Featured Hill climbs

Favorite Climbs Around America

On this page, I have compiled data and descriptions of some great climbs I’ve done from elsewhere in the country. Most of these are out west or from Hawaii. New Englanders might have one of the toughest hill climbs in the world with Mt. Washington, but there are many climbs that are either much bigger vertical gain, go to a much higher elevation (or both).

About half of the climbs presented here are 100% paved, and one is 100% singletrack. The others are mixed paved/gravel or entirely from gravel. If you like to climb and have opportunities to travel, maybe there’s something here you’ll like to try sometime.

The climbs are depicted in two different ways: in terms of elevation gain to allow comparison of relative steepness, and in terms of absolute altitude to show how high some of the climbs reach. The two Hawaiian climbs start at sea level, rising to 10,000 and 13,800 feet.

Mt. Evans on the other hand, while finishing above 14,000 feet, starts at 7,555 feet. Because Mauna Kea on Hawaii’s Big Island encompasses both huge elevation gain and high altitude climbing, it easily dwarfs the other climbs presented here in difficulty.

Haleakala, Maui, HI – If this climb weren’t in the middle of the Pacific Ocean 2500 miles from the nearest land, it could perhaps be the most popular bicycle climb in the world. The fully paved climb to the summit gains just over 10,000 feet from sea level in less than 38 miles.

Mount Washington vs Mont Ventoux Climbs

Ever wonder how Mount Washington stacks up against Mont Ventoux?  Whiteface with Alpe d’Huez? This page will give you some insight. I hunted around on the web to find profiles of a few of the most famous climbs of the grand tours (I plan to ride these great climbs soon!).

The chart below compares Mont Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez from the Tour de France, Agliru from the Vuelta a Espana, and Passo dello Stelio from the Giro d’Italia, with New Hampshire’s Mount Washington and New York’s Whiteface Mountain.

As you can see, nothing approaches the steepness of Mount Washington. Angliru comes the closest, with an average grade of 10%. Agliru has sustained pitches that are much greater than 10%, so it is a very challenging climb. The image here suggests peak grade at 23.5%! Whiteface and Alpe d’Huez are also similar climbs.  Both gain ~3,500 feet in 8 to 9 miles. Whiteface is slightly steeper, but gains slightly less vertical.

Mont Ventoux compares similarly to Mount Washington when starting from the town of Gorham in terms of the average grade. However, Gorham to the auto road is only a couple percent grade, then the rest of the climb is at 12%. Mont Ventoux stays right around a much more modest 7% grade. Passo dello Stelvio is a huge climb, a pass through the mountains, gaining just over 6000 feet in elevation. Stelvio was in several stages of the Giro.

Favorite Hill Climb Loops

Here we have begun compiling a library of great climbing rides. Several of the rides offer over 10,000 feet of climbing in 100 miles. Low traffic back roads and great scenery are the norms. Expect to suffer at least a little. A few of the rides entail seasonal gravel sections (closed in winter) and may not be suitable for everybody. These sections will be described in detail in each report.

The capstone of all climbing rides in the north-eastern part of the country is the Six Gaps of Vermont loop. Per TopoUSA, it punishes those strong enough to complete it with 14,500 feet of climbing in 132 miles. 6-Gaps also contains the steepest paved mile known in the northeast, the east side of Lincoln Gap which averages 20-24% grade for the last mile.

Mt Greylock/Petersburg Pass: A nice loop I’ve done multiple times straddles the border of MA/NY, which roughly lies on the Taconic Crest mountain range (great mountain biking by the way). The ride starts in North Adams, climbs over Mt. Greylock and continues west into NY, coming back over Petersburg Pass. There’s a third climb along the way adding hundreds of additional feet of climbing.  Altogether, the ride runs about 62 miles and 5000+ feet of climbing.

The details” Park at Heritage State Park in N. Adams, MA. Climb Mt. Greylock from the north as described on the mountain climbs page. Descend Greylock on the south side, taking a right on Rt 7. Take a left almost right away on Bailey Rd. You will climb almost 500 feet on this road at a moderately steep grade. Turn left on Brodie Mountain Rd, and left again on Rt 43. Enjoy the brief descent. Continue over the state line into NY.

Mount Equinox Skyline Drive

Mount Equinox, VT – This course climbs Skyline Drive to the summit of Equinox Mountain. Bikes have not been allowed on this private auto road for many years. The Gear Up for Lyme race in 2004 was the first chance for hillclimbers to test their mettle on this beast. They say the road to Equinox Mountain’s summit has a short 28% grade section, but when I raced this mountain, I never had the impression that any stretch was steeper than 15, perhaps 16%.

The climb has one brief, fast descent the prevents it from being a truly monotonic climb. For the last few years, a $500 cash prime has been offered for the first ride to pass the one-mile mark. $500 for a mile? How hard could that be? Oh, to collect the prize, you must also finish the race within a cutoff window.

The view from the summit is spectacular. Mt Equinox is steep and one of the highest peaks around, so great views abound from several vantage points, especially from the open ridgeline leading to the summit. The road is smoothly paved, tollbooth to the summit. Unfortunately, like Mt Washington, cyclists are not allowed to ride their bikes back down.

Six Gaps – Vermont

The Six Gaps Bicycle Hill Climb Vermont

Whether you’re up to the challenge of your life or are just looking for a smaller one, you’ll find it all here in Vermont’s Green Mountains.

The Vermont Six Gaps is a ride that you can accomplish in one day or you can decide to do different parts of it instead. Most of it is paved and it has become extremely popular for bike enthusiasts from around the nation.

The air is fresh and crisp in this part of the country with spectacular mountain views and breathtaking scenery at every turn. Here is a brief description of the six various gaps, but to truly appreciate them you’ll need to travel here yourself and ride these roads.

