Most Essential Climbs in Los Angeles: The Top Three

EssentialClimbs

The reckoning day has come I reckon.

As much time I’ve spent going back and forth fine tuning my list of the ten most essential climbs in Los Angeles, my most efficient use of time was spent selecting gold, silver and bronze.

There are times I get a little bored with climbs, but never from these three.

What they share in common is how much they all have offer in terms of challenging lengths, epic views and a nearby escape from city life.

If someone’s in town and they want me to take them somewhere special, I always choose one of these three climbs.

Post one of these rides on Strava and you’ll get a number of jealous comments back from your friends.

 

 

They are without a doubt the most essential.

For reference you can revisit the rest of the list:

10. Mandeville Canyon

9. Mount Hollywood Drive

8. Fargo

7. Piuma / Schueren

6. Nichols Canyon

5. Glendora Mountain Road

4. Rock Store

Now onto the medal ceremony:

3. Angeles Crest Highway / Mount Wilson

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If riding ACH to Wilson was the most essential climb on this list, then I would be satisfied. Most other cities in the world would be fortunate to have a ride like this anywhere nearby.

We are lucky to have three of them.

Locals know the Shell Station as the starting point leading into the most ominous portion of the climb.

It’s the steepest portion on the way to Wilson and it always feels like the surface or wind is holding you back. Or both.

As you pass the residential area after the first two miles, you enter the Angeles National Forest where all signs of urban life are gone.

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Just the start of ACH

It’s nine miles of continuous climbing floating around a 7% grade between the extreme changes of elevation creating these large separation of mountains.

As you reach Clear Creek, the view back to Downtown LA creates confusion in scale as it’s hard to fathom you’re this high above.

Some people refuel here and turn back, but it’s hard to stop as things get better along the way.

 

 

The four and a half mile segment to Red Box passes by the switzers into a verdant glen where the population of trees collect give the area an alpine flair.

For some reason, the last mile always takes longer than you think and when you reach Red Box, the water is laughably undrinkable more often than not.

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Why not Wilson?

Mt. Wilson is just another five miles away which shouldn’t feel that difficult with a slighter pitch, but you’re held back having already put in 3,500 feet of climbing.

The road conditions can be a bit bumpy and you can face snow in the winter, but it is easy to forget you’re climbing as your focus is on reaching the radio towers.

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Somedays you’re lucky to get a celestial view like this.

At the top, you either get an expansive panorama of the southland or depending on the weather a view from above the clouds.

Either way, it’s heavenly.

 

2. Latigo Canyon

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There are many climbs right off of PCH, but none are as endearing as Latigo. With the rolling turns and spread out villas, this is the most European feeling ascension you’ll find around.

The bonus is this is Southern California. You get to throw in great views of the Pacific Ocean too.

Another part of the love for Latigo comes from cyclists normally outnumbering cars and motorcycles. I don’t know why, but shhhh!

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Wine country will feel like whine country.

The first portion of Latigo is concealed until about a mile and a half where the views of the ocean reveal how high you’ve already climbed.

As you near the flat section after the first three and a half miles, the second significant starts to reveal itself up ahead.

Logic will tell have your eyesight deduce this is the peak of Latigo, but in reality it’s only half way up this particular portion.

As you wind around the corner, the sight of vineyards do not receive a proper welcome as you’re more concerned about keeping up momentum rather than having a wine and cheese party.

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Taking in the view from the top of Latigo

The final mile is a grind and from the approach may look like a punch in the face, but the nice downhill lead up paired with the adrenaline rush knowing this is the end makes this final push more palatable.

Reaching the top and seeing Latigo ribbon it’s way back down to the ocean makes you feel truly blessed you get to live in a place like Los Angeles.

1. Mt. Baldy

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Through all the trials and tribulations of forming this list, the spot I never waivered from was who would be the top seed.

There was never any doubt. I know it was you Mt. Baldy. It was always you.

And yes, you can nitpick and complain that the ride’s peak is in San Bernadino County, most of the road is in LA so discussion over.

Baldy is a spot that when you bring it up to other cyclists, you get that same exhilarating, clairvoyant reaction like a Christopher Walken.

The first half is a challenge. The second is epic.

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The view looking down from the switchbacks.

Starting just up the hill from Claremont, the first few miles contain a number of straight stretches confusing your perception of how steep it is.

The elevation gives way from the southland’s typical desert landscape into an unexpected forest.

Baldy Village is appropriately placed as a spot where you can refuel and grab a bite to eat, but there are no hard feelings if you call it a day here.

If you decide to continue on, it’s 4.7 miles to the top with over 2,000 feet of gain with the bulk of the pain felt in the switchbacks.

When the Tour of California finishes at the summit, it is riveting television to see those athletes suffer just as much as we do.

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As the grade nears 15% and the elevation starts to kick in, the end is in sight and you will your way up to the ski lifts.

Mt. Baldy is our Alpe d’Huez. Our Mont Ventoux.

And our most essential.

 

 

  • TB

    So, no Little T, Upper Big T, Cloud Burst, May, Santa Clara Truck Trail, Verdugo, Balcolm, Browns, Box or the Baxter Street triple on the top ten?!?

    I’m going to create my own top ten list.

    • Mr. CiclaValley

      I didn’t include dirt climbs, but that’s like a top 20 list! If I had made the list my favorite 10 climbs in LA, a couple of those would have made it on…

  • Nice list and, while I might switch a few in or out, the only really glaring omission is Hwy 39 to Crystal Lake (or beyond). On my list it is beaten only by Baldy.

    • Mr. CiclaValley

      That’s the road I’ve gotten the most heat on. If the beginning wasn’t so windy and you didn’t focus on not getting hit by cars, it would have come in…

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