New Hampshire and Maine Mountain Climbs
Mount Washington, Gorham, NH
Mt. Washington is the biggest climb in the Northeast. The auto road is mostly paved and rises more than 4720 feet in over 7.5 miles, almost a 12 percent average grade. There is also a 22 percent grade section when you near the top!
The climb is truly rising in a monotonical way, with hardly any flat or downhill parts on the way up to catch your breath. There are some extended sections that have well-groomed gravel surfaces that were no problem for my 23-mm tires.
Only two times each year (four times if you include practice rides), bikes are allowed on this private auto road, and that’s only for the Newton Revenge Race (in July) and for the Mt Washington Bicycle Hill Climb (in August). You need to take the provided auto transportation downhill. At the top, the weather can get downright nasty, even in mid-summer.
I remember that one year, it was in the mid-60s at the base, and 38 and extremely windy when we neared the top, and it even snowed at night! There also were years that the race was entirely canceled which also happened to the Six Gaps Hill Climb in Vermont several times.
For some extra vertical (probably the most vertical that’s achievable east of the Mississippi), start out in the town of Gorham. Doing so will add some 800 feet of extra vertical which makes for some monotonic 5495-foot gain. That’s over one mile straight up!
I took this section for my July ’03 practice ride and, to be honest, the gradual grade that leads up to the steep auto road was actually a great warm-up.
Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina, (the nearest contender in steep climbs), may reach a few hundred feet higher, but the elevations around Mitchell are the largest elevations to be gained. Clingman’s Dome (located on the TN/NC border) also gets pretty close, but the gain in elevation is spread over more miles.
Mount Kearsarge, Warner, NH
Mount Kearsarge, in central New Hampshire, is located just off Interstate 89. You can park your car in the carpool lot just off Exit 9. You can ride towards Warner Center and then, follow the signs to Rollins State Park.
You can stay on the main road until you reach the park’s toll gate. Continue for 6 miles which will let you gain a few hundred feet before you’ll hit the toll booth. Probably (but depending on who is there or the time of the day) you’ll need to pay a $5 fee as the auto road is part of the state park.
Once you’ve passed the toll booth, the climb becomes serious business. The grade is nearly matching that of Mount Washington for a mile or so before it eases slightly. A couple of years back, the road was resurfaced but the new surface is more narrow than the old pavement so on descents, please be careful. There’s barely enough space for bicycles to pass upcoming cars.
On a few occasions, I have taken my MTB up so I could ride (or carry it) the last half mile of the trail to the Kearsarge’s summit. From the top, the view is truly spectacular so the extra off-road hiking/riding is worth the effort!
Pack Monadnock, Wilton, NH
This climb begins in the town of Wilton, taking Route 101 to Miller State Park where you will find the very steep summit road. The haul up busy Rt 101 is gradual at first, then you notice the uphill slow vehicle lanes right about when your quads start to burn. The toll road to the summit offers only 800 feet of vertical, but it packs a very steep punch, steeper than Washington in fact.
The last 2/10 of a mile are approximately 20% grade. This road is in a New Hampshire state park, so during summer daylight hours, a use fee is generally collected. Once you pay though, you may ride your bike up and down as many times as you like. The ranger there has told me he’s seen individuals make many round trips to the top and back, training for Mt Washington. This descent has some very tight hairpin switchbacks and bumps, so caution is needed on the descent.
Thorn/Middle Mountain, Jackson, NH
This climb begins in Jackson from Rt. 16B and climbs to the long-ago abandoned Tyrol Ski Area. Then take Mountain Road (signs say “Switchback Road”) which has some 12% grade sections. There are many tight, steep switchbacks on the lower portion of the climb.
Near the top, at the saddle between Thorn and Middle mountains, a left is taken on Presidential Ridge Rodd to the high point of Middle Mountain. You can catch a nice view in a few spots between the houses. There are a few bad spots in the blacktop to watch out for on the way down.
S. Uncanoonuc Mountain, NH
The Uncanoonuc Mountains are located just west of Manchester. You may have noticed South Uncanoonuc while driving on I-93 looking west over the city, you know, that mountain with a massive antenna farm at the top? Climbing starts for this mountain several miles out from Summit Road. You can park in Goffstown. From Rt. 114 in the center of Goffstown, start climbing on Mountain Road.
