Danger and beauty share a disturbingly intimate relationship - some of the most enchanting places on Earth also are the most treacherous. In order to cut through these perilous locations and gain access to the outside world, humans, centuries ago, driven by necessity and adrenaline, invented roads. Hundreds of years after their invention, some of these roads still act as the lifeblood of the economy of those regions and facilitate movement of people and goods.
However, the peril these regions carry remains, as these roads have proven fatal despite the dramatic evolution of infrastructure. While nature with its deceptive allure may be partly responsible for the road tragedies, one cannot discredit poor engineering as the major cause when the landforms are stable, and travelers and vehicles have no valley or pit to fall in. While some of these roads are manageable and relatively safe, others are nerve-racking.
Our listicle walks you through the various natural and man-made characteristics that make these 20 roads the world’s most dangerous. I have considered paths built across gorges, carved on mountain passes, constructed outside cities, coiled around massifs, cutting through hills, leading to foothills, passing through cold deserts, plains and plateaus, among others. But I have avoided those running through urban areas, as that is a whole different animal.
I will not discourage you from venturing into these breathtaking locales; rather, I will try to pique your curiosity but inform you enough to help you take the right decision. This list is neither exhaustive nor in any particular order.
20 Himalayan Roads, from Himachal Pradesh, India
With over 50 mountains exceeding 23,600 ft in height and spanning 2,400 km in length across 5 countries, the hypnotic Himalayas are infamous for its lethal roads, perfect for an adventure of a lifetime but not for trade and casual tourism.
If you are venturing into the Himalayas from the Indian side (such as the Leh-Manali route) you need to know that the most dangerous roads are in Kangra followed by Solan, Una, and Shimla, in the State of Himachal Pradesh.
The average accident count on these mountain roads are 25-per-day.
With roughly 682 accident black-spots, these enthralling roads also are one of the deadliest paths in the world.
19 Pan American Highway, North & South America
With official and unofficial routes stretching 30,000 km between the northern tip of North America (in Alaska) and the southernmost point of South America (in Argentina), the Pan American Highway, or PAH, is the world’s longest road.
The intercontinental highway not only facilitates trade, commerce, and tourism, but also is a biker’s paradise. But PAH, especially in its Central and South American side, must be one of the few roads in the world that has unmarked graves scattered along it. According to national surveys, the causes of the accidents are mostly rash, unregulated driving.
If you do happen to travel on the PAH, keep a distance from trucks carrying goods and inflammables, and speeding vehicles.
18 Sichuan-Tibet Highway, China-Tibet
Starting in Sichuan’s Chengdu in China and ending in Tibet’s Lhasa, the Sichuan-Tibet Highway is one of the highest roads in the world with an elevation of 13,123 ft above sea-level and a length of 2,142 km.
The intricate road is shaped like a group of hairpins and offers one of the most thrilling rides. It offers an enigmatic canvas of views such as deep gorges, waterfalls, snowy peaks, etc.
Although a common route for cargo trucks and hikers, the road is riddled with challenges such as low oxygen, low visibility during dawn and dusk, mud traps, dangerous bridges, theft and kidnappings, and having 99 switchbacks in a 38-km stretch as it swings through mountains.
17 James Dalton Highway, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska
Running just over 666 km, James Dalton Highway is probably the last road on Earth. The International E-Road Network is considered one of the most isolated roadways on the planet. It connects Elliot Highway (Fairbanks) to Prudhoe Bay (Deadhorse), and misses the Arctic Ocean by a few inches.
Gliding alongside the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline, the icy path is used mostly by cargo transporters. It has only three villages to stop at and no service lines (fuel stations, eateries, etc.) in between.
Poor visibility, inclement weather, subarctic/polar temperatures, primitive infrastructure, brutal winds, and avalanches are partly responsible for the casualties on this ice-way.
I recommend driving heavy SUVs and stocking up on a ton of survival supplies for this road.
