100 Cycling Climbs Better Than Alpe d’Huez

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Excuse my snarky title, but I believe many cyclo-tourists do themselves a huge disservice by prioritising Alpe d’Huez above many far, far more interesting roads. So in an effort to convince people to consider cycling somewhere else —– here is my list of 100 better options.

Criteria:

  1. Only paved roads.
  2. Only roads that I have cycled – ie. My list only has French, Swiss, and Italian mountains. (edit: and the only Austrian climb I’ve ridden)
  3. A summit counts only once. Although clearly, for example, all three sides of Stelvio, both sides of Gavia, at least two sides of Ventoux, etc. are much more fun than Alpe d’Huez. So this list is really far more than 100 climbs.
  4. For me a good climb is a combination of challenging, high, quiet, and beautiful (eg. mountains, hairpins, cliffs, alpine lakes, etc).

Alpe d’Huez is of course still interesting. See this link for more (and sometimes better) rides in the area: Beyond Alpe d’Huez: The Best Cycling Climbs from Bourg d’Oisans.

Feel free to disagree with some climbs on my list, but yes, I excluded a bunch of other roads that should have, at least arguably, made the cut. For maps, photos and trip reports for any of the below climbs, click on the links below or put the name into the search bar at top right of page.

100 Climbs Better than Alpe d’Huez
  1. Colle del Nivolet – Super high, killer hairpins, and a bunch of stunning alpine lakes. The best.
  2. Gran Paradiso indeed

    Gran Paradiso indeed

  3. Passo dello Stelvio – All three sides (don’t forget the Swiss side via Umbrailpass) are beyond belief.
  4. Colle Fauniera – Three extremely difficult routes up this remote Piemonte climb.
  5. Passo Gavia – Huge, savage climb. Both sides terrific.
  6. Col de l’Iseran – the highest paved pass in Europe. Both sides wonderful.
  7. Grosse Scheidegg – Maybe the most beautiful on this list?
  8. Grosse Scheidegg - Friendly Stranger

    Grosse Scheidegg – Friendly Stranger

  9. Route des Lacs (Lac Cap de Long) – My favourite climb in the Pyrenées.
  10. Col du Galibier – The north side including Télégraphe is 35 kms of “fun.”
  11. View from Col du Galibier

    View from Col du Galibier

  12. Monte Grappa – 9(!) Hors Categorie routes up this legendary Italian mountain.
  13. Monte Grappa Bike Day

    Monte Grappa Bike Day

  14. Mont Ventoux – Three ways up to this unique lunar experience.
  15. Ventoux

    Ventoux

  16. Lago di Narèt – Hidden in the Italian part of the Swiss Alps, this tough, quiet, long climb has several beautiful dams/lakes. I called this the best climb NOT in either of Daniel Friebe’s great Mountain Higher(er) series.
  17. Laghetti Superiore:  A heart shaped lake?

    Laghetti Superiore: A heart shaped lake?

  18. Cime de la Bonette – One of the highest roads in Europe. 2 big sides.
  19. Nufenenpass – The 2nd highest paved road in Switzerland. Hard work.
  20. Nearing summit south side

    Passo della Novena (Nufenenpass)

  21. Colle dell’Agnello – On the French/Italian border, the 3rd highest paved pass in Europe. Italian side is a monster.
  22. Lac d’Emosson and above – A tough Swiss climb to a stunning dam. A tiny road beyond goes up to another dam.
  23. Emosson

  24. Col du Granon – The 2nd highest Tour de France finish (’86) was here.
  25. Plan du Lac – Beautiful, huge climb in the Haute-Maurienne (France).
  26. Passo San Gottardo – This Swiss Beauty has some of the sexiest hairpins in cycling.
  27. Tremola

    Tremola

  28. Col du Sanetsch – Swiss cyclists “in-the-know” will often tell you this is the best big climb in Switzerland.
  29. sanetsch600

  30. Col du Grand St-Bernard – On the Swiss/Italian border, the Italian side is superb. A car-only bypass tunnel keeps the hairpins quiet.
  31. Passo Giau – One of the true gems of the Dolomites. Both sides shine.
  32. Just below summit

