Driving is one of the best ways to travel and surveil a vacation destination or scenic vista. It can also be one of the best ways to turn a leisurely drive into a hair-raising experience – especially when the road is steep, poorly maintained, or has lots of hairpin turns. For some drivers, the adrenaline rush of a white-knuckle ride make driving dangerous roads worthwhile; for others, it may be the penance to pay to view some of the most stunning landscapes in the world.
Making the decision to travel some of the most dangerous roads in the world isn't just a matter of an adrenaline rush; there are some very real dangers to consider, like road conditions, extreme weather, landslides, and steep drops beyond small or no barriers. Simply put, some roads are worth the journey while others pose too great a risk. From the peaks of the Himalayas to rural Alabama to the Scottish Highlands to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, here are some of the world's most perilous byroads and motorways.
25 Avoid: Karnali Highway, Nepal
The Karnali Highway also traverses the Himalayas, but this time in Western Nepal. Like their Indian counterparts, this highway is unpaved, rocky, poorly maintained, and riddled with potholes. Dangerous and incredibly unfriendly to cars, according to Thrillist, even cyclists forgo riding on the Karnali Highway because of the conditions of the road. Also according to Thrillist, about 50 fatalities are recorded on this road annually. So don't drive on the Karnali Highway, and consider avoiding driving through the Himalayas altogether.
24 Worth the Risk: Pan American Highway - Alaska to Chile
You read that correctly: there is a single road that stretches from Alaska down to Chile. But driving this road would a very long journey, as well as a dangerous one. According to Wander Wisdom, while the driving conditions of the road will not differ much from the average highway in upkeep or treacherousness, it traverses countries under threat of violence from various drug cartels and rebel groups. This 19,000-mile trek could be the road trip of a lifetime, but travelers will certainly need their wits about them.
23 Avoid: Vitim River Bridge - Siberia
The Vitim River Bridge is the remains of a train bridge, made of a metal strut covered in wooden planks, according to Dangerous Roads. The bridge is only 6 feet wide, nearly impossible for most vehicles to cross. This bridge is part of the Russian BAM Road, which, according to Dangerous Roads, is one of the most challenging roads to drive in Russia. The Vitim River Bridge is even more difficult to cross in the constantly icy and snowy conditions of Siberia. To boot, the wooden planks that cover the bridge are not well-maintained.
22 Worth the Risk: Col de Turini - France
Considered one of the most scenic drives in the world by Dangerous Roads, Col de Turini is not for the faint of heart because this mountain pass has a crazy sheer drop. Dangerous Roads reported the elevation of this highway through the French Alps as 5,272 feet above sea level and has significant elevation gains—or drops, depending on your direction. Portions of the tarmac have a series of hairpin switchbacks which should be attempted by only the most comfortable of drivers. The Col de Turini has been featured in the Tour de France on several occasions, says Dangerous Roads, so you may prefer to attempt this traverse on two wheels instead of four, if your legs are up to the challenge.
21 Avoid: Zoji Pass - India
The Himalayas are famous for being some of the most challenging hikes in the world, but the roads through the mountains are notorious for their danger as well. According to Wander Wisdom, the Zoji Pass, which crosses the Western Himalayas in the Kashmir region of India, has a reputation for being poorly constructed and treacherous. Not only are these roads unpaved, but landslides occur regularly and there are no barriers or signs of any kind. The road reaches 11,000 feet at its highest, but the danger doesn't seem worth the view.
20 Worth the Risk: The Atlantic Road - Averøy, Norway
The Atlantic Road in Norway is a roller coaster-like series of bridges and roads that connect the island of Averøy and several other ocean islands to the mainland, according to Visit Norway. The views are breathtaking, but the power of the wind and ocean in a storm can be just as awe-inspiring. There are many photos, like the one above, of the sea splashing up and threatening, like a sea monster, to consume passing cars or blow them off course. Despite the risk, this stretch of road has been touted as a must-take road trip; in particular, the Guardian named it the best road trip in the world in 2006. Just check the weather before you go.
19 Worth the Risk: Gorges du Dadès – Morocco
Although its name is French, this stretch through the Atlas Mountains of Morocco looks dramatically different from its Alpine counterparts – though no less stunning. Starting in Ouarzazate, the 100-mile route traverses breathtaking craggy mountains and desert countryside, according to Dangerous Roads, which called it "the road of a thousand kasbahs." (A kasbah is a style of fortress or citadel found in Northern Africa). The steep inclines of the Atlas Mountains make this drive treacherous, according to Dangerous Roads, as well as the wildly diverse weather and climate in the regions, which includes the aforementioned desert as well as snowy mountaintops.
18 Avoid: BR-116 - Brazil
Most of this road is paved, not all of it goes through mountainous terrain, but it is an incredibly busy highway, particularly for truckers, with tempestuous weather conditions. According to Dangerous Roads, the Sao Paulo-Curitiba stretch of the highway is the most dangerous; this section is only partially paved and clings to sheer mountain sides. All of these conditions create dangerous driving conditions, but it is also the site of human trafficking in large numbers.