16 Zoji La Pass, Kashmir, India
Situated 11,000 ft above sea-level, the Zoji La mountain pass winds through the Himalayas to connect the popular destination of Leh and the city of Srinagar (Kashmir, India). The dangerous 9-km-long road provides an important link between Ladakh and Kashmir, and isn’t meant for cheap thrills.
The road is sealed during winters due to the heavy 50-ft snow-drifts that make it impassable. The arid atmosphere is manageable, but the one-lane dirt strip called “road” is threatening, to say the least, and has claimed several lives since its inauguration. If you travel to Ladakh via Zoji, you will be met with sharp turns, rubble roads, icy peaks, and a vast green abyss staring back at you.
15 North Yungas Road, Cordillera Real, Bolivia
Also called “Death Road”, the North Yungas Road of Abra Pucuani mountain pass, in Cordillera Real, is one of the most dangerous roads in the world and in the Bolivian Andes. The road is mostly gravel.
The road claims 200-300 lives on an average every year. Most of these casualties are people who accidentally plunged over rocky cliffs 3,000 ft into the ravines of the dense Amazon. The 200-plus hairpin turns catalyse the lethality of the place.
Despite its dangers, the road, which shoots past 14,000 ft above sea-level, offers spectacular views of Mt Mururata, the Palca valley, and emerald lagoons.
These days, it doesn't see many vehicles as it used to. However it has become a popular mountain biking spot for the ultimate adrenaline junkie (check those brakes!)
14 Guoliang Tunnel, China
The 1.2-km long, 16-ft tall, 13-ft wide Guoliang Tunnel spiralling China’s Taihang Mountains is famous for its building-like design. It was dug open by villagers in the Henan Province who wanted faster access to the outside world.
However, the stunning facade of the spiral tunnel fails to cloak its dangers. The tunnel is quite narrow and cramped, and accommodates only one car at a time in its width.
Vehicles that don’t follow the one-lane rule may end up falling 9,455 ft down the valley.
If you want to traverse this spiral road, you need to be extremely confident of your driving skills and have the mindfulness of a monk.
13 Atlantic Road, Norway
Norway’s most famous cultural heritage site and national tourist route, the Atlantic Road, is one of the most dangerous yet captivating roads in the world. It starts approximately 30 km southwest of Kristiansund and ends 47 km north of Molde - the two urban centers in the county of Møre og Romsdal in Fjord, Norway.
Built on shallow marine rocks between the two islands, the 8-bridge road is nearly a kilometer long. The weather is unpredictable, and turns dark and frigid in no time. The road is just a few feet above the waters.
You need to be careful of large waves crashing onto the highway. However, the road is an engineering marvel and doesn’t suffer a scratch, thanks to efficient maintenance.
12 Lena Highway, Lena River, Sakha, Russia
Also called the A360 Lena Highway or Amur-Yakutsk Highway, this extreme road in the Tundra region, made up of mostly dirt and ice, is an important federal highway in Sakha Republic, Russia. It connects the port city of Yakutsk to Nizhny Bestyakh on either sides of the Lena river.
The purpose of constructing the road is to transport vital supplies to remote settlements.
Despite being the lifeblood of the economy, the road, being frozen water and wet mud, is lethal.
It is operational only from late December to early April. When the dirt beneath freezes, it makes for a strong road. The frozen river forms part of the road, but it becomes impassable during summers and swallows vehicles whole, causing its high casualty rate.
11 Trollstigen Mountain Road, Norway
The Trollstigen Mountain Road in Norway shows us why the Scandinavian nation is so unique and enchanting. Trollstigen, with a length of 55 km, connects Åndalsnes in Rauma and Valldal in Norddal.
Literally meaning “The Troll’s Ladder,” the road is a set of 11 spine-tingling hairpin turns and a steep incline. The serpentine road is a dangerous route that feels like something straight out of Norse mythology, yet it is pristine.