    Passo Giau

  33. Grimselpass – When climbing this Swiss giant, don’t forget the extension up higher to Oberaarsee.
  34. Männlichen – Super quiet (and difficult) climb in the UNESCO protected Berner Oberland. Look up and the Eiger is always there.
  35. Männlichen

    A few metres from Männlichen

  36. La Grand Dixence – At the summit is one of the biggest dams in the entire world (3rd?) – one of many fun Swiss Valais rides to alpine dams.
  37. Rettenbachgletscher – This beast of an Austria climb is super high and super steep. I have never seen so many 13% signs in my life.
  38. Col d’Izoard – The land of Coppi and Bobet. 2 sublime sides, the south includes the legendary Casse Deserte.
  39. Izoard: Bike-only Day

    Izoard: Bike-only Day

  40. Rifugio Auronzo – A super steep Dolomite road in the shadows of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo – bring hiking shoes to go even higher.
  41. Tre Cime di Lavaredo

    Tre Cime di Lavaredo

  42. Colle della Lombarda – High climb on the Italian/French border. The Italian side is fantastic.
  43. Lac de Moiry – The long option to this high Swiss Valais dam includes more than 2000 metres of ascent.
  44. Cormet de Roselend – Beautiful climb on both sides. Remember, you can actually cycle over the dam.
  45. Val Thorens – 38 kilometre climb to the highest ski resort in Europe.
  46. Lac de Mauvoisin – Same start as Verbier, another beautiful climb to a Valais dam.
  47. Mauvoisin

  48. Furkapass – The Swiss giant appeared in the James Bond Film Goldfinger over 50 years ago (the sniper scene).
  49. Furkapass

    Furkapass

  50. Col de la Cayolle – A long, interesting climb in the south French Alps.
  51. Albulapass – Beautiful, high pass that often features in the Tour de Suisse.
  52. Col d’Allos – Some beautiful cliff stretches on this scenic climb beside Cayolle.
  53. South Side

    South Side

  54. Colle di Sampeyre – A tough Piemonte climb in the middle of no-where. Three ways up.
  55. Port de Boucharo – Highest paved road in French Pyrenées. Last short stretch beyond Col des Tentes may be recently closed to bikes.
  56. Passo Pordoi – Part of the great Sella Ronda loop in the Dolomites. Look for the Coppi statue at summit.
  57. Passo Pordoi

    Passo Pordoi

  58. Passo Sella – Also part of the Sella Ronda loop.
  59. Passo Sella

    Passo Sella and my brave wife

  60. Passo Gardena – Also part of the Sella Ronda. Note all three of above can be huge climbs when one includes the less spectacular stretches below the loop.
  61. Cirque de Troumouse – Stunning and quiet climb that starts between the base of Tourmalet and Aubisque.
  62. Sustenpass – Another of the Central Switzerland giants. Makes a great loop with Grimselpass and Furkapass.
  63. A tunnel with a view

    A tunnel with a view. Sustenpass

  64. Mattmarksee – Yes, another very challenging climb to a Swiss Valais dam. Above Saas-Fee ski station.
  65. Col du Mont Cenis – On the French/Italian border. Yet again, it’s the Italian side that is far more interesting and challenging. Don’t forget the lesser known extension on a terrific little road to Col du Petit Mont Cenis.
  66. Croix de Cœur – The last few kilometres only recently paved. The climb includes the road to Verbier but its 6 best kilometres are above the village (bring a mountain bike and you can go much higher too).
  67. Ofenpass/Pass dal Fuorn – In the super scenic Swiss National Park at the far east of country.
  68. Lac d’Engstlen – Very quiet central Swiss road up to a little lake.
  69. Col du Sabot – Higher, harder, and quieter than its neighbour ….. Alpe d’Huez.
  70. Col du Tourmalet – Not quite the best, but the best known climb in the Pyrenées. Although the mountain bike ride above Tourmalet to Pic du Midi (see link) is a dream.
  71. Passo Falzarego/Valparola – These two Dolomite passes are just a couple of kms apart. Several interesting ways up.
  72. Hairpin #14 in a tunnel

