Photo - clockwise from top left:
Mauna Kea, HI;; Pikes Peak, CO; Mauna Loa, HI; Haleakala, HI; Mt. Washington, NH (center)
We have mapped the most difficult bike climbs in the world and personally documented most of them. We have personally ridden the Top 10 US Hardest Bike Climbs, some several times each. We have also documented 99 of the Top 100 US Bike Climbs (we just discovered Go Road Summit in remote Northern California and expect to document that soon).
Mauna Kea (#1) as seen from Mauna Loa (#8)
Hawaii hails as by far THE “Top 10 State” with a whopping five out of ten most difficult bike climbs in the US (#1 Mauna Kea, #2 Haleakala, #5 Kaloko Drive, #8 Mauna Loa, and #9 Waipoli Road). California is the second toughest cycle climbing state with three Top 10’s (#6 Onion Valley, #7 Horseshoe Meadow, and #10 White Mountain). New Hampshire (#3 Mt. Washington) and Colorado (Pikes Peak #4) round out the Top 10.
#1 OF 10
MAUNA KEA, BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
TOP RANKED CLIMB IN THE UNITED STATES AND WORLD
This is the greatest cycling challenge in the world. While not as famous as the great European bike climbs such as Alpe d’Huez, Tourmalet, Ventoux or Stelvio, as we know from experience, it is legendary amongst cycling extremists; we have been contacted countless times by athletes seeking the hardest bicycle climb on the planet. In all, we have climbed Mauna Kea four times (2011, 2013, 2014, 2018).
Starting at sea level and climbing to nearly 14,000’ in 42 miles, this volcano is the ultimate test of cycling strength and endurance. And, if that’s not enough, try the trifecta: #1 Hardest (Mauna Kea), #2 US Hardest (Haleakala) and #1 World Longest (Mauna Loa) on your Hawaiian cycling adventure.
#2 OF 10
HALEAKALA, MAUI, HAWAII
Aerial Sphere Photo:
Center - Haleakala Crater; center right - Summit and approach to summit
We have ridden Haleakala four times from Paia, and once up Highway 37 from near the airport in Kahului. We recommend the Paia route as it is more scenic with less traffic. This climb is so difficult because it just wears you out: 36 miles of straight climbing and generally between 5-7% average grade (the steepest mile averages only 7.8%). There are some of the greatest hairpins in the US on this climb, most of which are unobstructed (we are on a volcano after all), and the eight starting at mile 25 rival the Horseshoe Meadows Hairpins in length -- the five longest average 1.25 miles each! The wind is almost always blowing along the big hairpins, causing you to ride into the wind suffering for one leg, then turn and are loving life for the next mile and a quarter with the wind at your back.
Cycling Haleakala Volcano -
Start at sea level and finish above 10,000’!!
As with so many of the Top 10 US Bike Climbs, this is a must do if you are on any of the Hawaiian Islands (either as tourist or resident). Yes, it is worth the flight to Maui just to ride this spectacular volcano.
#3 OF 10
MT. WASHINGTON AUTO ROAD, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb is held the third Saturday in August.
Noteworthy former champions: Tyler Hamilton, Tom Danielson, Phil Gaimon.
In our (subjective) opinion, the greatest US bike climbing race is the annual Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb. Other excellent and popular bike races involving Top 10 US climbs are the Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb (Colorado Springs, CO) and the Cycle to the Sun (Haleakala, Maui, HI).
Mt. Washington is the highest peak in New England and the climb is 7.4 miles at an average grade of 12.1% (with a quarter mile at 16%). The “event” is as much an experience as the magnificent climb itself, containing within it an awards ceremony, carved turkey dinner, and much more!
#4 OF 10
PIKES PEAK, COLORADO
Pikes Peak, Colorado #4 US Bike Climb.
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.
