How Can We Help?

Using the Mountain Directory e-Book to Find Steep Hills

You are here:
< All Topics
This is the Home page of the Mountain Directory West e-Book. On the map you can see how very many of the mountain passes that are covered in the West. Clock on the state button and you'll be taken to all the mountain passes in that state.

This is the Home page of the Mountain Directory West e-Book. On the map, each Yellow triangle is a mountain pass and you can see it covers lots of them in the West. Click on the state button and you’ll be taken to all the mountain passes in that state.

If you are going to spend much time exploring the beauty of the West, you’re going to discover that means constantly climbing long, steep mountain passes. If you are in a car or other vehicle that can easily climb difficult hills, you don’t really care, you can just enjoy the astounding views they offer. But many of us are in overloaded vans and RVs and climbing monster hills is stressful because we are always worried about overheating or overworking our engine going up the hill; or, burning up our brakes to the point of failure when going down the hill.
You might think, “Well, I’ll just go around them.” Often that’s the best idea but there are three problems with it:

  1. Snowbirds need to go up into the mountains to find cool weather and that forces you to drive these steep hills. For that we need to know which is the easiest route into the cool mountains.
  2. In much of the west there simply is no alternative, you either go over the mountains or drive 1000 miles out of your way to avoid them. In that case, we need to know which of the mountain passes will be the easiest.
  3. Much of the magnificent beauty of the west is a lot like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and it’s either in the mountain pass itself or on the other side of it.
This was my camp after climbing the "Oh My God Hill."  There literally was a rainbow at the end of it!

This was my camp after climbing the “Oh My God Hill.” There literally was a rainbow at the end of it!

Because I’m working on a guide book to the best, most beautiful, drives of the Rocky Mountains, I’ve spent my whole summer searching out all the mountain passes I can find and then climbing up and down monster hills with my overloaded and under-powered 1 ton van. Many times, I went up and over the pass, then turned around and went over it in the reverse direction. Because of that, I’m very aware of how stressful it can be.
This is the bottom half of the home page map and explanation for it.

This is the bottom half of the home page map and explanation for it. I find it very useful because you can tell at a glance if an area has a high or low elevation, which will tell you what you can expect the temperatures to be generally. In the summer, dark brown will be cool and dark green will be very hot.

I‘d heard of a book that lists all the Mountain Passes in the country and describes them in detail, and I knew that was just what I needed so I went to Amazon to buy it and found it, the ”Mountain Directory West.” Oddly, they had it listed but there were no new editions, just used ones, the earliest they had was published in 2007 and those old ones which were very overpriced. Apparently the owner of the book couldn’t make enough money with hardbound books so he stopped making them and now only sells them as e-Books.
This is a page out of the Mountain Directory West e-Book covering Wyoming.The yellow triangles on the map are live links and you can click on them and learn all about that pass. The Bear Tooth Pass is number 1, and the Oh My god Hill is number 2. If it were me I'd reverse that.

This is a page out of the Mountain Directory West e-Book covering Wyoming.The yellow triangles on the map are live links and you can click on them and learn all about that pass. The number of the pass is based on it’s difficulty. The Bear Tooth Pass is number 1, and the Oh My God Hill is number 2. If it were me, I’d reverse that.

I knew it was what I had to have so I went ahead and bought the e-Book. It’s great and I’ve been very pleased with it; however, I much prefer a hard-copy so it’s always handy and I can just thumb through it. I got lucky and I was in a used bookstore in Jackson Wyoming and they just happened to have a copy of a 2002 edition for $4! I didn’t hesitate to buy it and have never regretted it. I haven’t found any significant differences between it and my 2015 e-Book edition. It’s unlikely you will find a used copy, so I’m only including photos of the e-Book, which is a great and well worth buying.

Not all mountain passes are in the mountains. This is the Moki Dugway in Utah, and it is quite a climb from the desert!

I’ve used it constantly over the summer! Every time I get ready to take a drive into a new area I study the passes so when I get there, I know exactly how steep they are and how long they stay that steep. But that isn’t the whole story when it comes to mountain passes. A big part of their difficulty is in the curves along the hill. If I can hit the bottom of a hill with enough speed, I’m much more likely to maintain a good speed the whole way up it. But, if there are many curves on it that force me to slow down, I can’t accelerate going up a hill of over 6%. So if it’s full of 25 mph curves and over 6% grade, I’m climbing that hill at 25 mph the whole way. If there is another route up the mountain, that is the same grade but has fewer curves, that’s the way I want to go.
This is how the Mountain Directory West describes the Moki Dugway . I think it is an excellent description of what to expect.

This is how the Mountain Directory West describes the Moki Dugway. I think it is an excellent description of what to expect. I’ve circled it’s yellow triangle with a purple circle.  It’s not a difficult hill, but because the road is dirt, it’s very narrow and has a very steep drop-off, if you have a fear of heights you should avoid it.

