Lake Champlain Road Cycling: the 5 Steepest Climbs

Lake Champlain Adirondack Coast Biking

The term “coast” as applied to a stretch of land elicits a certain image in your mind, right? You’d think that a region along a “coast” would consist of a largely flat, waterfront landscape.

Well, the Adirondack Coast IS, indeed comprised in part of rolling farmlands along the western shore of Lake Champlain. But it is also the eastern edge of the Adirondacks, after all, so there’s bound to be a hill or two.

In not only my opinion, it is also one of the very best places on the planet for road biking. Cyclists from near and far travel to the Lake Champlain region specifically to take advantage of the many intersecting loops of great roads with little traffic. As soon as the snow melts in spring, you’ll see a variety of cyclists here, whether they are day-trippers or passing through as part of a greater bike tour. 

For those of us who live here, it’s just yet another backyard bonus. That is, if you like to bike, which I do.

Now about those hills.

Spring is here, and I’m not gonna lie: My biking-specific muscles were not exactly “nurtured” this winter.  I wasn’t quite as diligent in maintaining a decent level of aerobic fitness as I have been in the past. This was all too evident when I clipped into my pedals and ventured out for my first road bike ride of the spring.

On that first ride, I decided to take my favorite loop from the southern end of the Stevenson Road in Moriah to Westport, and back along Route 22 back to the junction with Stevenson Road again. It’s a fairly flat loop of about 10 miles that provides awesome views of the lake and several cows.

From our house, depending on the direction chosen, one either has to tackle a steep hill right away, or at the end of a ride. I typically choose the latter, giving my legs time to warm up. By the end of summer, it doesn’t really matter which option I take, as I’ve put on enough miles to climb those hills - if not easily, at least more comfortably as part of a loop of varied distance.

In fact, it is my goal to be able to climb - comfortably - a list of the steepest hills in the region by the end of summer. I haven’t yet achieved this goal. 

Pilfershire Road

Climb Every Mountain

I would define these steepest hills as being unrelenting, slightly-less-than-vertical roadways, most complete with sloping curves for an extra challenge. At the beginning of the summer, I have to take them on by weaving back and forth, zig-zagging across the road to lessen the angle. That is, I’d have to do that if I actually dared take them on. (Considering the amount of lactic acid in my legs following my first couple of rides, it’ll be a while.)

And so, in no particular order, here is my subjective list of end-of-summer goals: 5 of the steepest bike climbs on the Adirondack Coast. 

  1. Pilfershire Road - Moriah

    This road, which connects Route 22 just north of Port Henry to Mineville on the other end has some steep sections, but the hill at the Mineville end is pure evil. I have climbed this one more than enough times, so I am qualified to assign an adjective. 

  2. Dalton Road - Moriah 

    A mere 1-mile stretch leading from the junction of Tracey Road and Route 70 in Witherbee, this road that leads to the Belfry Mountain trailhead is unrelenting, and feels more like 2 miles. Even in a car.

  3. Lincoln Pond Road - Elizabethtown

    This is a nice route from Elizabethtown to Moriah, passing by its namesake, beautiful Lincoln Pond. The second half offers hills leading UP from Lincoln Pond to Moriah, and this section represents the only place I remember ever having to unclip from my pedals and walk my bike so that I didn’t fall over sideways from lack of movement. It’s steep.

  4. Edgemont Road - Moriah

    A gorgeous, 2-mile descent into Port Henry from County Route 7 in Moriah, it is a whole different ball game when pedaling in the opposite direction.   

  5. Daniels Road - Reber

    This road leaves from the Brookfield Road that leads from Whallonsburg to Reber. It goes uphill right from the start, getting gradually steeper, eventually reaching a 14 percent grade before tapering off again. It’s a real wheel-bouncer, according to folks who don’t lean forward enough. This road is part of the Adirondack Coast Bikeways’ “Women’s Suffrage Way” loop. 

Edgemont Road view 

Easy Rider

Of course, there ARE a number of great, somewhat “flat” loops identified in the Adirondack Coast Bikeways Network - a part of the Lake Champlain Bikeways loop that circumnavigates all of Lake Champlain. 

For fewer steep climbs, I recommend:

  • Surrounded by Water in Willsboro 
    This is a flat 13-mile loop on the peninsula of Willsboro Point, and it is, as advertised, surrounded by water. 
  • “Coon Mountain Circuit” in Essex and Westport
    One of my favorites, this does venture onto some dirt roads, but is a wonderful loop that showcases both the open fields and lakeshore roads of the region.
  • “Fort to Fort” route 
    Better than doing your history homework, one can incorporate a visit to both Forts Ticonderoga and Crown Point. Stop to visit the Crown Point Lighthouse while you’re there and check out the Rodin sculpture and be sure to incorporate a ride across the Champlain Bridge!

Lake Champlain Bikeway in Essex 

Elevation Gain

Now, I realize that tackling the steepest climbs might not be for everyone. Remember though, as the saying (and song) goes, what goes up, must come down. So, for those who climb the BIG hills, whether you turn back around at the top or complete a loop, you’ll be rewarded with a screaming downhill ride!

Now that’s MY favorite kind of “coast.” 

 

Kim Rielly is the director of communications for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.

 

Cycling in Essex 

Locking North to Lake Champlain
Gilligan & Grace