Hardest Bike Climbs in California

#1
Onion Valley Rd
USA, CA
#2
Horseshoe Meadows Rd
USA, CA
#3
White Mountain
USA, CA
#4
Sherman Pass West
USA, CA
#5
Whitney Portal
USA, CA
#6
Nate Harrison Grade
USA, CA
#7
Mineral King Road
USA, CA
#8
Whitaker Forest
USA, CA
#9
South Lake
USA, CA
#10
Hwy 198 (General's Highway)
USA, CA

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

Cycling California

 

Onion Valley Road in California’s Owen’s Valley

#1 Ranked Bike Climb in California, #6 US, #57 World

Disclaimer:  We’re from California and while we have cycled extensively throughout most parts of the world, we absolutely love and respect California as an exceptional cycling region.  We’re not saying it’s The Best, just that it’s pretty darn good!

California has the most Top 100 US Bike Climbs - by far:

The only Elite World Ranked stage race in the United States is the Tour of California, which has been held each year since 2006 (Santa Rosa California’s Levi Leipheimer is the only multiple winner of the ToC, having won it three consecutive years from 2007-2009). Other notable winners of the Tour of California are former Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins (TdF 2012, ToC 2014) and Peter Sagan (2015; 6x winner TdF points classification - Green Jersey; World Champion 3x).

 

Peter Sagan (SVK; Tinkoff-Saxo) 2015 Tour of California Champion

Julian Alaphilippe (FRA; Etixx-QuickStep) #2

Sergio Henao (COL; Team Sky) #3

Photo:  CyclingTips.com

In 2017 California was ranked third by the League of American Bicyclists on it list of the Most Bicycle Friendly States behind Washington and Minnesota and has, at least in the only study we could locate on the topic, the highest number of competitive cyclists of any state: “32% are 35-44 years old and are from California (17%)”  (USA Cycling, 2009).

California has so many bike climbing options to choose from if you’re willing to drive a bit to get to these world class and exceptionally scenic climbing areas.  We toyed with trying to subjectively rank our favorite areas, but gave up and are just going with “try to do them all, you won’t regret it.”

So, without further ado, our favorite California cycling climb areas from south to north are:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA 

Cycling Southern California

Photos clockwise from upper left:

Nate Harrison Grade, San Diego; Gibraltar, Santa Barbara; Palomar Mountain, San Diego

Glendora Mountain Road,Los Angeles  and Mt. Baldy (center), Los Angeles.

While we are from Northern California, we love cycling Southern California. The link above will take you to our Southern California Climb Page, but here is our opinion on the Top 5 SoCal Bike Climbs:  

  • Palomar Mountain, San Diego County -- The Alpe d’Huez of the US.
  • Glendora Mountain Road, San Bernardino County -- Southern California’s most scenic bike climb.
  • Gibraltar Road, Santa Barbara County -- A challenging and wonderfully scenic climb.
  • Mt. Baldy, San Bernardino County -- (shares its last five miles with Glendora Mountain), Tour of CA favorite.
  • Nate Harrison Grade, San Diego County  -- Little known but unique bike climb.

Not one of our Top 5, but one we just lucked into on our March 2019 Southern California bike trip is Hilltop Drive, Lake Elsinore -- the location of 2019’s Poppy Apocalypse:

California top bike climbs - Super Bloom, Lake Ilsenore

DEATH VALLEY 

The beauty of Death Valley is that it gives us a place to cycle during the off season -- including winter (the average rainfall for December is 2/10ths of an inch).  Our favorite climbs in Death Valley are:

  • Dantes View -- Long ride rewarded with amazing views of Death Valley at the end.
  • Wildrose -- Remote ride on broken pavement to abandoned charcoal kilns.
  • Emigrants Pass -- A very fun ride; we encountered coyotes, wild mules, and tarantulas on the route.
  • Towne Pass West -- Perhaps the straightest road in the US?

Cycling California top bike climbs - Towne Pass, Death Valley - cyclists on bike on road with long straight road and mountains behind

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 4,500' and surrounded by multiple 14,000' peaks, is one of the deepest valleys in the U.S.  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 twice) are:

Climbing by bike California top bike climbs - PJAMM Cyclists on bike with Mt. Whitney in background

Whitney Portal

Tayler Hockett on his way from Badwater (116℉ at start) to Mt Whitney Summit (top center of photo).

Park sign at top of Whitney Portal cycling climb

PJAMM’s Ryan Tetz shattering the record -

Badwater to Whitney Summit in 13:17 - record by 41 minutes!

Photo taken from Hwy 136 on the way from Death Valley - Mt. Whitney middle photo.

SEQUOIA & KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS AND FOREST

Photo - from upper left clockwise:

Bear Creek; Mineral King; Hwy 198; Whitaker Forest; 

There are extraordinarily scenic bike climbs in this area:

Bicycle California top bike climbs - cyclists riding through giant Sequoia Redwood tree

Whittaker Forest

NORTHERN SIERRA MOUNTAINS

Our favorite bike climbs in the Northern Sierras are:

Cycling California top bike climbs - cyclists with bike with half dome and Nevada and Vernal falls in background 

Washburn Point

PJAMM Glacier Point to top of Half Dome bike-hike June 2018.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

  • Mt. Tamalpais from Muir Woods, Marin County -- The greatest views of San Francisco and the Bay.
  • Mt. Diablo, Contra Costa County from north or south -- On a clear day this ride holds the best views in the Bay Area with 360 degree vistas.
  • Mt. Hamilton, Santa Clara County from the west -- Included in the Tour of California more than any other bike climb.
  • Mt. St. Helena, Sonoma/Napa Counties -- This part gravel ride holds 360 degree views of Wine Country’s Napa, Sonoma, Lake Counties.
  • Hicks Road-Mt. Umunhum (north), Santa Clara County -- This extremely popular ride is home to the steepest five mile paved road in California.

Pan Toll Road on the way to Mt. Tam West Peak.