Cycling Colorado’s Most Epic Bike Climbs
Photos clockwise from top left:
#5 Independence Pass; #4 Cottonwood Pass; #3 Trail Ridge
#2 Mount Evans; #1 (center) Pikes Peak
Throughout all my travels throughout the United States to document cycling climbs, I have never encountered a population as supportive and enthusiastic about cycling as I’ve seen in Colorado. I LOVE cycling in Colorado. I have cycled throughout the state four times and ridden the top climbs between two and four times each. Thus, although I am from California, I do feel at least quasi-qualified to rate the most epic Colorado bike climbs. So, here they are in reverse order:
#10 of 10 COLORADO MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
NORTH CHEYENNE CAÑON, COLORADO SPRINGS
Cycling North Cheyenne Cañon, Colorado Springs
Ride 3.2 miles gaining 1,220’ to elevation 7,487’ at 7.2% average grade.
This bike climb is through beautiful North Cheyenne Cañon Regional Park. The park is a National Register of Historic Places, and rightly so. This is a superb ride that anyone living in or visiting the Colorado Springs area should experience.
Be sure to ride at least one mile down Lower Gold Camp Road
Dirt, but easily manageable on a road bike.
The paved 3.2 miles plus the bonus dirt section nudges this shorter climb into the Top 10.
#9 of 10 COLORADO MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
RED MOUNTAIN PASS, OURAY
Cycling Red Mountain
Ride 12.8 miles gaining 3,385’ to elevation 11,018’ at 5% average grade.
This climb is a bit of an outlier, but well worth cycling if you are ever in the area. This southwestern Colorado road bike climb begins in Ouray, Colorado, known as the “Switzerland of America.” Ouray is a restored 1870’s silver and gold mining town that had a population of 1,019 in 2019. The town’s main street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A beautiful road bike climb in southeastern Colorado.
#8 OF 10 COLORADO MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMB
EAST PORTAL, BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON NP
Cycling East Portal
Ride 3.3 miles gaining 2,001’ (0 descent) at 11.4% average grade.
Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park -- Established 1999; 30,750 acres.
As with #9 Red Mountain Pass, this one is also a bit of an outlier, but well worth the drive to get to Black Canyon! The climb itself is brief, but gives you as much pop in three miles as you will get on any of the Top U.S. 100 Climbs. This Colorado climb is incredibly steep and gives you spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and vegetation along the way -- when you are not staring down at the pavement moving by slowly in front of you.
#7 OF 10 COLORADO MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
GUANELLA PASS, GEORGETOWN
Climbing Guanella Pass by bike -- a challenging and peaceful bike climb.
Ride 10.8 miles gaining 3,606’ to elevation 11,657 at 5.4% average grade.
The Guanella Pass bike climb is broken into three parts: hard, easy, hard – the first 3.5 miles at 6.7% gaining 1,303’, the middle mild segment is five miles at 2.9%, and the final 2.3 mile switchback section at 7.4%. We ride through a canyon for most of the climb, following the South Clear Creek River for nearly the entire route, although the creek is not always in view. This is a hydroelectric area and we pass by two lakes, a reservoir and a major power station during the first 5.5 miles.
This is a beautiful climb with minimal vehicular traffic.
#6 OF 10 COLORADO MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
GRAND MESA NORTH, MESA
Cycling Grand Mesa North, a top US bike climb in the Rocky Mountains.
Ride 21.4 miles gaining 6,110’ to 10,830’ at 5% average grade.
The Grand Mesa North bike climb is a remote one -- it is the furthest west of the nine Top 100 U.S. climbs in Colorado, and is located in the Grand Mesa National Forest. Its claim to fame is that Grand Mesa is the largest flat-topped mountain in the world. The pass can be reached from both the north and south, the north being the most scenic approach.
This is a long, challenging, and very scenic bike ride in eastern Colorado near Grand Junction.
Chalk Mountain (photo center) to the west as we climb.
#5 OF 10 COLORADO MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
INDEPENDENCE PASS, ASPEN
Cycling Independence Pass, Colorado -- Route from Aspen is a US 100 Bike Climb.
Ride 15.8 miles gaining 4,128’ to 12,095’ at 4.8% average grade.
There is a four-tenths of a mile segment along a sheer cliff.
. . . terrifying in a car, but it was no problem on a bike.
Independence “Pass” is the second highest paved actual pass in the US at 12,095’ (Cottonwood Pass at 12,126’ is the highest). Each of Mt. Evans, Pikes Peak, and Mauna Kea are higher, but end at the top. Trail Ridge is slightly higher, but its high point is not marked as a “pass” (Iceberg Pass is down from the Trail Ridge high point at 11,827’).