17 Worth the Risk: Stelvio Pass - Italy
Forty-eight hairpin turns make up the concrete snake that is the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps, near the Swiss border. The low barriers of that snake will not do much to protect cars from a steep tumble down the side of a mountain. And that tumble would be steep: overall, the pass hikes up 9,000 feet of alpine largesse, according to Insider. According to Dangerous Roads, it clocks in as one of the highest mountainous roads in Italy, as well as in all of Europe. In addition to its hair-raising turns, this pass – known as Passo dello Stelvio in Italian and Stilfser Joch in German – gets incredibly narrow in some spots (Dangerous Roads). If you can brave the turns, the Stelvio Pass offers some incredible view of the Alps.
16 Worth the Risk: Carretera de Sa Calobra - Spain
Carretera de Sa Calobra, or the less pleasant on the tongue MA-2141, is a 13 kilometer (nearly 9 mile) mountain road on the Spanish island of Majorca. Also considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world by Dangerous Roads, this highway is as scenic on the ground as it is whimsical from an aerial view. According to Dangerous Roads, when viewed from above, Sa Calobra Road looks like a long, curly noodle was tossed onto the side of some mountains. The road includes over 800 turns, including a 360-degree turn that loops under itself.
15 Worth the Risk: Guoliang Tunnel Road - China
Before the Guoliang Tunnel Road was constructed, the Chinese town of Guoliang was isolated in the mountains, according to Interesting Engineering. This now-famous road is a feat of engineering as well as chutzpah: thirteen villagers carved out the tunnel by hand over five years, finishing in 1977 (Dangerous Roads). The road today provides a scenic view of the Taihang Mountains of Henan Province, but requires precise and focused driving to navigate safely. At only 12 feet wide and 15 feet high, the tunnel can only realistically handle one-way traffic (Dangerous Roads). Large SUVs need not apply.
14 Worth the Risk: Karakoram Highway - China to Pakistan
This international highway that winds and wends its way from Islamabad, Pakistan, up to China was once a part of the Silk Road system, although the modern road was constructed in the 1970s, according to Matador Network. The road stretches 1,300 kilometers (over 800 miles) through mountains and more mountains, and soars to heights of 15,000 feet above sea level in some places, according to Wander Wisdom. The highway is beleaguered by a long list of land and weather hazards. If you can make the trek, you will find wonders like thousands of petroglyphs carved into rock faces outside the town of Chilas that are up to 3,000 years old (Matador Network).
13 Worth the Risk: Bealach na Bà - Scotland
Bealach na Bà, which translates to "pass of cattle" is a single-lane road that winds its way through the Scottish Highlands, sometimes at a gradient of 20 percent (Dangerous Roads). The Scottish government specifies, according to Scotland Info, that learner drivers and large vehicles shouldn't attempt this journey, although they say nothing about those from the USA, for whom driving on the correct side of the road wouldn't be an issue here, at least. This road can be especially dangerous at heightened speeds and in wintry conditions, but it is always dangerous if your driver gets too swept up in the scenery.
12 Worth the Risk: Apache Trail - Arizona
Starting in Phoenix, this rugged drive has had a long life first as a trail forged through the Superstition Mountains by Apache American Indians, then a stagecoach road, and later a highway (Roadtrippers). Though difficult and with abundant tough turns, the Apache Trail is well worth the trip for the scenic drive as well as the many historical sites and natural wonders to stop at along the route. On the drive through the Superstition Mountains, according to Roadtrippers, the road passes by or through Goldfield Ghost Town, Canyon Lake, Lost Dutchman State Park, the Tonto National Monument, and the Tonto National Forest.
11 Worth the Risk: A537, AKA The Widowmaker, Or The Cat And The Fiddle - United Kingdom
This road of many nicknames earned the moniker "the Widowmaker" for a reason. The A537 which cuts through the Peak District of Northern England, was named the most dangerous road in the United Kingdom in 2010 by the Road Safety Foundation, according to the Insider, for the number of tragic collisions recorded there. According to the Road Safety Foundation, this motorway is most dangerous for motorcyclists. The road is popular with tourists, especially because of the beauty of the famed Peak District, but it is one to be driven with caution.
10 Worth the Risk: Col du Chaussy - France
This stretch is short and scenic, but an incredible challenge as a driver or cyclist. According to Dangerous Roads, the 3 kilometers of asphalt ascends a cliff with a series of incredibly tight turns that quite literally look like bobby pins placed back to back. This famous stretch is called the Lacets de Montvernier ("the hairpins of Montvernier"). This drive is dangerous not only because of the driving prowess it requires, but also because of the extreme stress it can put on a car's brakes (Dangerous Roads). Make sure your brakes are in excellent working order before attempting the Col du Chaussy!
9 Avoid: Old Yungas Road - Bolivia
The Old Yungas Road is known colloquially as "the Death Road" and is also considered one of the most dangerous in the world, according to Thrillist. The road hugs the sides of green-carpeted mountains above sheer drops to the valleys below. According to the blog Trans-Americas Journey, the primarily dirt road is well-kept, but that is one of few positives for a road with no barriers that takes blind corners around mountainsides and occasionally traverses through cascades (Trans-Americas Journey).
