The Ten Best High Alps Unpaved Rides of the Year


2018 was another fun year for getting high on unpaved Alpine roads.

Here are my 10 favourite rides. Each includes a link to a detailed blog post including a map.

See here for an overview map of big Alps mountain bike / gravel climbs from all years.

See here for “The Ten Best High Alps Road Bike Rides of the Year.”

#1 Passo dello Stelvio Unpaved

This was an easy top choice. Forty kilometres from Bormio to the Cima Garibaldi just above Passo dello Stelvio via four mountain passes (one even higher than Stelvio). The last 26 kilometres completely unpaved. One of the most fun rides I’ve ever done. And the descent of Stelvio wasn’t bad either.

Spot the cyclist

If you are a road biker visiting Bormio to ride Stelvio and Gavia, you must visit one of the many bike stores in town and rent a mountain bike and do this ride. Like my “roadie” friend Barry did for this ride. Trust me. Ride details here.

Single Track. Umbrail below. Stelvio in distance.
#2 Col du Galibier via the Old “Road”

Woohoo, this great route has three distinct sections, all of which require thicker tires:

  1. Briancon to near Col du Lautaret on quiet trails/roads
  2. The old road on the south side up to Galibier
  3. A secret valley descent of the north side of Galibier

The highlight was the ascent of Col du Galibier on the remains of the original south side road. First built in the 1880’s, this was the only way up the south side until 1938. As best I can tell it was abandoned/closed in 1947. This means that between 1911 and 1938 the Tour de France would have climbed or descended this road over twenty times. Ride details here.

Galibier old “road”
Unpaved option well below Col du Lautaret (in distant view)
#3 Grand Col Ferret

This was the “easiest” day of my three day Tour du Mont Blanc by mountain bike adventure with my pal Alfie. But it might have been my favourite. Our main goal was climbing Grand Col Ferret (2537 metres) high on the Italian/Swiss border. Glacier heaven! Ride details here.

Just above Grand Col Ferret
#4 Col de la Met

I’ve done several high climbs to perched old forts around lac du Mont Cenis. But, at 2735 metres, the super high road to Col de la Met is a ski station service road. The summit has towering views above the beautiful lake.

Almost there

The ride also includes a lovely loop around the high altitude lac du Mont Cenis (1974 metres) – including a ride over the dam. It’s unpaved on the west side. Ride details here.

A cycling rule: If you see a dam, pedal over it.

Here are two more incredible unpaved climbs to high old forts above lac du Mont Cenis (in fact, the second reaches that little pass high above the dam in centre of above photo).

#5 Col Hunting Behind Le Grand Galibier

If you’ve ever cycled the north side of Col du Galibier, you may have noticed an intriguing looking gravel road high on the left. Starting from Plan Lachat (roughly 2000 metres), this is an old military road that climbs to Camp des Rochilles, a French army base that was part of the Maginot Line.

View of unpaved road from the 6km-to-go marker on Galibier road

This ride visits five unpaved cols and three beautiful alpine lakes all above 2400 metres. Details here.

#6 Col de la Bonhomme / Col de la Seigne

Day 1 of my Tour du Mont Blanc was tough, including a lot of bike pushing. But amazing scenery helped ease the pain climbing these two huge climbs. I’d ridden near Col du Bonhomme (2329 metres) before and decided it didn’t look feasible. 😉

We would climb the tougher, French side of Col de la Seigne (2516 metres) and then have a magical decent into Italy with nothing but glaciers to our left. Ride details here.

#7 Col du Granon plus 5 Gravel Cols and a Perched Fort

It was Col du Granon bike day so the road was closed to cars Col du Granon (2413 metres) is a beast of a climb, with constant views of glaciers atop the peaks of the Massif des Écrins. But all the road bikers would have to descend from Granon.

This is why I often bring a mountain bike on big paved climbs. Col du Granon is the 6th highest paved climb in France. But after reaching the summit I cycled to 5 more unpaved Cols, 4 higher than Granon. There’s another world up there. Ride details here.

Descending from Fort de Lenlon
#8 Col de la Vallée Etroite

Col de la Vallée Etroite starts at the exact same intersection in St-Michel-de-Maurienne as Col du Télégraphe/Galibier but heads in the opposite direction. The Col is almost 100 metres higher than Galibier at 2732 metres. I counted 52 hairpins. Wow. Last I looked, I held (the slowest ever) HC Strava KOM …… because no one else had ridden the entire route. 🙂 Ride details here.

Beginning of the gravel
Almost there
The summit – 2732 metres (Les Menuires ski station down far side

Note, there is another super high Col de la Vallée Etroite with fabulous cycling high on the French/Piemonte border. Ride details here.

#9 Bormio 3000

This was the highest ride of 2018. The road to Bormio 2000 is paved, and my friend Barry joined me with his road bike. But again, I brought wider tires and kept going up (and up). I was worried about the weather and wasn’t certain about the viability of the ski-lift service road, but eventually I reached the summit: 3011 metres. Euphoric. Ride details here.

The goal in sight
#10 Above Méribel 7 Col Ridge

Les Trois Vallées claims to be the largest ski domain in the world (it includes Val Thorens, Courchevel, Méribel, etc).

This scenic loop passes seven cols on a high ridge between Méribel and the lower part of the valley that includes Val Thorens. Admittedly, I would traverse to many of the cols but if you follow this blog you know how happy I am to visit 7 new cols! Ride details here.

Above the tree line

Happiest while cycling uphill.


  1. Beautiful rides, thank you!
    You might enjoy the WWII military dirt road from Grengiols (Haut-Valais) to the Breithorn furgge (2451m). It’s very steep (gain of 1340m in 10.7km), but the road is smooth for the initial 2 thirds, gets a bit rockier above the treeline. One can descend into the Saflischtal/Binntal (I didn’t, as I was late…). Superb views of the Bernese alps and glaciers (Aletschhorn, Fiescherhorn, Finsteraarhorn) across the valley, and of the Binntal mountains on the other side. Unspoilt, not a dam or power line in sight.

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

My Cycling Challenge