Toughest Hoosier Hills

Written 2010

I’ve been using Google Earth for a while now, mostly to line out new routes to ride, and it is amazing how detailed a view of the countryside you can get, including the distances and elevations. To quantify the difficulty of the many Hoosier hills, I’ve come up with Mitch’s Hill Toughness Quotient (MHTQ). The formula is a steepness quotient, dividing the rise in elevation in feet by the distance in miles. The climbs I have here are all over .2 miles, and the rises vary from 138-318 ft., and I include both paved and gravel roads. Gravel is harder to climb, but I am not sure by what factor. If you have an educated idea, let me know. For me, some are impossible, my back wheel starts to spin out, even with a bunch of weight in my pannier.

There are factors other than MHTQ that should be considered in saying how hard a hill is to climb. Consider Brummett’s Creek Rd., which has a MHTQ of 608, while everyone would agree that Bear Wallow Hill Rd. (424 MHTQ) really is a bear, rising a whopping 324 feet in 3/4 mile. More climbing, more distance, more work. So in some cases rising steeply for a short distance may be easier than a long climb.

I have been updating this list, and as of now Brummett’s Creek and Mt. Gilead (west) hills have risen to the top of the paved list (discounting Miller and Boltinghouse, which are still far and away the toughest paved hills).

Here is a recent post updating my findings, from Kevin Enright, our county surveyor, good friend, and a great cyclist.

“Mitch Rice was one of the first to do a hill rating analysis of our area:

He uses Google Earth, which is similar to my methods. My method differs in that I use the 2 foot contours in our GIS maps. Therefore, my method computes the grade % which Mitch’s method lacks. Measuring is subjective to an extent, therefore, I chose to do one measure for the total hill and a second analysis for the steepest portion of the climb.

Mitch and I agree that McGowen Road hill is the toughest in the area, but it is gravel and not often challenged by road riders. Miller Rd hill beats out Boltinghouse as the toughest asphalt climb. The controversial part of my analysis is the steepness of the grades: McGowen hill’s 18.35% goes for a staggering 218 foot ascent, Miller hill measures 18.00% for 162 foot ascent, Boltinghouse measures 17.98% for 116 foot ascent, Mt Tabor hill’s steepest portion measures 16.14% for a measly 82 foot ascent.

The surveyor’s postulate from these stats is that 18% is the upper limit to which road equipment can build and maintain a roadway. The other claims of steeper grades for these hills may be based on a more accurate methodology, or it could be all guess work and exaggeration.”



No way around it, this gravel hill leading to Gilmore Ridge is the toughest Hoosier Hill I’ve been on. Just southeast of Pine Grove on Lake Monroe, McGowen (aka Rogers) Road rises a whopping 250 feet over just .27 miles, giving it the top score of 926 MHTQ. I’ve since figured out that it is much easier to go up TC Steele Road and down McGowen Road rather than up!

605 to 855 feet
250 ft rise
.27 mile
250/.27=926 MHTQ

From Crooked Creek_McGowen Ride

Second and third place (by the numbers) go to Miller and Boltinghouse Roads. Boltinghouse has had the reputation as the toughest paved hill, but I have checked my numbers thrice, and Miller is the winner by a nose. As Earl Young and Indian HIll are gravel, they may be harder to climb than Miller and Boltinghouse, but I’ve never made it up any of them, so I can’t really compare.

#2 Miller Road
616-820 feet
204 ft. rise
.27 mile
204/.27=775 MHTQ

#3 Boltinghouse Road
629 to 820 feet
191 foot rise
.25 mile
191/.25=764 MHTQ

Number four is Earl Young Rd, and being gravel, it should harder than either Miller or Boltinghouse, even with the 100 point difference in the quotients. If you have experience on these roads what do you think? Is Earl Young tougher than Miller or Boltinghouse?

#4 Earl Young Rd
694 to 874, 180 ft rise
.27 mile
180/.27= 666 MHTQ

Number five is in Brown county, Indian Hill Road off of SR 45. This may also be tougher than Miller/Boltinghouse, as it is gravel, longer, and has more rise than the other top 5, so although it is a few points lower than Brummett’s Creek, it rates being in the top 5.

#5 Indian Hill Rd.
640 to 876, 236 feet rise
.39 mi.
236/.39= 605 MHTQ

Below is a listing of some well known hills, I’ve climbed them all on my recumbent at one time or another, and wanted to know where they were in the scale. I placed them in order, with Brummett’s Creek at the top, and to my surprise, Firehouse Hill near the bottom. (It seems seems much tougher being long, and it is often the last big hill of the day.) If you have any hills that should be on this list, let me know.

Brummett’s Creek Rd.
770-630=140 ft rise
.23 miles

Mt. Gilead Road (West)
836- 630=206 ft rise
.39 mi

Schwartz Ridge Road
.25 mi.

Bean Blossom Road (the first main climb)
630-820 190 feet
.39 mi.

