Edit: This article was updated in January 2015 adding climbs 11 through 15, and in Feb 2016 adding climbs 16 – 20.
This is the second in a series. For others see:
- The “Ten Highest Paved Cycling Climbs in Italy” – here.
- The “Twenty Highest Paved Cycling Climbs in France” – here.
- Thirty of the Highest Unpaved Cycling “Roads” in the Alps – here.
- The Ten Highest Paved Cycling Climbs in the Jura Mountains – here.
See the bottom of this post for a pan Alps map with all the climbs from all three countries. Each climb below includes a link to a blog post with a map, photos, route description, etc.
The list is based on this Wikipedia article …. so feel free to point out any errors – I’ve added a few Swiss climbs missing there recently. And I know I am missing a small road or two.
#1 Umbrail Pass – 2,501 metres
This is the quiet, lesser known, third way up the mighty Stelvio. The Pass is literally just a few metres from the Italian border, and joins the Bormio route to Stevio perhaps three kilometres from its summit. The sign says 2,503 metres, but apparently 2,501 metres is the accurate height. There was a short unpaved stretch half way up that apparently has been paved this past summer.
More details here.
#2 Nufenen Pass – 2,478 metres
Nufenen Pass or Passo della Novena is on the border of German speaking Wallis canton and Italian speaking Ticino canton. The north Wallis side is particularly challenging. There is a lovely little lake at the summit, but don’t forget the short detour 2kms below to the beautiful and much larger Griessee dam/lake/glacier.
At 2386 metres, the little side road to the Griessee dam could be considered in the top ten itself. But I will exclude it and just add it as part of Nufenen.
#3 Col du Grand St. Bernard – 2,473 metres
Col du Grand St. Bernard or Colle del Gran San Bernardo is on the Swiss / Italian border. The Italian side is by far the most interesting for cyclists. The Swiss side is over 40 kms long from Martigny, but shares a relatively busy road with trucks until the huge car-only tunnel into Italy. From here cyclists can take the fantastic old road for the final 6 kilometres to the summit. The Italian side is bypassed by the tunnel.
There has been a hospice here welcoming travellers since the 9th century. The doors are still left unlocked all year even in winter for any lost adventurers.
#4 Furka Pass – 2,429 metres
Furka Pass featured in the second James Bond film Goldfinger over fifty years ago. And the hotel seen in the film at the Rhone Glacier (source of the Rhone river) hasn’t changed at all. It’s part of perhaps the best cycling loop in Switzerland: Furka/Nufenen/Gotthard counter-clockwise. High and Beautiful.
#5 Oberaarsee/Grimselpass – 2,390 metres
At 2,165 metres, Grimselpass is one of the great gigantic climbs in central Switzerland – the 15th highest paved road. Around the pass are several huge dams/lakes. And there is a paved extension road up to Oberaarsee at 2353 metres.
I have only cycled to Grimsel, and still need to visit the extension. Update: Here are details of the extension to Oberaarsee. Fantastic!
#6 Lac de Moiry – 2,389 metres
I love (love), climbs to Alpine dams/lakes. The Swiss Valais has a bunch of huge dams but the ascent to Lac de Moiry has to be one of the hardest. 2100 metres (7000 feet), hard work. Details here.
#7 Flüela Pass – 2,383 metres
I’ve only cycled one side of this eastern Switzerland climb. Very scenic. With the opening of the 19 kilometre Vereina tunnel in 1999, the road has become a less important traffic link. Good news for cyclists. Details here.
#8 Bernina Pass – 2,328 metres
In the far east of Switzerland, a cyclo-tourist could descend Bernina until Italy and be at the foot of Mortirolo with Gavia and Stelvio just up the road.
It’s a beautiful climb with a hospice and the huge Lago Bianco near the summit. I have only climbed the easier north side. Details here of a big loop including Albula pass (10th highest) and Julierpass (12th highest).
#9 Livigno Pass – 2,315 metres
Also called Forcola di Livigno. It shares 30 kilometres with Bernina Pass. Darn, I have never cycled this. Hopefully I can visit next year. Here is the climb profile. Wow.
