Photos clockwise from top left:
We have traveled to Owens Valley 6 times to climb and document climbs there. We consider this area one that we have distinct and deserved pride in. If you plan on traveling to Owen’s Valley for a cycling trip, you will be well served by downloading our Owen’s Valley Adventure Page to help you navigate and share your trip with others.
Note: Check weather conditions with the Inyo National Forest Service for each climb you intend to do and the Inyo County road conditions website before traveling to Owens Valley to cycle anytime after September or before June.
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.
Big Pine (Glacier Lodge Road) is the center of the Owens Valley cycling hub.
The image above shows the distance of the 10 HC Owens Valley Climbs from Big Pine (start of the Glacier Lodge climb). All 10 climbs are within a 50 mile radius of Big Pine. Nowhere in the US, and very few places in the world, have this concentration of top climbs within 50 miles.
This image shows the distance of the 10 HC climbs from Bishop.
Owens Valley was the scene of raging water wars in the early 1900s 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 it triggered, were 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, boasting 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.
The chart above shows just how efficient this combination of climbs is. Ride 151 miles gaining 49,699’ at an average grade of 6.28% while descending a mere 1,180’. We climb 98% of the time while descending only 2% during these climbs, making Owens Valley the Bike CLIMBING Heaven!
BIKE CLIMBS OF THE OWENS VALLEY
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, #6 in the United States, and #86 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.
Mt. Whitney is unmistakable as we climb Whitney Portal Road.
PJAMM’s Taylor Hocket on his ride from Badwater to Whitney Portal +
Climb to Whitney Summit.
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).
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!
PINE CREEK, BIG PINE
ONE OF THE GREATEST CANYON CLIMBS IN THE US
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN OWENS VALLEY
Fun things to do in Owens Valley:
20.9 miles out and back gaining 6,646’.
“Mount Whitney Trail is a 20.9 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Lone Pine, California that features a lake and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail is primarily used for hiking, camping, and backpacking and is best used from April until October” (AllTrails).
Many Hollywood westerns were filmed in the Owens Valley.
Gene Autry was in 19 westerns filmed in the Owens Valley between 1936 and 1953. In addition to Autry, stars staying and filming in Owens Valley included, John Wayne (12 movies) Gregory Peck (How the West was Won), Tyronne Power, Vincent Price, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda (Ox-Bow Incident), Glen Ford (Violent Men), Burt Lancaster (Hallelujah Trail), Jack Lemmon (The Great Race), Robert Mitchum (West of the Pecos), Jimmy Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Audie Murphy, Leonard Nimoy, Maureen O’Hara, Jack Palance, Kevin Costner, Roy Rogers/Dale Evans, Robert Downey, Jr. (Chaplin; Iron Man), Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Lucille Ball, Humphry Bogart, William Boyd, William Shatner, and the list could go on and on.
But, it wasn’t just the westerns that saw the opportunity of the attraction of the steep east side of Owens Valley
I Love Lucy - The Long, Long Trailer (in Anscocolor)
Photos from Pinterest - California Girl - Long, Long Trailer
You gotta watch the Mt. Whitney scene (link above) - priceless . . . the only thing crazier than riding up Whitney Portal Road on your bike is doing it while towing a long, long trailer driving a 1953 Mercury Monterey convertible with a 125 HP flathead V8.
There are many unique hoodoo formations near the intersection of
Horseshoe Meadows and Whitney Portal Roads.
Mobius Arch Loop Trail.
“Mobius Arch Loop Trail is a 0.6 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Lone Pine, California that offers scenic views and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from May until October. Dogs and horses are also able to use this trail” (AllTrails).
Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery, Independence
There are many things to do and see in and around Bishop. See the Bishop Visitor Center website for more information.
The best place to stay in Bishop is the Creekside Inn.
Bishop is the biggest town in Owens Valley and has many places to stay and eat. We love Schat’s Bakery which is directly next door to the Creekside Inn, although there are many other restaurants to choose from in Bishop.
Next door to the Creekside Inn, Schat’s Bakery is great for pastries and sandwiches.
WHERE TO STAY IN OWENS VALLEY
Check out our “Where to Stay in Owens Valley page for more information.