#5 OF 10
KALOKO DRIVE, BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
Kaloko Drive, Kona, Maui, is a beast of a climb, not surprising for #5 on the list. While at 11.6 miles it doesn’t rival the length of some of the other Top 10’s, its 8.7% average grade (10.4% last 7 miles/14% last 2.3 miles) edges this cycling ascent into the US Top 5. This is the first of the Top 10 that does not fit the subjective “epic” criteria: the first 4.5 miles are along an uninspiring busy road, and the last seven miles, while trafficless and in a rainforest, setting are not in the “extraordinary” category that Mauna Kea, Haleakala, Mt. Washington and Pikes Peak are. Nonetheless, this is a must-do for cyclist interested in a top US climb by bike.
#6 OF 10
ONION VALLEY ROAD, OWENS VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
Onion Valley Road is California’s toughest cycling challenge. Between 2011 and 2017 we have had the pleasure(?) of riding from Independence, California to the Keasarge Pass Trailhead (end of the road) five times. Twice Onion Valley Road has been the centerpiece of our one day climbing challenge (Horseshoe Meadow #7 US, Whitney Portal #14, Onion Valley #6 and White Mountain #10) which involves 22,000’ of climbing from dawn to dusk.
Onion Valley Road is located in the heart of the Owens Valley which has the highest concentration of HC and Top 100 US climbs of any area in the United States. Owens Valley is such an exceptional cycling hub that we also rank it as a Top World Climbing Area.
#7 OF 10
HORSESHOE MEADOWS ROAD, OWENS VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
Horseshoe Meadows Road, home to the greatest set of switchbacks visible from a state highway in the US (maybe the world!). The view of Horseshoe Meadows’ famed switchbacks from Highway 395 is stunning; these monsters range in length from 1.7 miles for the lower segment to half a mile for the fifth and upper segment. Our first experience with Horseshoe Meadows was when we hopped the gate in May 2011 and road into a desolate area through snow flurries -- not the brightest move!
Along with Whitney Portal #14, Onion Valley #6, and White Mountain #10, Horseshoe Meadows is one of the four must-do climbs along a 40 mile stretch of Hwy 395 in the Owens Valley.
#8 OF 10
MAUNA LOA, BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
Did you ever wonder what it would be like to ride on Mars?
We have ridden this magnificent climb twice from Hilo (the southern and steeper route), and twice from Waikoloa (northern and longer route). Mauna Loa is one of the great bike climbs in the United States and the world. How often can you say you have ridden the “#1” of anything in the world? At just over 62 miles, Mauna Loa is the longest bike climb in the world and it will just flat out wear you down, but it is well worth the effort you’ll put into it. The bonus round after knocking off the longest climb in the world, is the hardest climb in the world -- Mauna Kea. These two volcanoes are just across the road from each other and each are clearly visible from the flanks of the other.
Mauna Loa is an AMAZING place to ride.
#9 OF 10
WAIPOLI ROAD, MAUI, HAWAII
This greatest unknown bike climb in the US. Very few cyclists have ever heard of Waipoli Road. This one climbs the backside of Haleakala Volcano on a paved road which ends at Skyline Trail (this trail is manageable on a gravel bike with thick tires, but we end at our Top 10 climb at the pavement). The full climb is 12.7 miles at 7.8%, but the most fun (well, if you like this kind of stuff) is on the 20 hairpins over the last 4.7 miles which average 10%.
#10 OF 10
WHITE MOUNTAIN, OWENS VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
Last but not least on the US Hardest Bike Climbs list is White Mountain. Though it’s not the steepest (at 5.8%), nor the longest (at 20 miles), it is definitely still a challenge, particularly during the summer months when the temperatures at the start of the climb are commonly in triple digits. This climb begins at Death Valley Road, after all! This was the finish of our Four Owens Valley HC Climbs in a Day trip in 2015 (22,000’ of climbing, 100+ ℉. Here’s how PJAMM looked at the end (luckily we had a pacer for the final stretch!):
John and Red, bringin it!