The same with going downhill. A long straight downhill is much easier than a curvy downhill even if they are the same grade. With a straight downhill you can put in a lower gear and maintain 50-60 mph with little stress on your brakes. But if it’s full of 25 mph curves, you’ll be constantly on your brakes and working them much harder.
Fortunately, the ”Mountain Directory West” describes the curves and their speed, giving you a true description of the hills difficulty.
Another thing I really like about it, is that the maps do a very good job of visually showing you where the mountains and the valleys are. So when I plan my route I can look at the map and know at a glance when I’ll be in the hot lowlands (color coded tan or green)and then climb up into the cool mountains (darker brown) and by looking at the description of the Pass I know how difficult the climb will be up into the mountains
Why is it important to know in advance about bad hills? There are two reasons:

  1. You can avoid the hill altogether by finding a different route. Because I’m writing a book about mountain passes, I didn’t have the option to skip hills, but most of you do. For example, there are 5 routes into Yellowstone, and you probably will only drive two, one on the way into it and one on the way out. So by using this book, you can chose either the hardest and most beautiful (the two usually go together) or the easiest. In some places, you may want to simply back-track and do a circle to avoid a particular hill. That’s true about the “Oh My God Hill” I described in my last travel post, in that case you have two other much easier ways to get to the top and avoid what is the worst hill I’ve ever driven.
  2. Knowing how long and steep a hill is in advance, you can pull over and stop to let the brakes and engine cool. You can stretch your legs, get a bottle of water, enjoy the view and take some pictures. In that way you’ve taken what might have been a stressful, unpleasant or even dangerous experience, and turned it into a pure pleasure. The problem is that most of us think to ourselves, “I’m almost to the top, so I’ll just keep going.” But too often, we’ve only just begun and the worst is still ahead! If we keep pushing our way up or down the hill, we not only ruin the joy of the experience, we place ourselves in danger. With this book, you’ll know exactly where you are on the hill and how much worse it gets ahead.

I’m giving you a link to get the Mountain Directory E-Book, but I should tell you that I will make a little money on each one sold. I hope you know that is not my motivation in encouraging you to buy one, I honestly believe every traveler should own one of these and use it often! I can guarantee you that I will never be without one!

Even if you live back east, you still need a Mountain Directory East. These signs are on Route 226 in North Carolina and knowing about them would be a big help if you live in the area.

Surprisingly, there are also many fairly steep hills back east. So if you are thinking you don’t need one, think again, you may need one more because you aren’t expecting steep hills and then all of a sudden you’re crawling up a killer hill. At least out west you’re always expecting hills going into the mountains.
Purchase the Mountain Directory East or West from this link, and I’ll make a small amount on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything extra: Click Here!
In my next post I’ll give you details on understanding what the percentage grade numbers mean and how you can use them to stay safe and comfortable.  I’ll also give you safety tips for climbing and descending steep hills.
One last thing, the book doesn’t claim to have every single mountain pass in the country but it does cover the vast majority. In my travels this last summer  I only found one that I wish had been included but wasn’t and it wasn’t all that bad.


  1. LaVonne

    Too bad for those of us with Macs or only handheld devices: “These ebooks are designed exclusively for PCs and laptops running Windows.”

    • Calvin R

      I’m using LinuxMint 17.2 with Mozilla Firefox. The demo linked on Amazon worked for me, as far as I could tell. It also seemed to work on my Android 4.2.2 tablet. However, the demo is pretty simple; the only difference from browsing is that it scrolls the map versus the directions separately.
      Incidentally, on the main page for the book, the Eastern sample is the pass I mentioned in my comment on the “Oh My God” Hill post. The eastern summit turns out to be 4 1/2 miles up (eastbound) and 4 miles down a 9% grade shaped like overcooked spaghetti. The view at the summit is beautiful, and there’s a nice place to pull over. Wile we were there, we saw a bicycle traveler summit westbound and head down without stopping. Wow!

    • Bob

      Sorry about that LaVonne, I didn’t even notice that.

    • Brigitta

      It costs about $80, but there is a program that you can use to run Windows on your Mac, called Parallels.
      I think you’d have to buy the Windows operating system too.
      Just thought I’d throw that out there.

      • Ming

        I use virtualbox, which is free. You do need the Windows OS to install on it though.
        You can also try wine, which will run some widows programs without installing the OS.

        • tommy helms

          Ming says “You can also try wine”
          Don’t mind if I do…cheers

          • Ming


        • Bob

          Thanks Ming, those are good tips.

      • Bob

        Thanks Brigitta, there are many programs that are Windows only so I would think that would be a very good thing to have.

  2. JT

    I’ve used the “The Mountain Directory” (both editions) for many years; the latest publication date for the paper editions was 2006. If one wants to find the resource in paper, search using the title on the websites of new and used book sellers. I consider this guide to be an essential resource, particularly when traveling in the west in a “large” vehicle.

    • Bob

      I couldn’t agree more JT!

  3. Al Christensen

    Earlier this week I drove all the way across Nevada, from Carson City to Great Basin NP. Nevada has more mountain ranges than any other state. It’s the Shar Pei of states. Driving east-west across Nevada is one 7,000+ foot pass after another separated by flat basins. Coasting down from the summit makes up for the slog up. Wheeeeee!

    • Bob

      Al, it does indeed have many mountain ranges. Nevada is a real paradox, it seems like its all flat desert and then you swear it’s all mountains and forests.
      Either way it gets you!

  4. WHeelingit

    We have an old copy of that Book and it’s well-worn and well used! I’m glad it’s still available as an e-book. They also offer it as an App now, but I’ve never used the app version. Great tips for mountain driving!

    • Bob

      Thanks so much Nina! With your beast it is probably very important!

  5. JimS

    You’re probably familiar with any scenic road in Colorado, but if you’re still collecting input on them for your book, I’d add hwy 65 over Grand Mesa. I don’t know of any boondocking places, but there’s a national forest on it, so I’d imagine there are opportunities. A nice place to cool down during a hot summer.
    Great suggestion on the Mountain Directory book.

    • Bob

      Thanks Jim, great tip!

Table of Contents