#10 Albula Pass – 2,312 metres
This is perhaps my favourite climb of the few I have done on the far side of Switzerland. Big and beautiful. It is often in the Tour de Suisse.
Details of the same loop as above with Julierpass and Berninapass here
#11 Lago del Narèt – 2,310 metres
Lago el Narèt – the 11th highest paved road – is my absolute favourite paved climb in all of Switzerland. It’s hidden in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland in the Alps north of Locarno.
This remote climb is 30 kilometres of cycling pleasure. It passes several dams and is beyond beautiful. It is so remote, I was told it wasn’t opened and cleared of snow this year until July. Top to bottom, the entire route is great, but the last 10 kilometres are almost beyond belief: fun. Ride details.
#12 Julierpass – 2,284 metres
Just a few kilometres above St. Moritz, Julierpass is another high climb in eastern Switzerland.
Details of the same loop as above with Albulapass and Berninapass here.
#13 Above Gotthard Pass – 2,257 metres
One of the more astonishing roads in the Alps is the old Tremola road to Gotthard pass. The summit of Gotthardpass is 2108 metres, however, a couple of side roads from the pass head slightly higher. I believe the highest being to the nearby dam/lago di Sella at 2257 metres.
Here are details of a ride up the (better) south side of Gotthard, and detour higher to another dam/lake Lago di Lucendro.
#14 Sanetschpass – 2,252 metres
I know several locals that agree with me that this lesser known road is one of the truly great hors-categorie climbs in the Alps. I once had to be “rescued” on Col du Sanetsch – details here. 🙂
#15 Männlichen – 2,229 metres
In the beautiful Swiss Berner Oberland, above Grindelwald, this quiet road has nothing but stunning Alpine views: Eiger North Face, Mönch, Jungfrau. Details here.
#16 Sustenpass – 2,224 metres
The east side of this huge climb lacks many hairpins making it seem like a long, tough drag – but that had probably more to do with the fact that it was the 3rd and final climb when I cycled it during the Alpenbrevet – details here. I prefer the very scenic west side. Although it has quite a few tunnels they are mainly “fun” tunnels.
#17 Lac du Vieux-Emosson – 2,205 metres
In the Valais, near the French border to Chamonix, is the amazing climb to Lac d’Emosson. It recently appeared in the Dauphiné and will be a finish in the 2016 Tour de France. However, what most people don’t know: the paved road continues over the dam, winds around the lake and then climbs a crazy steep little road to a smaller lac/dam, Lac du Vieux-Emosson. Details here.
Note: The paved road stops at the 2nd lake, but there is great hiking higher, including to some well preserved dinosaur tracks. Lac du Vieux Emosson:
#18 Mattmarksee – 2,203 metres
The Swiss Valais (Wallis) is a dream region for people (like me) that love huge, quiet climbs to alpine dams (see above for two more: Lac de Moiry and Sanetschpass). 34 kilometres long, but not too steep, the climb to Mattmarksee initially shares the road to Zermatt (the Matterhorn) then turns towards and finally above the ski station Saas Fee. Ride details here.
#19 Croix de Cœur – 2,173 metres
Every time Verbier hosts a Dauphiné or Tour de France stage I complain that they are ending the race before the true fun starts. Croix de Cœur extends the climb to Verbier by adding 6.5 steep, fun kilometres. The top stretch was only recently paved.
- Ride details here.
- The far side is not paved but a fantastic, huge climb via La Tzoumaz. See here.
- The highest I have been in Switzerland on a bike followed a superb, unpaved route that starts exactly at the Croix de Coeur – see here.
#20 Offenpass / Pass Fuorn – 2,149 metres
On the far easteran side of Switzerland, Ofenpass is not the hardest of climbs, but most of the route is through the stunning Schweizerischer Nationalpark (Swiss National Park). Very nice! Details here.
This list is not 100% perfect as I believe there are a few other high tiny paved Swiss roads here and there. For example, a road near Tguma apparently goes to 2340 metres, near Alpe Galm a road gets to 2231 metres, and a road near Täschalp gets to 2205 metres. I’ve yet to visit these, but will try in the near future. Any other ideas are always welcome.