    Hairpin #14 in a tunnel

  73. La Plagne– Like Alpe d’Huez, there are 21 signed hairpins to this French ski station. But La Plagne is quite a bit higher and an awful lot quieter.
  74. Col des Champs – The best loop in the South French Alps: Champs, Cayolle, Allos. 120 kilometres, 3 big climbs, no traffic.
  75. Barrage Plan d’Amont – Haute-Maurienne climb to two big dams above Aussois ski station. Remember to take the correct lower road that passes several old stone Savoie forts.
  76. Col de la Croix de Fer – Several ways up this legendary French climb. Climb via Col du Mollard for extra hairpins.
  77. Col de la Croix de Fer

    Col de la Croix de Fer

  78. Col du Petit St. Bernard – On the French/Italian border. Climb the Italian side via the super steep Colle San Carlo for a special treat.
  79. Col de la Croix – There are dozens of Cols with Croix in the name, but the Hors Categorie climb above Aigle is perhaps the best, and certainly one of the toughest.
  80. Col de la Croix

    Col de la Croix

  81. Superbagnères – This Ski station in the Pyrenées is surrounded by 13 peaks over 3,000 metres.
  82. Superbagneres

    Superbagneres

  83. Col de Sarenne – The quiet, higher, harder back door to Alpe d’Huez.
  84. Sarenne

  85. Col de la Madeleine – Three ways up this French monster (two from the south).
  86. Col de la Madeleine

    Col de la Madeleine

  87. Col du Joly – Dead-end road above Beaufort with a summit up close and personal with Mont Blanc.
  88. joly600

  89. Passo delle Erbe – Locals in the Dolomites love this climb.
  90. Lago di Place-Moulin – In the Aosta (French-speaking) region of Italy another climb to a high alpine dam.
  91. Klausenpass – At the base of the west side of this Swiss climb is the hometown of William Tell.
  92. Klausenpass

    Klausenpass

  93. Signal de Bisanne – A super-tough climb in the Beaufortain region of France.
  94. Col du Glandon – The last two kilometres are some of the best hairpins in cycling.
  95. A favourite hairpins views: Col du Glandon

    A favourite hairpins views: Col du Glandon

  96. Passo del Lucomagno – On the border of German and Italian speaking regions of Switzerland, the Italian side is over 40 kilometres long – nice dam/lake at top.
  97. Lago di Santa Maria - top of Lucomagno

    Lago di Santa Maria – top of Lucomagno

  98. Port de Balès – The top 5 kms or so of the south side was paved in 2006 to allow this remote Pyrenées climb to 1st appear in the Tour.
  99. Fluelapass – High, scenic climb in eastern Switzerland.
  100. Mortirolo – The famous, super steep climb with a Pantani monument is just down the road from Passo di Gavia.
  101. Mont du Chat – Le Cycle Magazine once called this possibly the toughest climb in France. Overlooks Lac du Bourget, biggest lake in France.
  102. Poulidor summited before Merckx here

    Poulidor summited before Merckx here

  103. Col de Pierre Carrée – Scenic 21 kilometre climb to Flaine ski station in Haute Savoie.
  104. Cycling with the Skiers

    Cycling with the Skiers

  105. Grand Colombier – Don’t confuse this Jura giant with its easier Alps cousin Col de la Colombière. Four super tough ways up.
  106. Le Semnoz – The highest paved climb near Annecy. 5 Routes to the summit.
  107. Le Semnoz - Above the Clouds

    Le Semnoz – Above the Clouds

  108. Col de la Colombière – Take the less well known 3rd way up via Col de Romme, if you dare.
  109. Courchevel Airport – At the end of the road above the famous French ski station, the signs in Russian help explain where richest skiers are from.
  110. Plateau de Beille – This Pyrenéen climb shares almost identical stats to Alpe d’Huez. But the route is far, far, less developed and busy.
  111. Lac de Tseuzier – Start climbing through the vineyards and eventually end at another high Valais dam/lake.
  112. Col de l’Arpettaz – North of Albertville, the west side has almost too many hairpins to count.
  113. Col d’Aubisque – The second most famous climb in the Pyrenées.
  114. Col du Pré – Super steep climb from Beaufort offers a superb view over Lac de Roselend on far side.
  115. View from near Col du Pré

