The Three Peaks ride is a true Roanoke classic. It takes in three of the more prominent peaks around Roanoke and Salem: Twelve O'clock Knob, Mount Chestnut and Sugarloaf Mountain. These are some of the roads that were featured in the Roanoke stages of the Tour duPont stage race that brought the world's best riders to the Roanoke Valley back in the 1990s.
It's not a long ride but we doubt you'll be wanting more when you get done. 2600+ feet of climbing in a little more than 22 miles with 1200 of those coming on the first climb should be a good workout for most anyone. You'll be happy that you're starting and finishing at Olde Salem Brewery in downtown Salem where you can refuel after the climb fest.
Know Before You Go
You'll leave downtown Salem and be on quiet back roads pretty quickly. Our version of this ride gets you onto the Roanoke River Greenway for a short stretch before you turn onto Twelve O'Clock Knob road and begin your climbing. It adds a little warmup time and it's a really pretty stretch of the river. You'll enjoy it.
On the Route
Twelve O'Clock Knob starts out gently as you cruise through one of Salem's neighborhoods. Pretty soon, though, the grade gets steeper and the road gets narrow. This is a tough climb, no two ways about it. It has lots of steep pitches and more switchbacks than I've ever had the wherewithal to count. It's really pretty but it's very narrow and you'll need to watch for traffic.
Once you crest the climb (after about 6 hours of climbing...or so it seems...) you'll begin the very fun and very fast descent on a much better--and much wider--road surface. As you get down the mountain a ways, Little Back Creek on your right offers some pretty cool scenery and often a bit of a cooling breeze.
To get to your next climb you'll be on Route 221 for a short stretch. It's a busy road with a narrow shoulder and traffic moves fast through here. You'll only have to deal with this for about half a mile.
A left off of 221 takes you onto Mount Chestnut. While shorter and not as steep as Twelve O'Clock Knob--that was right at 4 miles while this one is just under 3--this is another tough one. It starts out pretty gentle but towards the top you'll pay for that with some 12%+ grades. Luckily they're short and once you hit those sections you'll know the top is near.
You'll crest right at Valhalla Vineyards and the views are pretty stunning from up here. Some of the best we have. It's worth taking a pause here even if you have the legs to keep pushing. A pause can help you get mentally ready for the descent: it's steep and it has some tricky switchbacks with a couple of descending radius turns. You can pick up speed really, really fast on this so don't lose control. It's a blast of a downhill.
At the bottom of Mount Chestnut you'll roll right into the final climb of the 3 Peaks namesake, Sugarloaf Mountain. After the last two climbs it's almost hard to call this a mountain. Coming this direction it's short though very steep in the last little bit. You'll get a nice payoff for little work with the descent off the other side. It's fast and it's not very technically challenging.
Get to the bottom, roll through some quiet neighborhoods and cruise the greenway a bit to back to downtown Salem.
After Your Ride
Enjoy a beer at Olde Salem Brewery or if you're looking for something other than a brewery, both Macados and Mac and Bobs are great local choices with menus that have enough variety to please just about anyone.
Check out the route profile and download the GPX file on our Ride with GPS account.
Be sure to tag us on Instagram @bikeVBR and @visitVBR if you head out to explore this ride!