The place has steep fjords, lush valleys, brutal slopes, wet and icy weather, narrow roads, and others, which, apart from the sudden adrenaline rush and other-worldly experience, causes more than 208 deaths every year.
The plus side - if you make it to the summit, you can view the famous Stigfossen waterfalls.
10 Bruce Highway, Australia
Located in Queensland, Australia, the 1,652-km long Bruce Highway is one of the most dangerous roads in the world. It links the State Capital, Brisbane, and Cairns in Far North Queensland, passing through Maryborough, Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville.
The road handles more than 100,000 vehicle every day in the segment that’s headed to Brisbane. The highway is the backbone of the economy as it helps generate billions in trade and tourism.
That being said, the 1,600-km-long road is responsible for 17 percent of the national-highway deaths. Overtaking, speeding, flooding, and design issues are cited as the major causes of the deaths. Being the worst crash-zone in the country, this highway certainly isn’t for seeking thrills or beauty.
9 Bakhchysarai Highway, Crimea
The T0117 Bakhchysarai Highway in Crimea is a 77-km long asphalt road between the cities of Yalta and Bakhchysarai. The highway offers a majestic tapestry of 50 hairpin bends, deep tunnels, and endless green and scarlet sceneries.
However, the hairpins are strenuous and dangerous, and the weather at the peak turns hostile with temperatures dipping to minus during blizzards and snowstorms. If you don’t take the right kind of vehicle and enough supplies, I cannot guarantee a pleasant or even adventurous journey.
If not careful, the highway can claim your life. Oh, and don’t venture during the winters, unless you want to drown in thick snow.
8 Skippers Canyon Road, New Zealand
Built during the Gold Rush, the Skippers Canyon Road near Queenstown, New Zealand, is a spectacle to behold. It takes you through one of the most exotic and ancient gorges in the world, Skippers Canyon, which was formed by dying glaciers.
The 22-km-long road creeps on the slopes of Skippers Canyon, high above the rampaging Shotover river. Due to the dangers it poses and the testing weather conditions, it is hard to find car rentals. Most people take their own cars or mountain bikes.
The narrow unpaved man-made mud road, with points such as Hells Gate and Devil’s Elbow, is extremely treacherous with risks of rock falls, mountain animals, steep drops, and changing road textures. It has no railings, and claims 375 deaths every year.
7 Chile Highway 5, Peru to Chile
Part of the Pan American Highway (PAH - remember this one from earlier?), Chile Highway 5 (or Chile Ruta 5) is a 3,364-km-long highway that connects Peru with Chile through the Atacama Desert. The road starts from the Peruvian border on Peru Highway-1.
The first section of the paved road, from the north border with Peru to north of Caldera, is a 2-lane strip with a speed limit of 100 km/hr. The second section, from Caldera to Puerto Montt, is a 4-lane freeway with a limit of 120 km/hr.
The landscape is a vast vista of orange deserts and steep arid valley. If the speed limits don’t claim lives, strong wind gales, lack of fuel stations, and twisters will.
6 Trans-Siberian Highway, Russia
Stretching from St Petersburg to Vladivostok, the 11,000-km-long Trans-Siberian Highway is a network of federal highways that spans Russia end-to-end, from the Atlantic Ocean on the East to the Pacific Ocean on the West.
It is a prime contender for the longest road in the world and runs across some of the toughest terrains. Heavy rains and severe winters disrupt navigation on this road.
Maintaining the Trans-Siberian Highway is so difficult that, well, most of the times the authorities don’t. Though much of the length is nonchalant, in some portions such as Tundra, the dense wilderness and oceans of nothingness are deadly. Russian roads claim 10s of 1000s of lives annually due to weather and road conditions. You see where this is going.
5 Bayburt Of Yolu, State Highway D.915, Turkey
The 179 km-long, north-to-south State road links the town of Of in Trabzon on the coast of the Black Sea to Bayburt in northeastern Turkey. It ends in a high-elevation mountainous terrain.