This will go up in spurts, level off, then descend a couple of hundred feet. At the “Y,” bear left on recently repaved Back Mountain Road. Summit Road is accessed from Back Mountain Road in a short distance. The really steep stuff doesn’t hit you until partway up to Summit Road. I would guess parts of it exceed 15% grade.
If you follow the gravel summit loop around, you can catch a nice glimpse of Manchester. Summit Road has been reconstructed and is wonderful to climb and descend now. Could work well for interval repeats. My best time is 5:40 minutes. Several of the roads around the Uncanoonucs have been reconstructed in the last few years, so the riding here has vastly improved.
Cadillac Mountain, Bar Harbor, ME
Located in Acadia National Park, this mountain rises literally from sea level to 1500 feet. Needless to say, the views here are so good they make it into those fancy glossy calendars. This is a very touristy area, so expect a lot of cars, cyclists, and hikers on the summit road. To realize 1500 feet of vertical, one needs to start near the ocean or from town (Bar Harbor). The profile shown is starting in Bar Harbor.
Vermont and New York Mountain Climbs
Whiteface Mountain, Wilmington, NY
Whiteface Mountain is located just outside of Lake Placid. This beautiful climb is the closest thing to the Mt. Washington climb. It is around the same distance, but slightly less vertical, so less steep. This doesn’t mean it is any easier, you just go faster. The view from Whiteface’s top is absolutely spectacular. You can start out from Wilmington, New York, at Routes 86 and 431.
Climbing starts with some 8-9 percent grade for the first couple of miles to flatten somewhat when you near the toll booth area. For the following three miles, however, it resumes the steep rise at 9-10 percent average grade before it tapers off again. Whiteface Mountain provides a thrilling and exhilarating descent as the long straight-aways in between turns will pump up your adrenaline level, but caution is required as the pavement deteriorates.
You must also watch out for immense frost heaves, and it is not possible to hit those at a high speed without any consequences. Serious injuries occur frequently and state budgets under continued pressure, it might take ages before they will repair the summit road. Be also extremely cautious when you overtake slower riders that can make unexpected moves when dodging frost heaves.
The descent’s last three miles are more straight and less heaved, but cation remains required. I know some guys that wrecked terribly hard on this descent.
Equinox Mountain, Manchester, VT
Skyline Drive, a private toll road, will lead you to Equinox Mountain’s summit. It was in 2004 that bicycles were allowed again up this mountain with the arrival of the annual “Gear Up for Lyme” Hillclimb race. This is actually the only time in the year when bicycles are allowed on the road! There is a short section with a 28 percent grade, but overall, there’s an average steepness of some 15 to 16 percent.
If there are no clouded skies, Equinox’s summit offers the most spectacular views. The access road is pretty smoothly paved from the tollbooth to the summit. However, just like on Mt. Washington, cyclists are unfortunately not allowed to take the ride back down on their bikes. You should really, on the drive down, pull off at some points along the ridgeline and take in spectacular views from some vantage points.
Burke Mountain, VT
Burke Mountain is located in the Northeast Kingdom area of Vermont. This climb starts from the village of East Burke on Rt. 114. You can park at East Burke Sports or the MTB parking lot across the street. The first two miles of climbing are mellow. Then you hit the toll booth and you start to feel the burn in your legs.
Around the 2.5 mile mark, you hit a quarter-mile of 20-25% grade! This really hurts and you think it’s never going to end. The toll road is only 2.7 miles of the 4.7-mile climb, but this 2.7 miles averages 13-15% grade. The entire route up has recently been repaved, so the descent is not as white-knuckle as some of the others.
The extremely narrow road, the chance of oncoming vehicles, the steep grade, and tight switchbacks are sure to keep you on your toes. It may be wise to reduce your tires’ air pressure and let your bike’s rims cool off a bit on your way down. The Burke Mountain annual Hillclimb Race starts right at the ski area, just past where the toll road begins.
Mount Ascutney, VT
Due to its steepness, Mt. Ascutney gets a “5-star” climbing rating. During the first 1.5 miles, Mt. Ascutney gains considerably more vertical than other climbs, and there are sections with sustained 19 percent grade. Many riders find Mt Ascutney more grueling than the Washington climb. Because it’s just half the vertical of Washington, you can push a lot harder during the race as you know your pains will be over in only 30 minutes.
Mt. Ascutney comes with a few pretty tight switchbacks and there are also frost heaves, so caution is required at all times. At most times, you can take the Mt. Ascutney climb for just a small use fee, though, at times, there may be special events taking place, so check first with the state park.
