The Lake District is the perfect place for challenging and spectacular road cycling climbs. The high passes are infamous and part of many cycling bucket lists thanks to their demanding ascents and rewarding views. The national park’s Fred Whitton Challenge, which takes in many of the following road climbs, covers a whopping 113 miles and 3,950 metres of ascent. It’s one of the hardest sportives around!
If you’re an experienced cyclist planning an itinerary for your visit, take a look at our guide to the best cycling climbs in the Lake District. You can also browse our holiday cottages with bike storage.
Honister Pass from Buttermere
Max. gradient: 25%
Elevation gain: 243 metres
Between the valleys of Buttermere and Borrowdale, Honister Pass is one of the most spectacular cycling routes in the Lake District. You could begin with a picturesque trail alongside Buttermere lake before starting on what seems to be a fairly easy climb. Things change pretty quickly, though, and you’ll suddenly find yourself on gradients of up to 25% all the way to the top. You can take a break high up at the fantastic Honister Slate Mine (with café), or continue a little further up before speeding downhill, with stupendous views over the fells of rugged Borrowdale.
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Kirkstone Pass via The Struggle from Ambleside
Max. gradient: 24%
Elevation gain: 396 metres
Kirkstone Pass is the highest pass in the Lake District that’s open to traffic, so it has to be on any enthusiastic cyclist’s bucket list! It runs between Windermere and Ullswater lakes, so you can be sure of stunning scenery whichever way you go. The shortest but hardest route is appropriately named The Struggle.
From the edge of Ambleside, you start off straight away on a fairly steep (14%) climb with a couple of troughs along the way to help ease your burning muscles. The final push is the big one, with a gradient of over 20% for approximately 330m, including a double switchback. Then you meet the main road and the welcome sight of the Kirkstone Pass Inn, the highest inhabited building in Cumbria. Take refreshments, continue on up to the top of the pass (if you have the energy), or ride down back to Bowness via the main road.
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Hardknott Pass from Eskdale
Max. gradient: 33%
Elevation gain: 298 metres
With a name like Hardknott, you can bet that this is going to be a tough one! Hairpin bends, 30% gradients and switchbacks await you as you climb from Eskdale. It’s possibly the hardest cycling climb in the country, but you’re rewarded with truly incredible scenery and a real sense of achievement if you manage to complete it! Try and go early to avoid the traffic, as vehicles often get stuck on the worst parts of the road.
A red phone box marks the start of the ascent alongside the obligatory road signs warning you of what you’re about to take on. You’re then straight into it with a gradient of 20%. You’ll have the chance for a short rest on a relatively flat section for about a kilometre before the real fun begins. Repeating hairpin bends add to the difficulty of an ascent that hits 33% at its steepest, before you reach a sudden hump on the road that marks the highest point. Take a well-deserved rest here before heading back down to one of the great pubs in Eskdale to refresh.
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Newlands Hause from Buttermere
Max. gradient: 22%
Elevation gain: 191 metres
From Buttermere, take a left fork, which immediately climbs steeply onto the pass. There’s a short, flatter respite about 800m in before the climb begins once again. This is the real challenge and the exposed position of the road can mean fighting against some strong winds. At the top, look back towards the Buttermere Valley and spot the stunning Moss Force Waterfall. If you choose to descend into the Newlands Valley (great as part of a number of circular routes), you’ll have a much more gradual ride, with a handful of short, steep sections.
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Wrynose Pass from Little Langdale
Max. gradient: 21%
Elevation gain: 277 metres
Often combined with a climb up Hardknott Pass, Wrynose is a slightly easier ride than its imposing brother. It’s still not one to take lightly, though, with gradients reaching 23%.
From Fell Foot Farm, you’ll see the road twisting through the mountain scenery and you can tell that you’re in for a beautiful ride. The road is almost constantly around a 20% gradient, with a slightly gentler section around 2km in before a final push to the top. Here you’ll find the Three Shire Stone, which marks the point where the historic counties of Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire once met. Head downhill into the tranquil Duddon Valley or, if you’ve still got the energy, carry on up Honister Pass.
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Whinlatter Pass from Braithwaite
Max. gradient: 15%
Elevation gain: 231 metres
Whinlatter Pass is a much steadier climb than others on this list. Surrounded by the trees of Whinlatter Forest, it’s a lovely sheltered route with occasional breaks in the foliage to offer far-reaching views over Bassenthwaite Lake. If you’re planning to work your way up to the biggest high passes in the Lake District, then Whinlatter is a good place to start, as it’s the easiest of them all.
From the village of Braithwaite, the climb is mostly gradual, with a couple of steeper sections to keep you on your toes. Once you pass the visitor centre, the road flattens before a final sharp rise to the top. You can continue down into Lorton, past Crummock Water, and over Newlands Hause or Honister Pass for a circular route.
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Red Bank from Grasmere
Max. gradient: 16%
Elevation gain: 139 metres
One of the easier bike climbs on our list, Red Bank from Grasmere is nonetheless a great little route. Starting from the edge of the pretty village, you catch glimpses of the lake and cycle through wooded areas along a fairly narrow road. The twisting route offers a gradual ascent, finally ending close to the youth hostel. You can continue on towards Elterwater and into the Langdale Valley for a longer ride.
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Shap Fell from Kendal
Max. gradient: 10%
Elevation gain: 380 metres
Shap Fell is a relatively easy climb, with a gradual ascent. It is long, though, so you’ll need good pacing. There’s also a lot of elevation to make up for the many troughs on the way.
You’ll start on the busy A6 out of Kendal, though the ride eventually becomes a lot quieter, with remote moor-like scenery stretching out on either side of you. A false summit after 2km of uphill riding may have you feeling disheartened, but get back into your rhythm and you’ll be rewarded with excellent views of the North Pennines and Eden Valley. It’s pretty exposed up here, but a cycle down into Shap village is a lot of fun!
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Blea Tarn from Dungeon Ghyll, Langdale
Max. gradient: 25%
Elevation gain: 124 metres
Short and sweet, the ride up Blea Tarn nonetheless offers its own challenges. It’s a pleasant ride, starting from Great Langdale Campsite just outside Dungeon Ghyll. The narrow road follows the beck part of the way up, winding through the open scenery that is so iconic of this area of the Lake District. The gentle approach may give you a false impression of this climb, which soon becomes steep –reaching a gradient of almost 25% - to make up for its short length. The climb takes in a sharp 90-degree turn then continues to its end at the cattle grid just beyond the tarn.
Corney Fell from Duddon Bridge
Max. gradient: 13%
Elevation gain: 383 metres
If you’re after a ‘secret’ Lake District climb, then you can head to Corney Fell in the far south west of the national park. The open moorland at the top of Corney offers far-reaching views towards the Central Lakes in one direction and the Irish Sea in the other. It’s completely exposed for most of the route, so try and pick a dry, calm day! The road is also often used by fast-driving commuters, so try and avoid weekdays in the mid-afternoon or early morning.
Starting from Duddon Bridge in the Duddon Valley, you’ll head through shady woodland alongside the river before crossing a cattle grid onto the fell. The start of the ride offers the steepest section at 13%, but it’s a long route, so don’t use up all of your energy here! After that, it’s steady going upwards until you reach the summit, though you might find it hard to get into a rhythm thanks to the undulating scenery. The downhill is steep and fast, so make sure your breaks are in order!
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Holiday cottages with bike storage
We hope these road cycling climbs keep you challenged and fit. You can easily access them all from our holiday cottages in the Lake District. Browse to find your perfect home-from-home, many of which include bike storage.