    View from near Col du Pré

  116. Col du Noyer – One of the more beautiful final kilometres anywhere – Hautes-Alpes, France.
  117. Noyer

  118. Col du Solude – Bring a light as the tunnels are dark but likely car-free. Cliff climb cut into mountain opposite Alpe d’Huez.
  119. Another tunnel

  120. Col de Joux Plane – Virenque made Armstrong suffer here once.
  121. Sneaking up Joux Plane in winter

    Sneaking up Joux Plane in winter

  122. Col du Chaussy – Will become far better known during 2015 Tour de France. Lower 20% features the amazing Lacets (hairpins) de Montvernier.
  123. Les Lacets de Montvernier

    Les Lacets de Montvernier

  124. Mont Salève – Yes, I prefer the five ways up my home mountain to the Alpe. The Le Coin side features a 4km stretch averaging 12%. Some amazing hairpins.
  125. Six great hairpins

    Six great hairpins

  126. Col de la Forclaz – Big Swiss climb linking Chamonix and the Valais. I’ll stick to just one Forclaz on the list, although the best view of Lake Annecy is from the probably deserving Col de la Forclaz de Montmin.
  127. La Dôle/La Barilette – Deserted Jura road high above Geneva to the Swisscom tower.
  128. Col de la Machine – There are many wonderful Gorges and cliff roads in the Vercors. This climb past Combe Laval is astonishing (my wife waving in photo).
  129. Combe Laval

  130. Plateaux des Saix – Like Col de Joux Plane, this climb starts near Samoëns and is equally difficult.
  131. Plateau des Glières – Two fantastic roads up to the Monument Nationale à la Resistance.
  132. Lac de l’Hongrin – Make sure the road is open before visiting on a week day as the top stretch passes through a Swiss Military base
  133. The Secret Road to Col de la Charmette – Shhh – Don’t tell anyone about this amazing road in the Chartreuse Alps (vaguely paved, much closed to cars).
  134. Gorges des Nesques – the lowest and least steep climb on the list, but this 20km ascent near Ventoux passes through a wondeful mini “grand canyon.” Not to be missed.
  135. Les Gorges de la Nesque

    Les Gorges de la Nesque

  136. Col de la Moutière – The 5th highest paved road in France – Super quiet, one can see much of the route looking down from Bonette.
  137. Moutiere

  138. Passo del Bernina – The 8th highest paved road in Switzerland, a full half kilometre vertical higher than Alpe d’Huez.
  139. Col de Vars – Big south French Alps climb on the route des Grandes Alpes.
  140. Les Arcs – 25 kilometre climb in the Vanoise Alps.
  141. Col de Tramassel – In the Pyrenées, this is basically the road to Hautacam, but continuing higher until the paved road ends.
  142. Chalet de l’Ebaudiaz – Almost a kilometre longer than Alpe d’Huez, this unknown French Alps road also has almost double the hairpins (39?).
#101 Finally! Alpe d’Huez (and above)

Lac Besson – A few kilometres above Alpe d’Huez. Because if you are going to climb Alpe d’Huez, don’t stop at the town, keep going to the end of the paved road.

(and whatever you do, don’t stop at the line painted on the road at the entrance of town, by the restaurants and Trek store like 75% of tourists. At least struggle through town to the official Tour de France finish – it’s signed).

Lac Besson - above Alpe d'Huez

Lac Besson – above Alpe d’Huez

Once I have put a little more thought into this list, I will likely rename it: My 100 Favourite Road Bike Climbs.

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Happiest while cycling uphill.

25 Comments

  1. Hi Will,

    thank you very much! What a great list.