A few times each year, there are foot races and even auto races take place up this road. On some occasions, I rode my mountain bike up Mt. Ascutney as there are some pretty rugged, brutal off-road riding options around the mountain’s summit of the mountain, rising a few hundred extra feet above the top parking lot.
If you want to test your race gearing, Mt. Ascutney is perfect and the mountain is also a very popular hang-glider launch site. Even when the gate is closed and locked, you are allowed to take your bike and ride to the summit, but please be aware that during your descent, hang-gliders and drivers may show up any time. They’ve got keys!
Ludlow Mountain, VT
Ludlow Mountain, aka Okemo Mountain, offers a respectable paved climb. The grade is virtually identical to Washington, and like Ascutney, rises only half Washington’s vertical. Like many non-essential roads in the northeast, old man winter has his way with them. On your climb, note that the pavement is broken up in many places, particularly in the descent lane. You must avoid this on the way down.
Park in the business lot on Rt 100 to squeeze as much vertical out of the climb as possible. The highest part of the mountain is reached by continuing on the gravel road a couple of tenths of a mile, but I do not recommend riding it unless you are on a mountain bike. It is quite loose with large sharp rocks. Consider bringing cleat covers for the short hike to the lookout tower though.
The 360-degree view is worth it. Along with nearby Ascutney, this is a great mountain to test your gearing and ability for a Mount Washington size climb. The bonus here over Ascutney is no toll is collected. Ascutney and Okemo can be linked in a 61-mile loop for the climbing enthusiast.
Bolton Mountain, Bolton, VT
Bolton Mountain is rather popular among bicycle riders from the Montpelier and Burlington areas. The Bolton climb goes all the way up the Bolton Valley Ski Area Road. You can start out at Vermont Route 2 and the climb ends right at the base of the Bolton ski area, not at the mountain’s summit.
The first few miles of the Bolton Mountain climb are undulating as there are a few short 10 to 12 percent grade sections and a slight downhill stretch. Then you’ll hit a double switchback from where it stays quite steep for the rest of the climb.
The Bolton Mountain descent is among the best. There are only a few bumps near the summit but on the way down, you can easily reach 50 mph or more. Be sure, however, to be cautious and watch your speed. On-coming traffic might take you by surprise through the double switchback!
Massachusetts and Connecticut Mountain Climbs
Mount Greylock, MA
Mt. Greylock is located in the Massachusetts Berkshires area. It offers a pretty respectable climb and the most spectacular views. You can start out on Furnace Street in North Adams just off Rt. 8. Then turn left onto Reservoir Road that leads to the perhaps steepest part of the entire climb while haven’t left the town yet!
It’ll take you to Western Gateway Heritage State Park where you can park. From there, the climb begins with a few sustained, pretty steep sections but moderates considerably as you near the summit. The beautiful state park was completely reconstructed and was re-opened in 2009.
The climb comes with a mostly buttery smooth surface and the descent is breathtaking. I actually never climbed the mountain from the south, but I went down that side many times. Please pay attention, when descending, to the rumble strips at a couple of hiker crosswalks. These strips can be pretty harsh and are sure to scare the hell out of you if you don’t expect them.
Mt Frissell (aka Mt Riga), Salisbury, CT
Located in the very NW corner of the state, this climb was claimed to be the highest paved road in Connecticut per the now-defunct King of the Mountains website. Having ridden this climb in late 2012, I learned it is a rough, unpaved seasonal road. Most riders would not want to attempt it with a standard road bike. A cyclocross bike is more suitable.
The climb begins from Rt. 44 in Salisbury on Factory Road. Coarse gravel Riga Mountain Road and Mt. Washington road complete the climb. The profiled route ends at the high point of Mt. Washington Road, which is in between Mt. Frissell and Gridley Mountain very near the CT/MA border.
Wachusett Mountain, MA
Of all the mountain climbs reviewed on our website, Wachusett Mountain is probably the easiest. The climb offers a few sustained pretty steep sections, but there are many downhill and flat stretches that allow for some decent recovery.
If you take the time-trial route, the Wachusett Mountain Climb starts off on Mountain Road, below the base lodge of the ski area. Then, make a right turn onto the state park’s summit road, a one-way road, that will take you to the top. The last stretch to the parking lot up the mountain’s top is actually quite steep, perhaps some 15 or 16 percent. From the summit, you can see Boston on clear days.