The summit is the second highest paved pass in the US.
One of the few passes in the US with European-style stickers on the pass sign.
#4 OF 10 COLORADO MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
COTTONWOOD PASS, BUENA VISTA
Cycling Cottonwood Pass -- one of US 100 Bike Climbs that reach the Continental Divide.
Ride 19.2 miles gaining 4,320’ to elevation 12,126’ at 4.1% average grade.
Cottonwood Pass (East) is one of only six climbs in the U.S. that top out above 12,000' (five of those six are in Colorado -- the Himalayas of North America). This is also one of only three of the 13 Colorado Top 100 U.S. Climbs that end at the Continental Divide (Independence Pass and Wolf Creek Pass are the other two).
Cottonwood Pass in spring.
Cottonwood “Pass” is the highest paved actual pass in the US at 12,126’ (Independence Pass is a close second at 12,095)’. Each of Mt. Evans, Pikes Peak, and Mauna Kea are higher, but end at the top. Until September 2019, Independence Pass held top honors as Highest US Paved Pass because Cottonwood Pass was not paved on its back side. Trail Ridge is slightly higher, but its high point is not marked as a “pass” (Iceberg Pass is down from the Trail Ridge high point at 11,827’). Thus, as of September 2019, Cottonwood Pass claims the prize for highest paved pass in the US.
Cottonwood Pass & Continental Divide -- photo bottom center.
Loop and hairpin leading to the top bottom center left of photo.
#3 OF 10 COLORADO MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
TRAIL RIDGE, LOVELAND
Cycling Trail Ridge
Ride 43.9 miles (not a typo!) gaining 7,767’ at 3% average grade.
Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, traversing Rocky Mountain National Park, and offers spectacular views along the giant switchbacks 20 miles below a summit that tops out at a whopping 12,000'. At 43.9 miles, Trail Ridge is also the second longest bike climb in the U.S. and the fifth longest in the world. Visit PJAMM’s Rocky Mountain NP page for more information.
Now that’s EPIC (photos May 29, 2019)
Left photo: Marloes Dekkers near Rainbow Curve Overlook (10,875’)
Right photo Tiemen van Boxtel near Forest Canyon Overlook (11,716’)
Scenes within the first few miles of entering the park -- around miles 28-32.
Mary Parks Curve Overlook at mile 35 (elevation 9,700’).
Top of the climb, but not end of the line!
Mission accomplished at 12,300’.
#2 OF 10 COLORADO MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
MOUNT EVANS, IDAHO SPRINGS
Cycling Mt. Evans, Colorado: 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.
You cannot cycle any higher than this in North America.
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, this is a must-do!
View down to Echo Lake from four miles up Mt. Evans Highway.
Mountain goats (top) and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (bottom) in August 2020.
Aerial view of the hairpins at the top of the climb.
#1 OF 10 COLORADO MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
PIKES PEAK, COLORADO SPRINGS
PJAMM’s September 2017 Pikes Peak Climb -- A Success!!!
Ride 24 miles gaining 8,037’ to elevation 14,115’ at 6.1% average grade.
#1 hardest CO bike climb, #4 US, #22 World.
This may be the most coveted cycling photo location in the US.
The Pikes Peak cycling climb in the Front Range mountain range, part of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, is one of the most incredible climbs, period. This mountain is easily one of the most famous in the country, and even in the world. Every year more than one million visitors travel to Pikes Peak; after Mt. Fuji in Japan, Pikes Peak is the second most visited mountain on earth. The views are indescribable and unmatched -- it’s no wonder Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to write “America the Beautiful” after taking in the beauty of Pikes Peak’s summit (Come to Life Colorado).
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.
Upper left photo: Pikes Peak as seen from Crystal Reservoir Visitor Center mile 11.
Upper right photo: Pikes Peak from mile 11.6
Lower photos: Pikes Peak seen from mile 12.7
Top: Aerial view of upper hairpins (miles 21-23).
Bottom: Last four miles to the summit.
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.
Hairpins on a steep road above the treeline permit unobstructed views of the roadway below.
Be sure to get your photo at the Pikes Peak sign in front of the Pikes Peak Summit House
Center photo: August 14, 2020 waiting in line for the sign photo (mask wearing and social distancing)
Top left: John and Rochelle September 6, 2014; Top right: Bruce, Stacy, John September 10, 2017
Bottom right: John, Todd, Eric August 14, 2020; Bottom left: John August 9, 2015
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.