8 Avoid: Sichuan-Tibet Highway - China
This route from Chengdu in the Sichuan Province of China to Lhasa in Tibet is a regular route for long-distance truckers, according to Dangerous Roads; but that doesn't mean it is a hospitable road for even small vehicles. For travelers unaccustomed to the altitude of the Hengduan Mountains, ear aches and altitude sickness await. This rural highway is also notoriously ill-maintained, according to Wander Wisdom, and is regularly beset by landslides, avalanches, and experiences mud that threatens to trap vehicles – efforts to pull those cars free also risk toppling over the edge. No thank you.
7 Avoid: Highway to Hell - Alabama
Alabama Highway 431 is considered one of the most dangerous in the world. The highway starts in Kentucky, cuts through Tennessee, and then travels down along much of the eastern border of Alabama, according to Alabama.com. This highway is considered one of the deadliest worldwide, according to Interesting Engineering, because of the number of fatalities recorded along its tarmac. It does pass through countryside and some mountainous regions, but this highway is a utilitarian one. According to Alabama.com, the problems with 431 are design-related: accidents are often related to sudden reduction of lane numbers, high speeds, and bad visibility.
6 Avoid: Siberian Road to Yakutsk - Russia
This byway, also called the Kolyma Highway, is known colloquially as "the Road of Bones." According to Dangerous Roads, it earned its nickname because of the Stalinist program that forced gulag prisoners to build the road and resulted in a high number of fatalities. It is still incredibly treacherous today. It stretches from Yakutsk in Russia to Magadan in Siberia. This region is incredibly cold. Yakutsk is built on permafrost. According to Wander Wisdom, the unpaved Road of Bones is more passable in the winter because the frozen ground is so hard, if slippery. In the summer, however, the melt and frequent rain creates thick beds of mud that, according to Dangerous Roads, brings traffic to a standstill as cars and even large trucks sink deep into the muck.
5 Avoid: Bayburt Of Yolu-D915 - Turkey
Dangerous Roads considers Turkey's D915 one of the most difficult roads in the world to travel. Like most of the roads on this list, the D915 cuts through perilous mountain passes between the town of Of and Bayburt. Dangerous Roads warns of vertigo, altitude sickness, and frequent landslides. The road itself is also in terrible condition. According to Dangerous Roads, there are sections of roads so narrow that your vehicle's wheels may "hang above the precipice." In other words, calling this highway scary is an incredible understatement.
4 Avoid: Commonwealth Ave - Philippines
Unlike most of the other roads on this list, Commonwealth Avenue is not rural, or cross extreme, or treacherous terrain. It's a fairly normal multilane highway in Quezon City, Philippines. Like many other roads on this list, this "Killer Highway" is the site of a large number of annual fatalities. According to Dangerous Roads, this highway ranges from 6 to 18 lanes across in different areas, and traffic laws are poorly enforced, to say the least. Commonwealth Ave is dangerous for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike.
3 Avoid: Nanga Parbat Pass - Pakistan
This road has a delightful nickname – Fairy Meadows Road – but it is no delight to travel. This road breaks off from the Karakoram Highway and goes to Tato village. Fairy Meadows, known locally as Joot, is a beautiful open grassland at Nanga Parbat, according to Atlas Obscura. The Nanga Parbat Pass road, however, is a narrow, rocky, and inconsistent. Travelers looking to make it to the Fairy Meadows have to hike or cycle the end of the journey because the path gets so narrow. Because of the high altitude and the perilous journey that the pass poses, it is not a road to embark on lightly.
2 Avoid: James Dalton Highway - Alaska
The James Dalton Highway in Alaska is consistently listed as one of the most dangerous in the world because of Alaska's extreme weather and because of how isolated the road is, according to Dangerous Roads. This 414-mile stretch of dirt and gravel road starts in Livengood and ends at Deadhorse at Prudhoe Bay, according to Alaska.org. And how many towns are there along the route? Three very small ones. For half of this route there is no gas, food, or lodging, according to Alaska.org. Without sufficient supplies, running out of gas seems highly likely; and no one wants to get stranded in the Alaska cold without another person for hundreds of miles.
1 Forbidden: Skippers Canyon Road - New Zealand
Skippers Canyon Road is forbidden for driving for most drivers: a special permit is required to drive on this road, according to Interesting Engineering. This road was built in the nineteenth century and has not changed much, according to Dangerous Roads. The road has some steep drops, no guardrails, and is occasionally crowded with sheep and other livestock. Dangerous Roads calls it an "exhilaratingly treacherous" road. Regardless of the danger – the New Zealand Herald reported that it was the third most dangerous in the world – the site is a popular tourist site. If you do want to try to drive it yourself, you will have to submit your request to the government far in advance.
References: Dangerous Roads; Matador Network; The Insider; Thrillist; New Zealand Herald