This is one of our all-time favourite rides.
Cycling Mt Baldy Road has serious cycling pedigree: it’s ranked as the 20th toughest climb in the US and has queen stage status on the Tour of California. It’s often compared to Alpe d’Huez.
We found it a bit like wrestling a bear.
But once you’re at the top, the (mostly) descent down Glendora Ridge Road and on to Glendora Mountain Road is out of this world. 35km of quiet road with jaw-dropping mountain panoramas at every turn and gradients that are fun, rather than bone-shaking, to descend.
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Route map and profile
Distance: 81 km
Elevation Gain: 2,040 m
Max Grade: 17 %
All metrics in this guide are approximate
It doesn’t get much better than the 19km single lane rollercoaster that is Glendora Ridge Road. The road winds across the top of a high ridge and often teeters on the knife edge. It offers a never-ending assault on your senses as you swoop down, with massive views of immense canyons, wooded mountain peaks, rugged river valleys and the coastal plains of LA. It’s also awesome fun: you descend on a pitch that’s enough to make you feel fast and strong but still allows you to pedal through the corners. It seems incredible that such a place exists just 15 or so kilometres (as the crow flies) from the urban sprawl of the Los Angeles basin.
Could Glendora Ridge Road be the world’s best ridge road? We think so.
1. Glendora up Mt Baldy Road to intersection with Glendora Ridge Road: 0-29 km
We suggest starting in Glendora to give yourself a 16 km warm up along city streets before you hit Mt Baldy Road. It also gets the boring part of the loop out of the way. But if you want to skip this section entirely and start at the bottom of the climb, head for the intersection of Mt. Baldy Road and Mills Avenue.
The easy part of the route up Mount Baldy Road is the navigation: it’s one road to the top. The pedalling is another matter.
We think of the ascent in two sections.
The first section is the 13 km to where Mt Baldy Road meets Glendora Ridge Road. The first couple of kilometres are easy as you pass through the residential streets of Claremont. The gradients start to ramp up pretty quickly as you hit the dry and scrubby (yet beautiful) canyon you follow to the top. When you come to two tunnels, get ready: this is where it gets really tough. The 3 kilometres following the tunnels average 9.2%. There’s a short descent, you pass the turnoff to Glendora Ridge Road, and then you’re into Mount Baldy village.
2. Intersection with Glendora Ridge Road to Mt Baldy summit: 29-37.5 km
The second part of the Mount Baldy Road ascent is the toughest: if you take a break in Mount Baldy village, don’t eat too much!
From the intersection with Glendora Ridge Road, it’s an infamously nasty 8.2 kilometres to the ski lifts at an average of 8.1%. At the intersection with Icehouse Canyon Road, Mount Baldy Road turns skyward, and the road surface worsens. That’s when you hit eight notoriously steep and tight switchbacks. The gradients in this 3.3 km section hit an average of 9.5%!
You get a quick respite with some easy climbing through Manker Flats. Then it’s the last push up to the ski lifts: averaging 13% over 400 metres, your legs will burn. But you’re very nearly there. You climb the gently zigzag of the sloping parking area, it’s a short steep final burst, and you’re at the ski lift itself.
3. Mt Baldy summit to Glendora Ridge Road and Glendora Mountain Road: 37.5-81 km
The descent from the ski lifts back to the intersection with Icehouse Canyon Road is very technical due to the steep gradients, poor road surface and tight turns. There may also be rock debris. Take care.
You turn onto Glendora Ridge Road (which later turns into Glendora Mountain Road), and it’s payback time for all that lung-busting climbing.
This is one of our all-time favourite roads, with glorious views and, if you’re lucky, very little traffic. There are a few minor uphills but nothing too tough. The road surface was even pretty decent when we were there. As you descend through your millionth hairpin turn, you wonder if it’s wrong to get bored of switchbacks. The sign of a truly great descent!
Fill your water bottles and pick up an espresso in Glendora before you start. There’s nowhere to refuel until you reach Mount Baldy village. The village has several options to pick from, with Mt. Baldy Lodge being a popular option for cyclists.
We spotted a small snack bar in the Manker Flats area, just before Mt Baldy summit.
At Mt Baldy summit there is a small ticketing station which also sells a limited range of refreshments. When we visited in early November, it was open: the sign said opening hours were 11am-6pm on Fridays and 7am-7pm on Saturdays and Sundays. This was written in board marker pen, so not to be relied on.
If you’re wondering how far Mt Baldy is from Los Angeles, the answer is that it’s very accessible. Glendora, the start of the ride, is about:
- 48 kilometres (35 minutes) to downtown LA
- 70 kilometres (45 minutes) to LAX international airport
- 97 kilometres (1 hour 10 minutes with no traffic) from where we stayed in Malibu.
* Accuracy of travel times depends on traffic.
The location of the ride makes it easy to incorporate into a trip. We did it on the way to catch our flight back to the UK. Not advisable for stress-free pedalling, but certainly time efficient! It’s obvious, but if you’re going to take our kind of approach, leave enough slack in your schedule for mishaps and consider a support car in case there’s a mechanical you can’t deal with!
If you’re only going to ride Mount Baldy once, ride it this way around: you’ll have conquered the steep side of Baldy, and you then get the epic descent down Glendora Ridge Road and Glendora Mountain Road.
Water and refuelling options are limited. Bring sufficient supplies and layers for the descent. As the sun begins to set it gets cold quickly.
The road was extremely quiet when we were there, but there were a worrying number of tyre skid marks - particularly around the junction of Glendora Ridge Road and Glendora Mountain Road. Whether it’s local kids with new driver licenses or crazy fools in fast cars, don’t assume you have the road to yourself. We stopped to take a photo at one point - just over the edge of the road was the wreckage of a car. Take care.
Glendora Ridge Road may be a stone’s throw from downtown LA, but it’s a desolate and remote place. We’ve read reports of people having seen deer, foxes, bobcats, bears, tarantulas, snakes - and even the odd mountain lion! Take care and consider riding with a friend.
You’re in high mountains, and it’s common to see rock debris on the roads.
Read our tips for cycling in Southern California before you set out.
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Banner photo credit: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.com