The Twenty Highest Paved Cycling Climbs in the Alps

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It’s always fun to cycle extra high on a bike. Here are the twenty highest paved cycling climbs in the Alps.

This list is just the Alps. It ignores, for example, the highest paved road in Europe: Pico del Veleta in the Sierra Madre mountains. Let me know if you think I’ve missed any climbs.

For more in this series see:

  1. The Twenty Highest Paved Cycling Climbs in France – here.
  2. The Ten Highest Paved Cycling Climbs in Italy – here.
  3. The Twenty Highest Paved Cycling Climbs in Switzerland – here.
  4. The Ten Highest Paved Cycling Climbs in the Jura Mountains – here.
  5. Thirty of the Highest Unpaved Cycling “Roads” in the Alps – here.
#1 Ötztaler Gletscherstraße – 2,829 metres

Thibault Pinot approaching the Rettenbach Glacier

The Ötztaler Gletscherstraße (Ötztal Glacier Road) is a ski station road above Sölden, Austria – built in 1972. It is not just high, it is also extremely steep, almost always well above 10%. The road splits near the top. One direction goes to Rettenbachferner perhaps 1.5 kms further ending at 2795 metres. The other direction is mostly a 1.7 kilometre tunnel (!). The paved road briefly exits this tunnel before it reaches 2829 metres at the foot of the Tiefenbach Glacier.

I survived this brutally steep climb in a sportive the morning of a Tour de Suisse stage in 2015. We (and the pros) were “only” allowed to ride to the foot of the Rettenbach Glacier at 2675 metres. Although frankly I have few regrets missing the long, modern, uphill tunnel. For map and full details of this climb see here.

It could use a few more hairpins – there are only eight. Ouch.

Rettenbachgletscher Hairpin #5

#2 Cime de la Bonette – 2,802 metres
The Col below, loop road to Cime above

The Col below, loop road to Cime above

At 2,802 metres, Cime de la Bonette is the highest paved road in France. Note, “cime” means “peak” – it is NOT a mountain pass. But Col de la Bonette is just below, at 2715 metres. Basically, they built a small loop of a road up and around a peak (photo above) to become higher than Col de l’Iseran.

The highest road in France

Both sides start above 1000 metres, and are not too steep. But these are big climbs (and long: 24 kms & 26kms). Ride details here.

bons25 Col de la Bonette Cime de la Bonette Col de la Bonette
#3 Col de l’Iseran – 2,764 metres
With my wife, car-free day 2013

With my wife, car-free day 2013

The highest paved mountain pass not just in France, but also in Europe. From Bourg-St-Maurice, I believe it is also the longest climb in France (47.5 kms). I love the remote south side, and the north side above Val d’Isère is breath-taking. Details of both sides here.

Col de l’Iseran bike day 2017 – the wife

Tip: Unless you’re touring through, the lower 2/3’s of the north side is just “ok.” Skip the nasty tunnels near Tignes, and start at Val d’Isère for a superb final 15 kms.

iserN25 iserS25 Col de l'Iseran 1 Jour, 1 Col - Iseran Col de l'Iseran
#4 Passo dello Stelvio – 2,757 metres
Stelvio in July

Stelvio in July

(Me in pink) – Stelvio

Perhaps the most famous series of hairpins in cycling. Remember there are three ways up. Details of the famous side here. Details of the two Italian side here. It could use a few more hairpins – there are only 8. Details of both the Bormio side and the Swiss side via Umbrailpass here. Note: at 2501 metres, Umbrailpass is the highest paved road in Switzerland, but I’ve lumped it in with Stelvio here.

Umbrailpass, Stelvio above my right hand.

A couple of years back I wrote a “Brief History of Passo dello Stelvio” over at Podiumcafe.com. See here.

#5 Kaunertal – 2,750 metres

In Tyrol Austria, just west of the Ötztaler Gletscherstraße, the Kaunertaler Gletscherpanoramastraße was built in 1980 as a ski station road. Amazingly, it’s kept open 12 months a year. It’s a fantastic climb.

It’s 38 kilometres from Prutz, and all good riding. 26 kilometres from the summit it becomes a toll road for cars (bikes are free). Beyond the toll, there are no more villages – remote and beautiful throughout. The long flat stretch on the profile below is beside a large dam/lake. But this is not a goat track ride. It’s a wide, purpose-built ski station road in excellent condition with 29 signed hairpins. Map and full details here.

#6 Colle dell’Agnello – 2,744 metres

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Colle dell’Agnello (or Col Agnel) is high on the Italian / French border. The Italian side is the more difficult of the two – but both sides are remote and beautiful. Details of a snowy Italian side opened early for the Giro. Details of the French side here.

Colle dell'Agnello the day before 2016 Giro.

Colle dell’Agnello the day before 2016 Giro.

#7 Col du Galibier – 2,642 metres

Galibier
The grand-daddy of all French climbs. The most frequent Alps Tour de France climb, it is also the highest Tour summit finish ever. The north side, including Col du Télégraphe, is a 35 kilometre dream-of-a-climb. The south side is superb above Col du Lautaret.

Galibier above the tunnel

For a detailed look of all three ways up Galibier (two from the south-side join at Lautaret) – with lots of photos – see here. I also once cycled Galibier in the middle of the night, to see the sun-rise at the summit:

Finally, I recently cycled the old Galibier road that was used more than 20 times pre World War Two and is now a fun, unpaved trail: see here.

Galibier old “road”

#8 Passo Gavia – 2,621 metres

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Both sides of this climb are superb. Plenty of both Giro and military history here. Top tip: There is a modern, long tunnel on the south side. Skip it, and take the old, cliff road around it (photo above). A little bumpy but ….. wow. Details of both sides here. Or see here for The Legends of Passo Gavia.

