Photos clockwise from top left: Bwlch y Groes (Wales #1, UK #2 hardest);
Stwlan Dam (Wales #1, UK #2 most epic); Entering Wales in Llanymynech;
Cardiff Castle; Welsh flag flying over Cardiff Castle (center)
Wales is a wonderful country with great people, extraordinary scenery, and EPIC bike climbs! We have had the great fortune of documenting the most epic and hardest climbs in Wales in 2018 and 2022. Before our 2022 trip, we contacted legendary UK hill climbing and cycling author, Simon Warren, requesting his picks for the Top 10 Most Epic and Top 10 Hardest bike climbs in Wales, England, Scotland, and the UK. Below is a list of Simon’s choices for Wales Top 10 Most Epic Hill Climbs.
A little bit about Simon Warren: We contacted Simon Warren with our request for his Top 10 lists because we consider him the Gold Standard, and the cyclist with the most thorough and comprehensive knowledge of hill climbing by bike in the UK. Simon Warren has published many books on cycling climbing in the UK (relevant examples include: 100 Greatest Climbs - A Road Cyclist’s Guide To Britain’s Hills; Cycling Climbs of Wales; and 100 Climbs UK Books). As of 2022, Simon Warren has published 12 cycling climbing books - 10 focusing on the UK, one on TdF, and the other on the Giro. I have purchased and relied heavily on several of these books in deciding what climbs to include on the PJAMM Cycling website for the UK. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Simon Warren for his books generally, and for his contribution of Top 10 lists for PJAMM Cycling.
SIMON WARREN’S TOP 10 MOST EPIC WELSCH HILL CLIMBS
#10 - GOSPEL PASS
This is the highest paved pass in Wales.
Gospel Pass North is an outlier in Wales in that it isn’t defined by insanely steep gradients. Instead, after a tough opening kilometer, the road mellows and cuts through open sheep pastures toward the summit point. To my eye, it seemed incredible that a quality road even exists in this remote corner of Wales. It is a cyclist’s playground and as fun to descend as it is to climb. Toward the summit, the road steepens slightly, but all in all, it’s an enjoyable, scenic, and easy climb by Welsh standards.
#9 - MACHYNLLETH MOUNTAIN
Simon Warren says of this beauty: “From now on - whatever you are doing, wherever you are - keep an eye on the weather in west Wales. As soon as there are clear blue skies, call in sick, pack the family off to the grandparents, throw the bike in the car and head for this climb,” (Simon Warren, Cycling Climbs of Wales, A Road Cyclist’s Guide, p. 97).
This climb rolls its way up to amazing views, not the least of which is from Cadair Viewpoint at mile 6.2. From here, on a very clear day, you can see Yr Wyddfa - Snowdon, Wales’ highest peak at 3,560’. This is a perfect place to read about the history of the town and take in the view.
#8 - MIGNEINT PASS
We caught Migneint Pass on a windy, overcast, and rainy day and were denied the attested extraordinary views of the climb. However, Simon Warren ranks it #8 most epic in Wales and we trust him on all things UK hill climbs.
#7 - LLANBERIS PASS
The climb begins in Nant Peris and ends at Pen y Pass (the high point of the Llanberis Pass).
Do begin the climb in Llanberis - there’s no two ways about it. The town of Llanberis is purely as idyllic as a place can get. Nestled in between rocky mountains, the town sits adjacent to a turquoise lake. Our climb started just a few miles up the road from the town center. The road is a relatively heavily traveled “pass” road, not surprisingly frequented by many tourists. Along the climb are car-sized boulders that I was told are used by the locals as climbing gyms of sorts. Mellow grades see you to the summit where there is a small mountain cafe that echos the summit cafes on many of the Italian Alps climbs. Certainly make a point of climbing Llanberis Pass on your trip through Wales, it is really something special.
Aerial views up and down the canyon just past the midpoint of the climb.
#6 - ELECTRIC MOUNTAIN
This is the second Top 10 Wales Most Epic Bike Climb that begins near the lovely village of Llanberis in Gwynedd, northwest Wales. There are a series of turns that take you out of the residential area and up onto the high mountain. You’ll be greeted by the eternal Welsh wind here, you can bet on that. The rains came and went sporadically on the day we rode Electric Mountain in early June 2022.
This typically remote Welsh road takes you through lush green forest, to farm towns, and quickly leads you to a gate. At this point, the road starts to pick up: in grade, farm life, and weather.
#5 - DEVIL’S ELBOW
Climb begins by riding up Sarn Helen Road from the Y.
Finishing up the Devil’s Elbow near the top of the climb.
Devil’s Elbow is near the finish of the climb.
Maen Llia, three-tenths of a mile past the finish.
The Maen Llia is a 4,000-year-old stone (megalith) sitting on the moorland in Brecon Beacons National Park. The stone measures 12’ high by 9’ wide and 2’ thick.
#4 - BLACK MOUNTAIN
This climb has a BIG Mountain feel for such a a little road. I’d call it the Alps of Wales: long sweeping turns, gradient nothing above 8 or 9%, and spectacular views of the valley below. Cars pass by fast but friendly. There are lots of hiking trails and little paths you can explore if you like getting the bike dirty. This is so much bang for buck - a relatively mellow climb for about four miles from the creek bridge at the bottom and amazing views. Well worth doing if you are in the area.
#3 - THE COWLYD (#1 most difficult Wales & UK)
Cycling The Cowlyd, Wales
Ride two miles gaining 1,329’ at 12.5% average grade. 😓
WOW - enough said! This climb is simply a monster with several stretches in the red zone - above 16%, including one massive stretch at 20% for 200 yards. This climb is ranked #3 on PJAMM’s FIETS formula-based difficulty index, as well as the UK Top Hardest Climbs list provided to us by Simon Warren before our second trip to document the UK’s top climbs in 2022 -- thus, it’s The Real Deal!
#2 - BWLCH Y GROES (#2 most difficult Wales, #3 UK)
Cycling Bwlch y Groes, Wales
Ride 1.6 miles gaining 1,206’ at 14.1%.
This extraordinary climb is in the northwestern section of Wales in the Snowdonia mountain region. This is the highest paved road and hardest bike climb in Wales. Bwlch y Groes means “Pass of the Cross.”
We completed this jewel in August 2018 and because it is so epic, came back for a second go in June 2022.
#1 - STWLAN DAM
Cycling the incomparable Stwlan Dam, Wales
Ride 1.8 miles gaining 916’ at 10% average grade.
Not only is this listed as the #1 most epic bike climb in Wales and #2 in the UK, we also consider it a Top 25 Most Epic World Climb - it’s THAT AMAZING! This climb is breathtaking and we will return and do this one again - it’s just that unique, inspiring, and exceptional.
That’s a wrap!