Best (or Worst) Hill Climbs in the Eastern Sierra

As the hill gets steeper and steeper I try to shift into a lower gear, but realize I’m already maxed out. I scoot forward on my seat to keep my weight and momentum forward as the fatigue sets in. My quads are burning and it feels so good. The sign to Minaret Vista is a welcome sight. The good (and bad) news is that Mammoth Lakes is situated on the edge of the Eastern Sierra, which means any road you want to ride is most likely going to climb a mountain pass. It’s a destination for cyclists who love hill climbing. Anyone who finds pleasure and the triumph of cresting a summit will find this place to be their playground. Here are a few of our favorite hill climbs for cyclists in the Eastern Sierra.

Minaret Vista and Reds Meadow

If you want to get a taste of hill climbing, riding and out-and-back to the Minaret Vista is a great place to start. Take it a step further by descending to Reds Meadow and climb back up again. With a 4% grade on the east side and 6% grade on the west side you’ll be winded and happily fatigued the end of this 28-mile ride. Oh, and the views of the Minarets from the top are incredible.

Distance: 28 miles round-trip (starting/finishing at the Village)

Lowest Elevation: 8,050 feet

Highest Elevation: 9,265 feet

Difficulty: It’s a grind, but the ascent is divided in two parts, so you’ll have a nice rest  and view at the Minaret Vista at the top of the ride, but remember you have to climb there twice for nearly 3,000 feet of total elevation.

Old Mammoth Road to Mammoth Lakes Basin

The Lakes Basin Path from The Village at Mammoth to Horseshoe Lake is a nice 5-mile climb that is a good introduction to hill climbing at altitude, however the alternate route to the Mammoth Lakes Basin is a steep grind of a climb that will make the meandering path seem like child’s play. Head up Old Mammoth Road past The Bluffs and past Mammoth Rock Trail, keep going as the road twists, turns and climbs at a sustained 4% grade. At the top, cruise the paved path to Horseshoe Lake.

Distance: 10 miles round-trip (starting/finishing at The Village at Mammoth)

Lowest Elevation: 7,914 feet

Highest Elevation: 8,966 feet

Difficulty: The ride is short, but steep and sweet.

Tioga Pass

Your legs will be begging for mercy at the top of Tioga Pass. This road not only climbs straight up a mountain pass for 12 unrelenting miles, but it also climbs to 10,000 feet. You’ll climb anywhere between 4% to 7% grade and the top of the pass is the Yosemite National Park border. The best views are to the east of Mount Dana, Lee Vining Canyon and the Dana Plateau. Enjoy the screaming fast descent on the edge of a cliff before cruising in to the Mobil Station’s Whoa Nellie Deli for fish tacos and a mango margarita.

Distance: 16 miles round trip from Lee Vining (70+ round trip from Mammoth)

Lowest Elevation: 6,840 feet

Highest Elevation: 9,947 feet

Difficulty: Brutal. If you are a real masochist, try doing this ride round trip to and from Mammoth Lakes via the Scenic Loop and June Lake Loop for a 70+ mile ride.

Rock Creek to Mosquito Flat

The famed pie-in-the-sky-ride is popular for a reason. The ride up Rock Creek Canyon is a sustained hill climb that tests even the best cyclists, but it also has an option to stop for the best homemade pie in the Sierra. Start at Tom’s Place and climb the winding narrow canyon more than 10 miles up to Mosquito Flat. The average grade is 6% and you’ll top out above 10,000 feet. Enjoy the view of the canyon and Rock Creek Lake as you begin the descent and stop in at Rock Creek Resort for that well-earned slice of pie before you cruise down.

Distance: 21.2 miles round trip

Lowest Elevation: 7,000 feet

Highest Elevation: 10,190 feet

Difficulty: Difficult, but any climb with pie at the top is worth it, right?

Wild Rose Summit

The notorious summit in the second half of the High Sierra Fall Century is not for the faint of heart. Start at the Green Church on Benton Crossing Road and pedal the rolling hills over a 7,500-foot pass before the ascent to Wild Rose begins. You might be surprised at how gradual the climb is, but that’s because you have not climbed the north side yet. Take the steep descent to Highway 120 and turn around to climb the real deal up to Wild Rose Again. It climbs 1,000 feet in 5-miles and tops out at an 8% grade. Enjoy the rolling hills back to the start. Bring plenty of water because there are no services along this ride.

Distance: 48 miles round trip from the Green Church

Lowest Elevation: 6,461 feet

Highest Elevation: 7,657 feet

Difficulty: Tough. Wild Rose on the north side is fall-off-your-bike steep, but the rest of the ride is enjoyable rolling terrain with epic views of the Eastern Sierra.

Monica Prelle

Monica Prelle is an outdoors, wine, and travel writer who would rather be running, climbing, or mountain biking. See more of Monica's posts here, read more of her work at monicaprelle.com and connect on twitter @monicaprelle

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