Mt. Gilead-(East)
803-660=143 ft rise
.29 miles

Bear Creek Hill (Gravel)
738-907 169 rise
.35 mi

TC Steele Road
560-860=200 feet
.42 mi.
200/.42= 472

Crooked Creek (Gravel)
595-860, 265 ft rise
.6 mi

Bear Wallow Hill
692-1010, 318 ft rise
.75 mi

Old Meyers Road
610-790, 180 ft
.46 mi

SR 446 North of causeway
560 to 728, 168 rise
.44 mi.

Lampkins Ridge
565 to 705, 150 foot rise
.4 mi.

Paynetown Road
540 to 728, 188 ft rise
.52 mi

SR 446 south of the causeway
560-750, 190 ft rise
.56 mi.

Firehouse Hill
601 to 791, 190 ft rise
.65 miles

Bean Blossom Hill (the full climb)
630 to 923=293 ft rise
1.29 miles
293/1.29=227 MHTQ

8 replies on “Toughest Hoosier Hills”

hi! I’ve ridden up Boltinghouse – really killer! Observatory road out of Brooklyn, IN is also tough, plan to incorporate all three – Observatory, Boltinghouse and Miller Road in one ride this summer. Start from Greenwood – and end eventually in Nashville, IN. Total miles about 70 or so. I will let you know my thoughts when completed. Riding up Greasy Creek to 135 just north of Nashville, IN is a real killer as well! Anyone ever try all these hills in one day – would like to know!

I’ve climbed most of the hills on this list, and I can honestly say the one hill that scares me each time I ride it is not on this list – Greasy Creek – up to Bean Blossom Hill. Has anyone ever ridden it? According to my garmin, a section of the hill is 24% steep, and about 118 feet from bottom to top.

Mitch, Thanks much for this information. Although your original post is quite old, the info is still quite useful, especially to those of us relatively new to the area. I’ve got a suggestion to improve Mitch’s Hill Toughness Quotient (MHTQ). You correctly point out that it is basically a measure of hill steepness and doesn’t account for the fact that longer hills are tougher. For example, if you compared two hills that were the same steepness, one rising 250 feet over a 1/4 mile, and a second rising 500 feet over a 1/2 mile, they would both have the same MHTQ of 1000, yet I think we’d all agree that the second hill is twice as hard. If instead of dividing the rise by the distance, you take the rise SQUARED divided by the distance, it correctly accounts for this. The absolute value of the MHTQ changes a lot, but what matters is the relative value, and this approach correctly predicts that the second hill has an MHTQ twice as big. Below is a table where I took your data and calculated a new toughness quotient which I will call the MJHTQ (Mitch and Jeff’s Hill Toughness Quotient). The only other change I made besides taking the rise squared/divided by distance is that I used for feet as a measure for both rise and distance, as this gives MJHTQ values that are in a more sensible numerical range. The table below is sorted by the MJHTQ value. The ranking of a few of the hills changes quite a bit. For example Bear Wallow is now ranked just slightly less difficult than Boltinghouse, while Brummets creek is demoted to about the middle of the pack:
Hill rise distance distance MHTQ MJHTQ
feet miles feet
McGowen 250 0.27 1425 926 44
Miller 204 0.27 1425 756 29
Boltinghouse 191 0.25 1320 764 28
Indian Hill 236 0.39 2059 605 27
Bear Wallow 318 0.75 3960 424 26
Earl Young 180 0.27 1425 667 23
crooked creek 265 0.6 3168 442 22
Mt Gilead west 206 0.39 2059 528 21
TC steele 200 0.42 2217 476 18
Bean blossom main 190 0.39 2059 487 18
Brummets creek 140 0.23 1214.4 609 16
Bear creek 169 0.35 1848 483 15
Schwartz ridge 138 0.25 1320 552 14
Mt Gilead east 143 0.29 1531 493 13
Old Meyers 180 0.46 2428 391 13
Paynetown road 188 0.52 2745 362 13
Bean blossom full 293 1.29 6811 227 13
SR446 south 190 0.56 2956 339 12
SR446 north 168 0.44 2323 382 12
Lampkins ridge 150 0.4 2112 375 11
Firehouse hill 190 0.65 3432 292 11

I hope this helpful! For the record, I routinely go up Mt Gilead west, made it up Miller once (failing several other times) but have yet to try Boltinghouse or Bear Wallow, and never intend to try McGowan!

I can say this is the hardest climb I’ve done on a road bike – would be worse if you didn’t include the middle false-flat section. or (haven’t tried this second one). I’m from Perry County, so I have been on several hills – both that are and are not on Strava as segments. There are also several in Perry/Spencer/Dubois Counties that would be a bear…of which I haven’t ridden.

I know it’s much further south than these other sections/segments, but there are MANY tough hills close to the river (south-central Indiana).

Anyway, I am looking forward to “enjoying” these hills this year, as I just saw this site about a week ago. Thanks for taking time/effort/attempts at these hills and the work for the site.

For the distance, I started at the turnoff to the Parking Lot (572 feet asl) to a high point just short of of Burgoon Church Road (740 ft asl), the end of the steep part of the climb. Distance is .43 mile, and the rise is 168 feet, making this climb a 391 MHTQ!

What is the MHTQ of the hill going south of the spillway just after the dam on Lake Monroe?

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