Cincinnati, also known as the "City of Seven Hills", is one of the hilliest cities in the Midwest. The nickname derives from the label that was given to ancient Rome when it was founded upon 7 hills in 753 B.C. Like Rome, Cincinnati is also founded upon 7 hills...kind of. Which 7 the nickname is actually referring to has been up for debate. In my quick research, I've found several lists that vary quite a bit. The 7 that seem to be generally regarded as the main ones are: Mt. Adams, Mt. Airy, Mt. Echo, Mt. Healthy, Mt. Lookout, Mt. Storm, and Mt. Washington. But further research suggests the following could also be included: Walnut Hills, Fairview Heights, Clifton Heights, Vine Street Hill, Price Hill, Fairmount, College Hill, Mt. Hope, and probably even more.
Regardless of which ones you choose to consider, it is clear there is no shortage of elevation in the Queen City. And being an area with a very active running scene, those who choose to train through these streets often pay the price. Whether you're a Westsider struggling through the rolling hills of Price Hill and beyond, an Eastsider finding your way back up from Riverside, or just a UC student who thought it would be a good idea to go check out downtown on a run; we all suffer together.
Below, I've put together my official Top 10 Rankings of the Worst Hills to Run in Cincinnati. These rankings were compiled based on my own experiences, other runner's viewpoints I've collected, and even some actual statistical data. Read through and recount the horrible memories of legs burning, lungs failing, and all the regrets you had along the way up.
Montana Ave - Hard not to include honestly. Such a long climb. The full stretch amasses like 400 feet over 1.5ish miles.
Stanley Ave - One of the giants in Columbia Tusculum. Another hard one to leave out.
Clifton Ave (From Kenard) - Such a grinder. Starts somewhat slow then drags on and on.
Hill Street - It's in the name. Short but sweet way to get up to Mt. Adams.
Sachem Ave - Hadn't heard of this one before I put out a poll. Only .15 miles but almost 14% grade.
10. Torrence Parkway
Distance: .59 miles, Elevation Gain: 192 feet, Elevation Grade: 6.10%
First to crack the Top 10 is a very well known ascent. By the numbers, it isn't exactly one of the most difficult. But what adds so much value to this hill is that it's included in one of the biggest races in the city. The Heart Mini. To throw a hill like this in the middle of a race is absurd, and it makes the 15k and half marathon runners suffer during the latter half of their races. Talk about some serious pain. I, myself, have yet to race up it. I was slated for the 15k before COVID-19 came along in 2020. But struggling up it on plenty of "easy" runs already seems like enough. Looking forward (kind of) to seeing you all out there when the event makes it's return! Couldn't find a picture of the Torrence uphill but check out the crowd heading towards it below!
9. Mt. Hope
Distance: .44 miles, Elevation Gain: 207 feet, Elevation Grade: 8.70%
This is one of two in the rankings that I haven't actually undertaken yet. However, it was mentioned quite a few times to me by other runners. After a few minutes of research, I knew exactly which monster they were talking about. Having driven by it many times on my way up to Price Hill, I can almost feel the pain just looking at it. Most people would recognize this hill as the one with Incline Public House at the top. Planning to take this one on sometime soon to see if Mt. Hope would punish me for not placing it higher in the rankings.
8. Whetsel Avenue
Distance: .29 miles, Elevation Gain: 192 feet, Elevation Grade: 12.30%
This is likely a lesser known hill. Judging by a quick look at the Strava segment numbers, not many have taken on this climb in Madisonville. What seems like a convenient alternative to a busier Kenwood road on your way up to Madiera, you'll quickly find that you've made a terrible mistake. It winds and curves quite a bit, which makes it difficult to even see the end in sight. I only ran up it one time but the pain has stuck in my mind enough to get a spot in my top 10. A side note, there is no sidewalk on this one, so be careful if you choose to take it on.
7. Heekin Avenue
Distance: .51 miles, Elevation Gain: 248 feet, Elevation Grade: 9.00%
Finding yourself down in Linwood with aspirations to make it up to the beautiful Ault Park is a tough spot to be in. Unfortunately, this half mile route climbing nearly 250 feet is the the most direct way up. It winds the whole way and just seems to drag on and on. You'll have some pretty views up top, but you'll be working for it every step of the way there.
