Colorado Top 5 Bike Climbs - photo clockwise from top left
#4 Trail Ridge; #2 Mount Evans; #3 Grand Mesa North
#5 Grand Mesa South; #1 Pikes Peak (center)
Colorado is famous for its “Fourteeners” (mountain peaks with elevations of at least 14,000 feet) and, true to form, the only two bike climbs in North America that are in the fourteens are Mt. Evans, CO and Pikes Peak, CO. In fact, 15 of the top highest bike climbs in the US are in Colorado -- only Mauna Kea at #3 (13,842’) prevents a clean sweep by Colorado. Loveland Pass South is the highest starting point of any bike climb in the US (9,358’) and nine of the ten highest starting points for a US bike climb are in Colorado. The following list is in order of difficulty.
1# OF 10
Pikes Peak, Colorado #4 US Bike Climb.
Ride 24.2 miles gaining 8,040’ to elevation 14,115’ at 6.1% average grade.
We have ridden Pikes Peak three times and consider it one of the most epic climbs in the world. If we use the traditional and common definition of epic to equate to “legendary” or “monumental,” you would be hard pressed to ignore Pikes Peak. This mountain is well known, if not famous. It has been host to The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (aka Race to the Clouds) every year since 1916, the Pikes Peak Peak Ascent and Marathon (since 1956), and the Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb. Pikes Peak leaves nothing off the Most Epic Bike Climb Checklist: difficulty (#4 US/#23 world), elevation (#2 US), distance (#19 US), and varied scenery -- forests, lakes, hairpins, and unobstructed views of surrounding mountains and the Colorado Plains 8,000’ below.
#2 OF 10
Finish, Mt. Evans.
Ride 27.4 miles gaining 6,745’ to elevation 14,130’ at 4.5% average grade.
Not only the highest bike climb in Colorado (and the United States, and North America), this is the second longest at 27.4 miles (yet paling to Trail Ridge’s 43.9 miles). Along the way you can expect to encounter all manner of wildlife -- we’ve seen mountain goats (photo above), rocky mountain bighorn sheep, deer, and marmots.
Each July cyclists race to from Idaho Springs (7,560’) to the end of the pavement above 14,000’ in the Bob Cook Memorial Bicycle Race. This ride is named after Bob Cook, who died of melanoma at age 23 after having won the race an unbelievable six times in his young life. The race has been held almost every year (excepting three) since its inaugural in 1962. Many professional (or soon to be professional) cyclists have won the race over the years, including: Alexi Grewal (1981, 1984, 1990); Ned Overend (1985-1986); Michael Engleman (1991-1995); Jonathan Vaughters (1997, 1999); Scott Moninger (1998, 2000-2002); Tom Danielson (2004, 2007, 2009); Peter Stetina (2010); LeRoy Popowski (2011-2013); Christopher Carr (2013); Lachlan Morton (2015); Chris Butler (2016); Chad Haga (2017); and Gregory Daniel (2018).
#3 OF 10
GRAND MESA NORTH
Ride 21.4 miles gaining 5,850’ to elevation 10,882 at 5.1% average grade.
As is obvious from the photo above, some of the views along this rigorous and long climb are simply stunning. Located in the Grand Mesa National Forest, the Grand Mesa North bike climb is a remote climb that is the furthest west of the nine Top 100 US climbs in Colorado. Grand Mesa’s claim to fame is that it is the largest flat-topped mountain in the world.
#4 OF 10
Ride 43.9 miles gaining 7,767’ to elevation 12,075’ at 2.9% average grade.
At 43.9 miles, Trail Ridge is the second longest bike climb in the United States (behind #1 US/#1 World Mauna Loa), and sixth longest in the world. Trail Ridge is also the highest continuous (i.e., not a dead end) paved road in the United States, traversing Rocky Mountain National Park, and offering spectacular views along the giant switchbacks 20 miles below a summit that tops out at a whopping 12,000'.
#5 OF 10
GRAND MESA SOUTH
Ride 19.1 miles gaining 4,722’ to elevation 10,882 at 4.6% average grade.
This climb is #5 in Colorado and #52 on the Top 100 US Climb List and travels into the Grand Mesa National Forest. Grand Mesa South is the less scenic climb, but shares its summit with Top 100 climb #24, Grand Mesa North.
#6 OF 10
Ride 3.3 miles gaining 2,001’ to elevation 8,558’ at 11.4% average grade.
This is one of our favorite Colorado climbs. Although it is a bit of an outlier, it is well worth the drive to get to Black Canyon! The climb itself is brief, but similar to Mt. Ascutney in Vermont, this one gives you as much pop in three miles as you will get on any of the Top U.S. 100 Climbs. This Colorado climb is incredibly steep and gives you spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and vegetation.
#7 OF 10
INDEPENDENCE PASS WEST
The first of the Colorado Top 10 to cross the Continental Divide.
Ride 15.8 miles gaining 3,984’ to elevation 12,095’ at 4.8% average grade.
Independence Pass is in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains and White River National Forest (established 1902 by President Teddy Roosevelt; 2,285,970 acres). Independence “Pass” is the highest paved actual pass in the US at 12,095’. Each of Mt Evans, Pikes Peak, and Mauna Kea are higher but end at the top. Cottonwood Pass is a bit higher, but is not paved on one side. Trail Ridge is slightly higher, but its high point is not marked as a “pass” (Iceberg Pass is down from the Trail Ridge high point at 11,827’). Thus, Independence Pass claims the prize for highest paved pass in the US. Independence Pass is also one of three bike climbs to end at the Continental Divide.
Wolf Creek Pass (top photo) - southwest CO (Pagosa Springs)
Independence Pass - central CO (Aspen)
Cottonwood Pass - central CO (Buena Vista)
#8 OF 10
LEFT HAND CANYON
Ride 22.5 miles gaining 4,960’ to elevation 10,495’ at 4.1% average grade.
Left Hand Canyon is a Top 100 US Climb and one of the most popular bike climbs in the Boulder, Colorado area. The climb follows Left Hand Creek until Left Hand Canyon turns into Indiana Gulch Road at mile 15. While we do not see the creek the entire climb, we are close enough to hear it, and when we don’t hear the creek, we hear the wind blowing through the trees that fill the canyon, making for a very calming and peaceful ride.
#9 OF 10
WOLF CREEK PASS
Cycling Wolf Creek Pass
Ride 8.7 miles gaining 2,953’ to elevation 10,857’ at 6.4% average grade.
One of three Colorado Top 100 Bike Climbs crossing the Continental Divide.
This one is really an outlier. Tucked away in deep southern Colorado, near its border with New Mexico, this fabulous bike climb begins just north of Pagosa Springs (elevation 7,126’; pop. 1,940 in 2017). The beautiful scenery on this climb includes lakes, horse pastures, and a view of the East Fork San Juan River. As you approach the summit you will see a low point in the mountains ahead, which is where the pass cuts across the top of the continental divide. There are many pull-outs along the climb, and they are well-worth stopping at so that you can take in the beautiful views.
#10 OF 10
Ride 7.6 miles gaining 2,700’ to elevation 11,530’ at 6.8% average grade.
This one is short, but has a pop. It is a ways out there (we ended up being taken through a very remote area by our GPS that included 15 miles of dirt road through the mountains -- this was a miscue by the GPS we believe -- there are clearly paved roads to Lake City!). Interestingly, the word “slumgullion” defines a cheap or insubstantial stew. However, there is nothing insubstantial (nor stew-like, for that matter) about this climb!