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

Photo collage - aerial drone photos of PJAMM Cyclist on stretches of road along the Pine Creek, Onion Valley, Rock Creek, Horseshoe Meadows, and Whitney Portal climbs

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.

Map of California with Owens Valley climbs pointed out

Map points out main climbs in the Owens Valley Climb area and the distance they are from Big Pine

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.

Map points out main climbs in the Owens Valley Climb area and the distance they are from Bishop

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 in the Chinatown film 

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.

Black and white photo from 1924 shows work on the Los Angeles Aqueduct in Owens Valley

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.

CLIMB STATS

Chart listing the stats for the ten main climbs in Owens Valley

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

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 US

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

Climb begins on Lubken Canyon Road.

Photo taken from Highway 395 just south of Lone Pine, shows switchbacks up the mountainside on Horseshoe Meadow 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.

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.

Cyclist on highway roadway with Mt. Whitney's serrated edge peak in the distance, sign for Lone Pine Campground, Whitney Portal, and Horseshoe Meadow

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.

Photo collage of PJAMM Cyclist Taylor Hocket at points along his ride from Badwater to Whitney Portal and the hike to Mt. Whitney's summit

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.

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

Badwater, -282’ below sea level.

Photo collage of PJAMM Cyclists on their expedition from Badwater (-282 feet below sea level) to the summit of Mt. Whitney (14,505' above 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

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, California - photo collage, cyclist riding on paved roadway, high desert landscape, sign for Inyo National Forest, Elevation sign reads 10,000 feet, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

PINE CREEK, BIG PINE

ONE OF THE GREATEST CANYON CLIMBS IN THE US

Cycling Pine Creek Road, California - views 1-2 miles before start of climb, mountains in distance, old farmhouse, two-lane roadway lined with trees

Cycling Pine Creek Road, California -  photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike parked in front of No Trespassing sign, aerial drone view of roadway, aerial drone view of cyclist on two-lane roadway, two-lane highway roadway in desert setting going toward mountains, cyclist rides on roadway beyond closed gate

OTHER THINGS TO DO IN OWENS VALLEY

Fun things to do in Owens Valley:

  • Hike to  Mt. Whitney - this requires a permit that is obtained at Eastern/Sierra Visitor Center at the south end of Lone Pine (Google Map + Reviews)


Views along the Mt. Whitney climb, including Geodesic Survey plaque marker, signs along the route, dear in a green valley, and wildflowers with panoramic views

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).

  • Fishing and hiking in the Eastern Sierras is extraordinary throughout the length of the Owens Valley.
  • Visit the Film History Museum, Lone Pine

sign in front of Lone Pine's Film History Museum, large horse statue behind sign

Film History Museum

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)

The Mt. Whitney Scene

Trailer for the Long Long Trailer

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.

  • Drive, ride or hike around the very cool hoodoo formations just west of town.

Unique hoodoo rock formations near the intersection of Horseshoe Meadows and Whitney Portal Roads

There are many unique hoodoo formations near the intersection of

Horseshoe Meadows and Whitney Portal Roads.

hiking the Mobius Arch Loop Trail, rock formation making an arch

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).

Pond in front of the German-styled Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery in Independence, California

Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery, Independence

Google Map + Reviews

There are many things to do and see in and around Bishop.  See the Bishop Visitor Center website for more information.  

Creekside Inn, Bishop, California

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.  

Schat's Bakery in Bishop, California

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.