Owens Valley is the greatest bicycle climbing area in the Continental United States with 9 Top 100 U.S. Climbs and 3 of the Top 100 World Climbs within a 25 mile radius and includes Onion Valley Rd, Horseshoe Meadows Rd, Whitney Portal, White Mountain, Rock Creek Road, Lake Sabrina, Glacier Lodge, Pine Creek and Death Valley Road (West). We suggest staying in Bishop (our preference is the Creekside Inn, right next to the awesome Schat's Bakery!)
#1 Ranked Bike Climb in California, #6 US, #57 World
Owens Valley, with a base elevation of 4,000' and surrounded by multiple 14,000' peaks, is one of the deepest valleys in the U.S. The valley is bordered to the west by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and is close by The White and Inyo Mountains. Owens Lake at the southern end of the valley was desiccated from 1913 to 1926, when water from its main tributary, Owens River, was diverted to the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The mostly dry Owens Lake is the single largest source of dust in the United States, but has made a comeback between 2001 when Los Angeles was ordered to flood portions of the area and fix the problem and 2018 when Owens Lake was designated a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve.
Owens Valley was the scene of raging water wars in the early 1900’s when City of Los Angeles agents posed as farmers and ranchers to purchase land and water rights in Owens Valley and then built the LA Aqueduct to divert water from the area 200 miles south. The aqueduct was originally constructed in Black Rock Springs, between Independence and Big Pine. The scheme and battles triggered by it was dramatized by the classic 1974 film “Chinatown.”
Jack Nicholson starred as a private detective in the 1974 film “Chinatown.”
Yelburton : My goodness, what happened to your nose?
Jake Gittes : I cut myself shaving.
Yelburton : You ought to be more careful. That must really smart.
Jake Gittes : Only when I breathe.
Work on the Los Angeles Aqueduct, 1924
Photo: Inyo County Eastern California Museum
The Owens Valley is a mecca for road bike climbing and boasts the greatest concentration of Top 100 Climbs in any area of the country. Owens Valley is a graben “down dropped” block of land between two vertical faults, which creates the unparalleled extended steep grades along its eastern border with the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Our favorite climbs in Owens Valley (which we have done in one day on two different occasions) are:
ONION VALLEY ROAD, INDEPENDENCE
TOP CALIFORNIA BIKE CLIMB
Onion Valley Road is rated as the most difficult bike climb in California, #5 in the United States and #35 world, with a Fiets Index score of 14.5.
The John Muir Trail can be accessed from the Onion Valley Campground, at the end of our 12.9 miles on the Onion Valley Road Climb.
HORSESHOE MEADOWS ROAD, LONE PINE
LONG AND TOUGH WITH THE BIGGEST SWITCHBACKS IN THE US
Climb begins on Lubken Canyon Road.
Biggest hairpins in the US, visible in this photo taken from afar.
View from Highway 395 just south of Lone Pine.
In 2013 and 2015 we included Horseshoe Meadows in four of the “Top Five Climbs in California in a Day” trip -- at 22,000’ of climbing with an average grade around 7% in 100 degree temperatures, this is quite the adventure.
Horseshoe #4 of four in 2015 (stupidly done two days before Death Ride).
WHITNEY PORTAL, LONE PINE
SPECIAL MEMORIES FOR PJAMM CYCLING, BADWATER TO WHITNEY SUMMIT
Cycling Whitney Portal
Ride 11.4 miles to 8,371’ gaining 4,595’ at 7.6% average grade.
The Whitney Portal Road bike climb, along with Whitney Portal at its end, is the gateway to the amazing hike to the top of the tallest mountain peak in the contiguous United States. This road is home to one of the top bike climbs in the U.S. and stunning views of Mt. Whitney as we slowly ascend from Lone Pine in Owens Valley.
Mt. Whitney is unmistakable from Highway 395, Whitney Portal Road, Lone Pine, and points below and east of it if you know what you are looking for. It is recognizable by its serrated ridge and peak profile far in the distance. Well, also very high above us -- over two miles of climbing, straight up -- to get to it.
Another amazing adventure is cycling the 135 miles from Badwater Death Valley to Whitney Portal, then hiking to the summit of Mt. Whitney. Find out more about this great trip here.
Badwater, -282’ below sea level.
The temperature was only 116 degrees (confirmed at Furnace Creek).
Base of hike -- Whitney Portal.
Whitney Summit -- 14,505’ above sea level.
WHITE MOUNTAIN, BIG PINE
A LONG GRINDER, BUT EPIC HC CLIMB
We have done the White Mountain bike climb five times and would do it every year if we had the chance. We love this climb and the area around it. This is a beast of a climb, it’s long, steep in spots, and extremely hot in the lower third during the summer. We start at the intersection of Highway 168 and Death Valley Road, after all!