6. Collins Avenue
Distance: .18 miles, Elevation Gain: 128 feet, Elevation Grade: 13.10%
Another possibly lesser known hill, Collins Avenue is coming in at number 6. I stumbled upon this hill after trying to create new routes to get back up from Riverside. I thought "hey, here's a perfect road that goes right under Columbia Parkway!" Bad idea. While it's a short climb, it get very steep, very quick. By the time you've went under the bridge, you really haven't even begun. Not to mention, your options once you get to the top make this climb even worse. Go left and head all the way up Taft or go right and find yourself at the bottom of Torrence (listed at #10 above). Needless to say, it's gonna be a rough run.
5. Ravine Street
Distance: .49 miles, Elevation Gain: 247 feet, Elevation Grade: 9.40%
Kicking off the top 5 is a University of Cincinnati classic. Sitting just southwest of main campus, this massive climb is heavily traveled on the way to/from downtown. The views from the bottom are enough to just about have you calling NightRide on the spot. And if you end up going down it, your shins definitely won't thank you for it either. An all around beating, this is somehow the lesser evil of three UC climbs that cracked my top 5.
4. Monastery Street
Distance: .40 miles, Elevation Gain: 256 feet, Elevation Grade: 11.90%
Monastery is the the biggest contender for the hill I feel I may be underestimating the most. Having never actually ran up the full climb, it's hard for me to put it any higher. But the stats on this one are gruesome. You're basically starting at ground zero by the riverfront and ending at the top of Mt. Adams. I know people like to mention Hill Street first when thinking of Mt. Adams, but Monastery is virtually just double the distance and elevation resulting in the same grade. When I finally take on this full climb, I'll really find out if it should have made Top 3.
3. Straight Street
Distance: .33 miles, Elevation Gain: 206 feet, Elevation Grade: 11.60%
Probably the most notorious of all hills in Cincinnati, I will probably receive some flack for not putting this one as the top dog. Remember how I mentioned Torrence being in the middle of a race, well Straight Street IS the race. The Straight Street Hill Climb happens annually. A third of a mile sprint directly uphill. Absolutely brutal for those that decide to race it. While this is an almost undebatable candidate for the worst hill, I can think of two more that are just slightly worse in my book.
2. Alpine Terrace
Distance: .18 miles, Elevation Gain: 133 feet, Elevation Grade: 13.90%
Somewhat hidden away on the edge of Mt. Lookout square, Alpine is almost easy to miss. But like a lion waiting in the brush to strike, this hill is ready for anyone that chooses to ascend. Almost identical stats to Collins Ave, with just a tiny bit more elevation. The factor that gives this one the edge is all the pain comes after the curve. By that point, you've already committed. The final third of this hill almost feels like you're going nowhere. What this climb lacks in distance, it gains by having the highest elevation grade on my full list.
1. Sycamore Avenue
Distance: .41 miles, Elevation Gain: 227 feet, Elevation Grade: 10.30%
The King of the Hills. Sycamore is an absolute beast. The view from downtown is terrifying in itself. At the top, you can faintly see the Historic Mt. Auburn mural. Check the picture I snapped down below. And what's worse is, that's not even the end. After grinding through this steadily brutal ascent, you must continue around the curve. Making for a painful final push. The odd looking building at the corner has undoubtedly been a place to rest for many to catch their breath and let the legs return from going numb. God forbid you're heading towards UC, because Auburn Ave continues with some slight elevation because you obviously haven't had enough.
I can admit that I battled up Sycamore very recently to relive some of the glory days from college running, so I can say recency bias could play a part here. But regardless, those who have ran up it can't deny it deserves to be in any conversation for the Worst Hill in Cincinnati.
Well, there you have it. A lot of painful memories while writing this one. It was a tough challenge to come up with my actual, definitive Top 10 since there's so many contenders. Anytime I run up one of these, I think in that moment that it definitely has to be the worst. Regardless, Cheers to the next time we're standing at the bottom thinking "I mean, it can't be that bad."
To see my compiled list of worst hills, check the file below. I will be updating as I find more. Must be within limits of the city of Cincinnati and above 5% elevation grade.
Please leave a comment below or on our social media with your thoughts, critiques and any hills you think I missed!