    From those 30 something on that list that I have ridden I only disagree with your recommendation of the Ventoux. I consider that one is also much overhyped. But maybe I have done it too often as a tour guide. I would rather climb to the Alpe (and descend via the Sarenne :-)) on a quiet and preferably colder day than the Ventoux from Bédoin or Malaucène. But as you say those preferences are highly subjective.

    Ventoux in June starting in the dark and arriving at the summit at sunrise might be a fascinating ride though.

    I would like to add one Col which I think is really missing on your list. The Col de Parquetout.

    Stay healthy and keep up your great work!

  2. I really enjoyed the Simplon pass – no place for it in here? Great list, brings back some good memories as well as giving me a serious gooo to tackle a few more passes!

    • Thx for comment. Yes, Simplon is beautiful. My “complaint” is that it can be a bit of a fast, main road, and one of those few high passes that has a fair bit of truck traffic. I know a part of this can be avoided by taking a side road, but it never seemed that fun with all the tunnels/avalanche protectors, plus the traffic.

      How was your experience?

  3. Phil Sinclair on

    Excellent list. I’ll give you 102 Selvino north of Bergamo. About eighteen hairpins and 12 kms from Nembro. Nice to see Lac de Hongrin included. That’s a tough one. Lots of 14% sections going up the Corbeyrier side (from Aigle). Thanks for this enjoyed reading it.

  4. Nice list, but I think you need to get yourself to Austria because you’re missing some big ones… Grossglockner (Edelweisspizte), Timmelsjoch, Jaufenpass, Zillertaler Hoehnstrasse to name a few of my favourites

  5. Pingback: The fire is lit – Mont Ventoux trip Sept 2015 (Tour DE France) | Sport and Things

  6. Hey Will,

    What a great site you have! I love cycling in the mountains too and you give me great ideas for cycling trips 🙂 One of my favorite climb is missing in your list. Maybe it’s one of the few you haven’t cycled yet 😉 Port de Pailhères from Usson Les Bains, quiet, tough climb with wonderful hairpins and stunning views at the end. I loved it!

    Greetings,
    Stefan

  7. Excellent list! I would add Grosse Oscheniksee http://www.salite.ch/oscheniksee.asp?Mappa=, a monster in the alps, and probably the “perfect climb”. It is a private road that takes you to a little lake at 2400m altitude through about 42 hairpins and absolutely beautiful panorama above 2000m. According to salite.ch it is one of the hardest climbs in Europe, although I found it quite enjoyable due to the constant gradient. And the road is closed to cars. Much better than Grossglockner. Also my favorites in the region Friuli Venezia Giulia and probably in the alps: Monte Crostis and Panoramica delle Vette http://www.salite.ch/crostis.asp?Mappa=, and Monte Mangart http://www.salite.ch/9412.asp?Mappa= in the Italian-Slovenian border. Happy climbing!

  8. I agree. Couillole is very nice. Another great climbs in my top 100 are:

    in Dolomites: Passo Manghen

    at the edge of high Italian Alps: Passo Croce Domini, Passo Vivione, Passo Vezzena (my favourite)

    in Swiss Alps: Moosalp (at the least in my top 10), San Bernardino, Splugenpass, Lac Moiry

    in Austria: Kaunertal (much more scenic than road to Rettenbach Gl.), border Passo Stalle

    in South France: Col de la Madone, loop along Grand Canyon du Verdon, Col de Turini with loop above Authion monument (+ 2000 m), Col du Trébuchet

    in French Alps + Piemont: blind roads in Ecrins – la Bérarde and Chalet Gioberney, Chalet Laval + Col de Echelle, Finestre

    in Pyrenées: Col de Bagargui via Col de Athaburu, Col Pierre St. Martin, Val Louron Azet, Pailheres

    From your great list I would like ride next year Col de la Croix and road to Lac Hongrin in Switzerland and Col du Sabot in France :-).

    • Great stuff, thanks for that. Yes, I keep meaning to update this list. I’ve done a few of those you suggest: La Berarde, , Madone, Finestre (I was avoiding unpaved), Echelle, Lac du Moiry was on list,, San Bernardino, but thanks for some great ideas! The Alps is a big place 🙂

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