Today I will determine once and for all, which cycling hill climb is better, Mt. Evans (Colorado) or Beartooth Pass (Montana).
There are plenty of epic cycling climbs in the US, many of which are in Colorado, and many which you can sting together to make an epic adventure.Â The big daddy of them all is the Mt Evans Hill climb, the highest paved road in North America, topping out atÂ 14,130 feet.
My wife Mary and I did Mt. Evans as part of our farewell tour of Colorado back in 2011. You may be familiar with the famous Bob Cook memorial hill climb race, run up Mt. Evans every year in July. Â The race starts in Idaho Springs and goes 27.4 miles with an elevation gain of 7,540 ft. Â Tom Danielson holds the (super fast) course record of Â 1:41:20.
The other option (which we picked so we could finish before dinner) is to park at Echo lake on HWY 103 and ride the 14.8 miles up to the summit. Once you get above tree line, weather and exposure are always a risk to a good ride, keep in mind typical Colorado PM thunderstorms and plan to finish before 2 or start after 4 pm. The lakes mid ride (which seem to hover on the edge of the world) and the upper switchbacks near the top were our favorites. I tested myself at race pace for a few kilometers avove 12,000 ft: even when riding as hard as I could, the governer imposed by the altitude made my power at least 10% lower than normal. It didn’t seem to make me that tired, but I just couldn’t “GO”. After our ride, we ordered pizza in Dillon and picked it up on the way to Leadville (another awesome town for outdoor adventures)
In the other corner, the Beartooth Pass weighs in at 30.4 miles in length with a total elevation gain of 5,272 ft. This is probably the longest climb I have done on any continent. Â Mary and I did this climb to check it off our Montana Bucket list. Heading West out of Red Lodge, MT, toward Cooke City and Yellowstone National Park, the road heads up a glacial carved valley until it begins to switchback up the steep side of valley ala Mount Ventoux. The average grade is only 3.3% for the entire climb, so you can really keep up the tempo if you work at it.
We chose to ride a casual tempo all day, mostly because the first hour was a block headwind (not sure if this is a year round wind, we rode the pass in September). Â The scenery is perhaps some of the best in Montana – the Beartooth mountains are some of the more spectacular around. Â Waterfalls, Hanging glaciers, plenty of eagles hovering on the updrafts, fearless chipmunks willing to get on your bike, smooth pavement, swoopy switchbacks, all made for an epic day. The ride took us 3.5 hours of climbing and an hour of descending, both with plenty of breaks – if you don’t push the pace too much, you can probably expect the same. Â After the ride we ate at chili and burgers at Foster & Logans Pub in downtown Red Lodge. There are loads of nice National Forest Campgrounds near Red Lodge. If you get there after the campground is closed for the season, you might be able to sneak in and have the whole place to yourself.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty – which climb wins the category by category comparison?
Scenery: Beartooth Pass
Street Cred: Mt. Evans
Remoteness: Beartooth Pass
Most Challenging: Mt. Evans
Best Descent: Beartooth Pass
Highest Elevation: Mt. Evans
Best Surrounding Towns: Even (Red Lodge is an awesome town, and Mt Evan’s proximity to I-90 means cool towns such as Leadville and Frisco are just a hop skip and jump away)
Overall: Even. My personal favorite was the Beartooth because a good descent is worth its weight in gold. You should definitely do them both. If you have done them both, please weigh in with your choice. What other hill climbs around the world have you done?