAUMA VALLEY, SAN DIEGO COUNTY

Nate the Great - this is an EPIC bike climb.  We include Nate Harrison Grade in our epic road bike list because you can technically complete it on a road bike (I have done it three times on a Roubaix- once with 25’s, next with 30’s and finally with a 32 knobby on the back and 28 on the front).  However, many choose to ride a gravel mountain bike.

Drone photo of Nate Harrison Grade and orange groves

Why #1?

  • It is a hidden gem - few knew of this ride when we discovered it during our diligent search for bike climbs in San Diego County when we began this website in July, 2014.  It is still somewhat of a secret, as best we can tell.
  • It is very hard - 10.3 miles at 8.2% average grade, most of that on gravel and dirt..
  • Great views of the Pauma Valley as we climb.
  • Several giant hairpins.
  • Zero traffic - very private ride - even a bit spooky if you do it at the crack of dawn like we have done twice.