Lickskillet Road

This may be the steepest road in Boulder County.  I’m sure there are steeper ‘roads’, but this is a well graded dirt road which is open year-round.  Additionally it is a through road and is also known as County Highway 89.

Lickskillet Profile

Lickskillet Profile

Length: 1.0 miles (1.6 km)
Average Grade:
Maximum Grade:
Vertical Gain:
754 ft (230m)
Summit: 8286 ft (2525m)
Tour de France Category:
Tour de France analogue: Only the Monte Zoncolan Featured in the Giro d’Italia has prolonged sections this steep (a mile of the climb averages 14%, although the Zoncolan is a whopping 6 miles long at 12% average). Also, Stage 4 of the 2010 Vuelta a España featured a tough final kilometer with 0.5k at 15% grade. (Note, the Vuelta does not categorize finishing climbs)

Over the years I have spent most of my cyclocross training on my road bike, or indoors due to bad weather.  This year I have been getting out more on my cross bike and have finally ridden some of the great dirt climbs of Boulder County.  Lickskillet road is too steep, and frequently too loose to be possible to climb on a road bike, although in very good conditions it may be possible.

It is hard to capture the steepness of a straight road

It is hard to capture the steepness of a straight road

The climb ascends unceremoniously from Lefthand Canyon to the town of Gold Hill.  750 vertical feet.  No switchbacks.  One mile.  I don’t really have much more to say about this one except it is rumored to be the steepest county road in the United States.  I’d recommend a mountain bike, or cyclocross bike with easy gearing, as I was struggling in my 34-27 to ascend the upper sections which include 1/4 mile at 18.2% grade.

In fact, the climb is so steep, the math begins to get complicated!  Percent grade is defined as ‘rise over run’, or horzontal distance divided by vertical distance.  Keep in mind that a GPS measures the distance traveled; the hypotenuse of the triangle, not the base.  For almost all grades encountered on a road, the difference in the calculations is minuscule.

Take for example riding 5280 feet and gaining 528 feet.  A Simple Grade Calculator would give you an even 10% grade.  However, the actual horizontal distance you traveled was 5258 feet, yielding a corrected percent grade of 10.04%.  The steepest section of Lickskillet climbs 241 feet over 1320 feet (1/4 mile).  The simple calculation gives 18.25% grade, but by the more accurate calculation comes to 18.56%.

So I guess what I really mean to say that you can put away that trigonometry textbook, since the pain of ascending lickskillet road is enough, and really no road is steep enough to justify anything but a simple grade calculator.


4 Responses to Lickskillet Road

  1. Cole says:

    I found a road that makes this look not all that bad. If you want, Google South Grapevine Road (it’s the maintenance road that climbs up the backside of Mount Morrison). It covers 1400 feet in 2 miles ( 13.2% average.)

    • Russell says:

      I’ve ridden Grapevine before, and it is a good one. I’d say it is a bit easier than lickskillet because the grade is slightly less, and the road is paved over the steepest sections. Also Grapevine circles around some houses and has some scenery, while lickskillet is dead straight in the trees, which makes the climb harder to gauge mentally.

      Grapevine is a good climb though. I might have to add it to the list.

      • Cole says:

        To each his own I guess. As a runner I’ve done all of the climbs you have listed and it’s been a major help. Thanks. In my opinion, Grapevine and Lickskillet are equal because I’ve experienced them both on foot, as opposed to the saddle. Different muscle groups.

  2. Sean says:

    Unknowingly rode up Lickskillet today on a road bike in a 39-23. I obviously hadn’t read your post. Wow is that steep. Definitely the steepest hill I have ever ridden up. I think I may have dipped below 2 mph:)

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