This road has ranked the worst in the world due to the dire straits it is in. Though awe-inspiring, it still enjoys a fearsome reputation.
Several bikers venture out on adrenaline-fuelled adventures but never come back.
Bayburt of Yolu tests people’s courage and endurance on its largely unpaved “roads.” Awkward terrain, vertigo, twisty and slippery hairpins, low-visibility, and bad weather have cost the lives of several.
Bayburt is more dangerous than 'Death Road' in Bolivia, and you must train round-the-clock before you even think of venturing.
4 Fairy Meadows Road, Nanga Parbat, Himalayas
Danger and beauty share a disturbingly intimate relationship - few can come close to fulfilling this idea I expressed, than the Fairy Meadows Road in Nanga Parbat. The road starts from the Karakoram highway and ends in Tato near Fairy Meadows, an outlandish locale in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Considered the second-most dangerous massif in the world, the 16.2-km-long Fairy Meadows Road is made of gravel, is unmaintainable, and has no guardrails. It also is the launchpad for trekkers who want to scale Nanga Parbat. Hundreds of trekkers and tourists die in this route every year.
Given its life-threatening weather conditions, deathly terrain, and the reputation it has earned. Is it worth challenging your own mortality to reach a proverbial heaven-on-Earth?
3 Beartooth Pass, Wyoming-Montana, USA
The Beartooth Pass on the Wyoming-Montana border along US Route 212 is one of the highest, most famous roads in the USA. Offering a panoramic view of 10,000 mountain lakes, 20 peaks of 12,000 ft in elevation, and several forests, the highway stimulates wonder and awe.
Heavy snowfall forces the highway to shut after mid October, and opens again only in mid May. Snowstorms, which can happen even in the summers, strong winds, severe thunderstorms, avalanches, blocked paths, and frequent patches of ice of the road pose a perilous situation to travelers.
Nature suitably rewards travelers for daring to conquer this road, with breathtaking views of Absaroka and Beartooth, and the open high alpine plateaus with countless glacial lakes, green valleys, waterfalls, and wildlife.
2 Die Hel, Swartberg Mountains, Western Cape, South Africa
The name might be misleading. Die Hel, or locally known as Gamka's Kloof, is a valley road in the Swartberg Mountains of the Western Cape, South Africa.
The isolated region lies between Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert, and is accessible only via a thin road, which is notorious for being dangerous and accident-prone.
The valley is cordoned off during the rainy season as the Gamka River overflows, flooding the region. The road is potentially life-threatening and requires a high-clearance 4-wheeler-drive vehicle with a driver experienced in the driving techniques and accustomed to mountain passes.
This mystical secluded road, roughly 20-km long and less than 1-km wide, lies shrouded in the heart of Swartberg. If you aren’t an adventurer, don’t let the allure trap you!
1 Balcony Roads, France
If you ever wanted to fly without flapping wings or boarding an airplane, you must visit the Balcony Roads of France. That is, if you aren’t afraid of heights or don’t mind a potentially lethal experience. There are several balcony roads in France. Some of them are: Gorges de Galamus, Gorges de l'Aude, and D219.
These are essentially narrow mountain passes carved into massifs and gorges. They have stonewalls to protect passing vehicles, which reinforce your courage in case the hairpin bends suck it out of you.
You will encounter treacherous tunnels, horrifying winds hissing and roaring through valleys, nerve-wracking twists and turns, Insta-worthy sceneries and more.
Although accidents on these roads are rare (thanks to law-abiding citizens and high-maintenance), you will always feel gravity hypnotizing you to the abyss of the French Alps.
These 20 of the most dangerous roads are spine-tingling and seductive. Now that you have some information on them, you can either take a decision to visit, or just close the article and move on to something less exciting!
References: dangerous roads, lonely planet