Few riders, even dedicated ones, plan rides with the climb in mind. The climb is a means to the end—the downhill! Fighting gravity is a necessary evil to be endured as the price we pay for gravity at the other end. Yet we all know that climbing provides benefits, most notably fitness, but It’s more than that. For climbs that turn technical, there’s the challenge of different kinds of obstacles and hopefully the satisfaction that comes with conquering them. For less technical ascents, one can find a rhythm, settle in, and clear the mind in a unique way.
The list below represents my top climbs. As usual, it is western-biased as that’s where most of my experience lies. Also, what I think makes a great climb might not be the same as the reader; that is, if the reader even thinks there is such a thing as a great climb in the first place! While each ride has different reasons for inclusion, I see them all as worthy for the climb itself, even if no descent was waiting on the other side.
Southern Skyline Trail, Ogden, UT
This one is a spinner’s dream, climbing 3,000 vertical feet in just over 8 miles on smooth trail with switchbacks and fantastic views of Mt. Ogden. Once you attain the crest, opportunities abound. You can:
1. Go back down the way you came up
2. Hit a nice out-and-back up Lewis Peak
3. Ride the steep, challenging plummet to the North Ogden Divide and use roads back to the start
4. Drop to the divide and climb the Northern Skyline Trail for another 2,700 feet of climbing in just six miles on rockier tread then
a. Descend the long steep Ben Lomond trail before looping more roads back to the start or,
b. If you’re a real masochist, ride (hike) the last 1,000 feet to the summit of Ben Lomond Peak before completing the mega-epic.
Atayala Mountain, Santa Fe, NM
This one climbs a harsh 1,600 vertical feet in three miles, but the Northern New Mexico Pinion forest seems to welcome every pedal stroke. Unlike Skyline, the climb here isn’t consistent; there are some breathers, but that just means the steep parts are even steeper. A break will be necessary for all but the strongest riders, but it’s so worth it—the downhill is an absolute riot! Just beware, this is also a popular hiking trail.
Bergen Peak, Evergreen, CO
Relentlessly ascending 2,000 verts in just over four miles on variable surface with tight switchbacks, this is rated as one of the toughest climbs in Colorado’s Front Range, an area known for tough climbs. My experience was to find this climb difficult, but somehow less painful than other area climbs with similar stats. The 360-degree view from the top is a fantastic place to take it all in, then you get to complete the loop on a more technical downhill sporting more rocks and tighter switchbacks. This is a favorite among Front Range bikers who don’t mind a climb.
Lost Cabin Lake, Whitehall, MT
At 1,550 feet of climbing over 4.3 miles, this is one of the easier climbs on the list, but also the most beautiful. The Treasure State is full of stunning mountain ranges, but the Tobacco Roots south of the interstate between Bozeman and Butte are some of the best. The constantly stunning vistas will keep your mind off the pain and, in no time, you’ll find yourself at the top enjoying a gorgeous high alpine cirque complete with a lake full of the clearest water you’ve ever seen. After enjoying a super flowy downhill, if you’re ready for more, double your pleasure by adding on a spin up the Louise Lake Trail which starts from the same parking area.
The Chutes/Buckhorn, Colorado Springs, CO
As usual, I have to include my favorite local ride in this category. This ride combines a few trails and some road for 2,100 feet of climbing, starting right in town. The gentle but attractive climb on the Ridge Trail in Stratton makes a nice warm up to The Chutes, an area downhill favorite, but makes a great aerobic climb. Once topping out the chutes, it’s a mile of pavement and a couple miles of dirt road up a consistent, slight grade to the start of the Buckhorn Trail. Buckhorn climbs steeply, often on loose gravel, throwing in roots, rocks, and switchbacks for good measure. It’s possible to continue the climb on Upper Captain Jack’s, but that will involve some hike-a-bike. Most prefer to descend lower Captain Jack’s and finish the downhill leg with one of the other great trails in the area.
Reddish Knob, Harrisonburg, VA
During my time in the DC area, this is the one climb I found that I could compare to those out west. It’s long, rutted, rooty and eschews switchbacks. Adding to the challenge is the typically dense eastern foliage, obscuring any views along the way so it’s hard to spot landmarks to keep track of your progress. On your first ride, there will be plenty of “are we there yet?”moments. At 4,397’, Reddish knob is high by eastern standards and one of the few places you can climb 2,000 verts. Once on top, there is an unobstructed 360-degree view that rivals the best of the east.
Tunnel Canyon/West Ridge, Tijeras, NM
The downhill leg, Otero Canyon, is a favorite among Albuquerque riders, but any of the climbs to get there are great of their own accord. My favorite route starts at the base of Tunnel Canyon, climbs a nice drainage, traverses some Manzanita Mountains all at a reasonably quad-friendly grade, then hooks up with the West Ridge trail for some slightly steeper and much rockier climbing to reach the top. Between the joy of Tunnel and the challenge of West Ridge, you get a nice, varied climb before ripping down the Manzanita’s signature ride.
Where do you go to “build character?”