Owens Valley - Top Bike Climbs

#1
Onion Valley Rd
USA, CA
#2
Horseshoe Meadows Rd
USA, CA
#3
White Mountain
USA, CA
#4
Whitney Portal
USA, CA
#5
South Lake
USA, CA
#6
Rock Creek Road
USA, CA
#7
Lake Sabrina
USA, CA
#8
Glacier Lodge Road
USA, CA
#9
Pine Creek
USA, CA
#10
Death Valley Road (West)
USA, CA

Climb List: Owens Valley
(sort by distance, difficulty, elevation and more)

Cycling Owens Valley

Photos clockwise from top left:

Pine Creek, Onion Valley, Rock Creek, Horseshoe Meadows, and Whitney Portal

 (middle photo)

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 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

Cycling Owens Valley - Onion Valley Road, hairpins, valley mountains, clouds and sky

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.

Bike climb  Owens Valley - pjamm cyclist on bike on road with clouds

Cyclist at Onion Valley Road Elevation 9200 sign

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 USCyclist riding bike up Lubken Canyon Road, Big Pine, Owens Valley

Climb begins on Lubken Canyon Road.

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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.

Cyclists at top of Horseshoe Meadows Road after riding Horseshoe, Onion Valley Road, White Mountain and Whitney Portal Roads in a day.

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

Cyclist on Whitney Portal Road with Mt. Whitney summit in background.

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.

Cycling and climbing by bike  Owens Valley - pjamm cyclist on bike with mountains and whitney peak in background

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.

Cyclists at Badwater Death Valley at start of Badwater to Mt Whitney Summit bike ride and run

Badwater, -282’ below sea level.

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The temperature was only 116 degrees (confirmed at Furnace Creek).

John Johnson at Whitney Portal for hike to top. 

Base of hike -- Whitney Portal.

John Johnson and Tayler Hocket on summit of Mt. Whitney

Whitney Summit -- 14,505’ above sea level.

WHITE MOUNTAIN, BIG PINE

A LONG GRINDER, BUT EPIC HC CLIMB

Cycling White Mountain - roadway, meadow, mountains and clouds

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!

Cycling White Mountain - roadway, meadow, mountains and clouds

PINE CREEK, BIG PINE

ONE OF THE GREATEST CANYON CLIMBS IN THE US

Cycling White Mountain - roadway, meadow, mountains and clouds

Cycling White Mountain - roadway, meadow, mountains and clouds

CERRO GORDO , LONE PINE - KEELER

A BRUTAL GRAVEL GRINDER!