Lincoln

This is the big one. This is the gap that separates the highly-skilled cyclists from the beginners. This is among the most challenging climbing trails in America and includes a 16% grade section that’s lasting for over a mile.

Whiteface Mountain Biking

Whiteface Mountain, NY. Whiteface Mountain is located just outside of Lake Placid. Whiteface is second only to Mt Washington in vertical gain. The view from the top is quite spectacular. Prior to 2012, the course started at the four-corners in Wilmington and climbed monotonically 3500ft in 8mi. Now the race starts at the Whiteface Mtn ski area and adds three miles, mostly downhill before the actual climb starts.

The climb does not deviate much from 8% grade. This doesn’t mean it is easier than the 12% climbs reviewed here, it means you just go faster. Most riders will not need radical gearing to conquer Whiteface, but a compact crank with up-sized cassette will still be needed for most.

The climb kicks off with about 9% grade for the first three miles. It flattens some around the toll booth area, then resumes 9% grade for the next three miles before tapering off again. Whiteface provides an exhilarating descent, but the road surface continues to deteriorate. The long straight-aways between turns draw you into adrenaline-pumping speed.

You must watch out for huge frost heaves though. You can no longer hit those at speed without consequences. Serious injuries have occurred. With state budgets the way they are, it could be some time before the summit road is repaired. Also use extreme care when overtaking slower riders, who may unexpectedly swerve to dodge frost heaves.

Practice Climbing and Pacing Strategy

Practice Climbing

You don’t necessarily have to train on big mountains to gain climbing fitness, but it does help to practice riding big climbs. There are several reasons. First, you can’t coast going up a steep hill. Not even a few seconds. This may not seem like a big deal, but if you are accustomed to coasting for a moment while you reach down for that water bottle, surprise – you’ll fall over if you try this on Mount Washington. This British Global Cycling Network video explains a lot:

It may not be as easy as you think. Throw in fatigue, 50mph wind, and you have a real challenge on your hands. Since you can’t coast, you can’t rest either. You’ll be slurping that sports drink into your lungs if you don’t practice drinking when your heart is pounding out of your throat. Another reason to practice long, steep climbs is to learn what cadence you climb most efficiently at. This may be slower than your optimal or preferred cadence on flat terrain.

There are various reasons for this. One being that because you are going so slow, you have very little momentum. The force of gravity actually slows you down between pedal downstrokes. Thus your speed accelerates appreciably each pedal stroke. This is quite different from cruising 25 mph where your speed is very nearly constant over each pedal stroke.

Okemo Hill Climb and Appalachian Gap TT – Vermont

Okemo Mtn, VT – Okemo Mountain in Ludlow, VT is another popular climb among cyclists. The paved summit road winds through the ski area en route to the summit. It is a state road, but not a park, so no entrance fee is required for those interested in training here. The Race for Grace is different from most other Hillclimb events in that the race does not start at the base of the climb.

It starts in Jackson Gore village and follows flat or slightly downhill Rt 103 for nearly two miles before picking up the steep summit road. This means racers need all the gears on their bike, as most will be traveling over 20mph to reach the base of the climb. The climb throws some really steep punches, but nothing like the first 2 miles of Ascutney.

Okemo offers occasional breathers. The finish line is just shy of the end of the pavement. There is minimal parking area at the summit, so most riders will be expected to ride their bikes back down. The pavement is decent for climbing, but great care must be taken on the descent. Like any New England road, old man winter eventually has its way with asphalt.

Mount Kearsarge NH and Mansfield Hill Climb VT

Mount Kearsarge

The Mount Kearsarge Hill Climb is a very scenic 8-mile track that climbs up to the summit parking lot of Mount Kearsarge in Warner, New Hampshire. The climb includes a 3.5-mile section towards the end that comes with an almost 9% average grade and rises almost 1,740 ft.

The first section of the Mount Kearsarge Hill Climb is 4.5 miles long and includes some level, uphill, but also some downhill sections which allow for some deep breathing. The ride also includes a 1-mile section with a 12%-plus gradient.

The Mount Kearsarge Hill Climb is actually the only U.S. hill climb that provides free coffee for all bicycle riders provided by Schoodac’s Coffee House of Warner; mid-climb Men’s and Women’s primes that value at $100; Cycling Mallorca prize vouchers and more valuable prizes for all category winners; and a hearty and healthy chili lunch after the race.

At the day of the race, registration & number pick-up are open at 7:30 am and the road to the summit parking closes at 9:15 am. The Mount Kearsarge Hill Climb starts at 9:30 am. No vehicles or riders are permitted on the course track until all riders have finished. Helmets for the participants are mandatory.

Mt Washington Bicycle Hill Climb

Mount Washington NH, is the biggest climb in the Northeastern United States and often dubbed the toughest hill climb in North America or even the world. I wouldn’t challenge the idea that this is the toughest hill climb in the Northern Hemisphere. Additionally, foul weather is often taking on a big role in this hill climb.

The Mount Washington Bicycle Hillclimb is regarded as the grand-daddy of all hill climbs in the northeastern portions of America and careers were launched for winners on this impressive mountain. In 1997, for example, Tyler Hamilton broke an almost 20-year-old record here and in 1999, he again broke his own record. In 2002, we witnessed a new kid on the block named Tom Danielson, who brought Hamilton’s record down by one more minute.

The track is mostly paved and it rises more than 4720 feet in just over 7.5 miles which translates to a nearly 12% average grade. At the top, there’s even a 22% grade section! The Mount Washington climb is rising pretty monotonically and on the way up, there are no flat or downhill parts that allow for catching your breath.