#9 Colle del Nivolet – 2,612 metres
Colle delle Nivolet

Colle delle Nivolet

nivolet250 Colle del Nivolet Colle del Nivolet Lago and Diga (= dam) di Serru? Happy Bike

Perhaps the most beautiful final 15 kilometres that I have ever ridden. Seriously.

This very high Italian pass near the French border in Piemonte has two big dams and several lakes. An amazing place. And every Sunday during the summer, the top several kilometres are closed to motorised traffic. Paradise. Details here.

#10 Edelweissspitze/Grossglockner 2,571 metres

Unlike many of the high passes on this list, there was no strategic reason for this road. Instead, it was a make-jobs program in the 1930’s. Now, this magnificent road (despite its hefty toll fees) is the biggest tourist attraction in Austria. The climb is dominated by the Grossglockcner, the highest mountain in Austria (3798m). The main road has two high points, Hochtor Pass (2504m) from the south, and Fuscher Törl (2404m) from the north. There are a few high, up/down kilometres between these two passes.

View of Fuscher Törl from summit of Edelweissspitze.

But the highlight? Near Fuscher Törl is a beautiful cobbled road, the Edelweissspitze, that rises to 2571 metres and towering 360 degree views. Cycling paradise. I rode the north side with several thousand other cyclists on bike-only day. A smart idea as this road can be busyish. Map and more details here.

Edelweissspritze cobbles

#11 Colle Fauniera – 2,481 metres

(Colle dei Morti) Self Portrait.

Also known as Colle dei Morti, this stunning, remote Piemonte climb features a huge Marco Pantani monument at the summit:

Pantini Monument in the distance

Pantini Monument in the distance

Looking for a tougher 3-side climbing challenge than the Club des Cingles du Ventoux? Then try cycling all three sides of Colle Fauniera in a single day. Because unlike Ventoux, Fauniera doesn’t have an “easy” way up. I managed 2 sides in a tough but great ride – see here. Or see this post for details of the roughest, north side. It includes several high unpaved cols behind Fauniera.

South North faun190
#12 Nufenen Pass – 2,478 metres
Nearing summit south side

Nearing summit south side

Passo della Novena Passo della Novena (Nufenenpass) Griessee

In central Switzerland, 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. Details of the north side here, and south side plus Griessee here.

Nufenen north side

South Side North side
#13 Timmelsjoch/Passo del Rombo – 2,474 metres

In the Ötzal Alps on the Italian / Austrian border. Much of the Austrian side is a big modern ski station road, but above the toll booth becomes more interesting. The Italian side is old-fashioned fun with lots of hairpins and cliff stretches. Details of both sides – see here.

Timmelsjoch (Austria)

Passo del Rombo (Italy)

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#14 Col du Grand St. Bernard – 2,473 metres

IMG_1952 - Version 2

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.

For details of the south side see here, and north side here.

Swiss Side - Start = Martigny Elevation Profile - Italian Side
#15 Col de la Moutière – 2,454 metres

Moutiere

Maybe the least known climb in this list? This quiet, quiet road starts near the beginning of the south side of Col de la Bonette. It is poorly surfaced but entirely paved until the Col. Here the paved road ends. But, if you can, bring thicker tires – as I did in the link here. This allows you to climb three bumpy, gravel kilometres to the faux Col de Restefond (2,656m) and rejoin the paved main road just below the north side of Col/Cime de la Bonette.

#16 Mölltaler – 2432 metres

I’ve never cycled this high Austrian climb to a glacier ski station. If you’ve visited please leave a comment with any thoughts.

See here for a profile and a map of this climb.

#17 Furka Pass – 2,429 metres
Snow already?

Snow already?

Rhone Glacier Furka Pass View of Rhone Glacier (source of the Rhone) Furkapass

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.

Details of east side here. West side here. As part of the Alpenbrevet here.

furkaE250 furkaW250
#18 Col du Granon – 2413 metres

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A friend once told me that he hurt his neck descending Col du Granon – because it was so steep. 🙂 Granon was for many years the highest Tour de France finish (1986), until passed by Galibier a couple years back. Only one side is paved and it’s a wonderful climb, but bring a mountain bike and visit five nearby gravel cols and a couple of high old forts. Details here.

#19 Oberaarsee/Grimselpass – 2,390 metres
Grimsel hairpins.  Furka pass in the distance.

Grimsel hairpins. Furka pass in the distance.

At 2,165 metres, Grimselpass is one of the great gigantic climbs in central Switzerland – its 15th highest paved road. Around the pass are several huge dams/lakes. But most people don’t know that exactly at Grimselpass there is a paved extension road up to Oberaarsee at 2353 metres (often closed to cars). Here are details of this extension to Oberaarsee. Fantastic!

Oberaarsee

Also, here are details of both sides of Grimselpass here. Grimsel as part of the Alpenbrevet sportive here.

furkaW25 Grimsel Pass Grimsel Pass Grimselpass Grimsel Pass
#20 Lac de Moiry – 2,389 metres

Lac du Moiry

I 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.

Here is a post with 28 climbs to alpine dams.

Map of Climbs:

The map below contains all the above climbs plus more of the highest paved roads in France, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria. Click icons for links to ride details. For more detailed maps with far more climbs see the maps menu at top of page.

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Happiest while cycling uphill.

6 Comments

  1. Great list! A lot of Must-Dos!
    Does somebody know if its possible to ride over 3000 meters above sea level in the alps with a roadbike (28mm tyres)? Maybe in switzerland?
    Cheers!

  2. Will, according to my recording back in 2008, the road to the Rettenbachefner leads to up to 2.803 m above sea level, yes 1m above Bonnette where I have also been (top of the upper parking above bottom part of the skilift/Talstation). The tunnel to the Tiefenbachferner was closed at that time as often.

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