Lick Skillet Road: Can You Say Steep?

Is Lick Skillet Road outside Boulder, Colorado, the steepest county road in the U.S.? Let’s just say it’s steep. This view is looking downhill.

As a veteran Jobst Rider, no ride is complete without some dirt. I had heard there was dirt aplenty in the hills overlooking Boulder, Colorado, from the always reliable Bruce Hildenbrand, so I decided to have a look.

First though I met with Ray Keener to catch up on old times, he being a veteran of Palo Alto Bicycles when I was also working there in mail order back in the mid 80s. Ray is a wheeler and dealer, so to speak. Does Facebook stop counting after 1,000 friends? Ask Ray.

Today he’s preparing for the upcoming Interbike trade show in Las Vegas where he is representing the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association (BPSA), a professional advocacy organization.

Ray mapped out a route for me that called for a ride going east away from the mountains but I’m sure he realized this was just a warmup. Ray was nursing a separated shoulder from a recent bike spill, but some medication took the edge off and he could ride.

We caught up on the old days as the miles flew by. Briefly I rode his wheel and I can’t tell you what great memories that brought back. Jobst and Ray are both 6’5″ and make great drafts. I continued on while Ray returned to Boulder. Nelson Road took me back to the alluring Rockies, as I passed a large Amgen facility. This being Boulder, I saw not one but two organized bike rides.

Lefthand Canyon Drive
Lefthand Canyon Drive looked like the place to go to test my gears, as confirmed by Ray. I had ridden across Colorado in the mid 80s from Durango to Denver and the high passes failed to impress. Way too easy.

I was looking for something with a little more inclination. Lefthand Canyon climbs steadily, but once again I was not impressed. However, I was told by a rider I met on the road that the last two miles before Ward is 12-15 percent (it’s about 9%). At 9,000 feet altitude that’s up there with Sonora Pass in difficulty.

Lick Skillet Road
But I was looking for Switzerland Trail, which Bruce said is worth checking out. I found this squiggly line on the map called Lick Skillet Road that could take me there. As I turned left onto the smooth dirt with plenty of washboard I saw a sign that warned “Steep, Narrow Road.” They were wrong about the narrow part.

Now here was something I could relate to. I climbed OK for about a half mile but at 7,500 feet and having only arrived in Denver two days ago, breathing came with difficulty. I knew there was only one way up this grade that averages 14% (sadly my bike computer with inclinometer had a dead battery), so I used my legs in other ways.

At the top of the climb I discovered the site of the oldest gold mine in Colorado at the town of Gold Hill. It looks like a ghost town but it’s not. People live here, lots of people.

According to Wikipedia, Lick Skillet is the steepest county road in the U.S. I’m not so sure, but I’ll give it some well-deserved respect.

Switzerland Trail being farther up the hill and not flat, I decided to head down Gold Run Road (becomes Fourmile Canyon Drive), which I knew to be all downhill. While dirt roads in the Rockies can be a nightmare on a road bike if they have lots of gravel, Gold Run was relatively smooth and an inch of rain two days before knocked down the dust.

On my way down I saw about 10 riders heading up. It’s not as steep as Lick Skillet, but you’re looking at sections of 10 percent and maybe even steeper. With so many elite riders in Boulder, I was not surprised to see most of the riders on road bikes.

Of course, finding my way back to Ray’s place near the CU campus had me taking the steep 9th Avenue to reach Baseline Road. I have a knack for finding steep. (This ride is officially Jobst Approved.)

Gold Run Road heading to Boulder winds through a pine forest, but recent fires have devastated the area.

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3 Responses to “Lick Skillet Road: Can You Say Steep?”

  1. Ray Keener Says:

    Ray, I thought you might mention the lack of water along your way. You were pretty parched when you got back! In the Santa Cruz mountains, it may not taste all that great, but it’s pretty easy to find. The 9th Street climb you mentioned was part of the USAPC race course. You didn’t need to climb that to get back to my house. Something tells me you wanted to anyway…

  2. Ray Hosler Says:

    For the record, Lick Skillet Road is exactly 1 mile long and climbs 750 feet for a 14.2% grade. Altitude 7500 to 8250 feet.

  3. Ray Hosler Says:

    To put the climb in perspective, for those who have ridden the half-mile stretch up to the Window on Sonora Pass, it’s the same average grade of about 14.7 percent, 389 feet climbed in its steepest section. Only Lick Skillet is washboard dirt.

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