Do you consider yourself a skilled driver? Could you handle a highway full of hairpin bends? Or a road carved into the side of a mountain? Or perhaps an icy road on an avalanche-prone pass? Or a road built so close to the ocean that huge waves wash vehicles away in a storm? Attempting some of the scariest roads in the world is not for the faint-hearted. Let’s have a look at 14 roads that are some of the riskiest in the world to travel. Proceed with caution!
1. Zoji La Pass (India)
First up is the scariest road I’ve been on in my life. The Zoji La Pass connects the towns of Leh and Srinagar in the western Himalayas. The road is generally closed in winter, when 50-foot snowdrifts and thick walls of ice make it impassable. The pass is vulnerable to avalanches and landslides, leaving motorists stranded at high elevations. Even in the warmer months, this narrow dirt road is frightening; with no safety barriers, leaving drivers to risk plummeting 11,500 feet to the valley floor below. This is a place where it is probably best not to look down!
I’m not sure what the scariest aspect of the route was for me; perhaps it was the narrow, crumbling, single lane, dirt road zigzag among steep and craggy peaks, with thousands of feet of nothingness between me and the ground below; or perhaps it was that we were driving it in the middle of the night! We’d left Leh much later than planned, having just finished several weeks climbing in the nearby mountains, and were heading into Kashmir, on the Pakistan border, for some “rest and recuperation.” Mercifully, the Zoji Pass is only about 6 miles long, but in the dark, those 3 hours seemed the longest of my life!
2. The Killar To Pangi Road (India)
Staying in India, this next road is right up there with my scariest driving experiences. The fact that I was squashed into the front seat of a dilapidated local bus, with a slightly deranged looking man at the wheel didn’t help. The hair-raising, unpaved, steep, muddy, and isolated road had been built by local villagers hundreds of years ago and not repaired for decades. This is a road for people with nerves of steel, or those who have no idea what they’re heading into!
The road is only open during the summer months, and of its 70-mile length, a 6-mile stretch in the middle is particularly hazardous, with rocky overhangs that look as though they could fall onto the road at any moment and crush you. Only wide enough for one vehicle at a time, and with no guard rails, the road is terrifyingly unstable in places. Passing an oncoming vehicle is fraught with danger, and one false move by either driver can send a vehicle plummeting 2,000 feet down a vertical cliff face. When I plucked up the courage to glance over the edge, I saw several vehicles lying in shattered heaps far below.
3. Karakoram Highway (Pakistan To China)
Staying in Asia, let’s visit the Karakoram Highway, which at 16,000 feet is the highest paved road in the world. The road covers more than 800 miles and, in some parts, follows the old Silk Road. Cutting through the most mountainous region in the world, the Karakoram Highway is full of hazards; rock falls, landslides, avalanches, flooding, heavy snow, reckless drivers, herds of stray animals, precipitous cliffs, and terrible storms.
Construction on the Karakoram Highway began in the ‘60s, and close to 900 workers died while constructing the road. Though a popular tourist destination now, the highway sees frequent fatalities. At over 18,000 feet and with no barriers, many drivers have had accidents after suffering from altitude sickness.
4. Guoliang Tunnel Road (China)
China’s Guoliang Tunnel was hand chiseled, by 13 local villagers, through the sides of the steep Taihang Mountain. It took 5 years to complete the 4,000-foot tunnel, and at 12 feet wide and 16 feet high, it’s only just big enough to be driven through. Though the area has become a popular destination, the tunnel still lacks barriers and street lights, so drivers enter at their own risk. Thirty “windows” give daring drivers a peak at the sheer drop below, but I wouldn’t recommend stopping for a selfie! Locals call it “the road that does not tolerate mistakes.”
5. Taroko Gorge Road (Taiwan)
Similar to the Guoliang Tunnel Road, Taroko Gorge Road is carved through a mountain. This popular 12-mile stretch of road is spectacular, so expect a parade of tour buses, cars, scooters, bicyclists, and pedestrians all sharing the same narrow road whilst trying to navigate blind corners and bends that almost look too tight and terrifying to attempt. Prone to landslides, floods, and falling rocks, if you find yourself on Taroko Gorge Road, you’d better hope for good weather!
6. 99-Bend Road To Heaven (China)
Located in Tianmen Mountain National Park in central China, the 6.8-mile-long 99-Bend Road to Heaven features, you guessed it, 99 death-defying hairpin turns. This is definitely one of the most spectacular roads in the world, but if you’re the driver, don’t take your eyes off the road, even for a moment! In bad weather, with the ever-looming possibility of an earthquake, this road can be treacherous.
7. James Dalton Highway (Alaska)
Leaving Asia behind, let’s move to the Americas and start with the Dalton Highway in Alaska. Even the drivers behind the wheel in Ice Road Truckers have a healthy respect for the slippery conditions of this road, which stretches 400 miles through remote forests, tundras, and over the Yukon River. Drivers on the Dalton Highway are advised to bring their own survival gear and plenty of supplies. With only three towns along the route, there are no medical facilities along the entire road and, what makes this drive extra scary, is the 240-mile stretch with no gas station, restaurant, hotel, or services — the longest stretch of road in North America without roadside services of any kind. Much of the road is gravel, making it difficult to drive, even in good weather conditions, and in the winter, the road becomes slippery and icy.
8. North Yungas Road, Or “The Road of Death” (Bolivia)
Bolivia’s “Death Road,” considered the world’s most dangerous road, and it doesn’t get its name for nothing! This single lane, dirt road, connecting La Paz to Coroico, clings precariously to the side of the Cordillera Oriental Mountains. A distracted or unlucky driver who goes over the edge here, will plummet anywhere from 4,000 to 15,000 feet to the ground below. Every year some 300 drivers and cyclists perish on this road.
Built by Paraguayan prisoners in the 1930s, the road, most of which is no wider than 12 feet, descends 11,800 feet in just 40 miles, and drivers have to deal with constant fog, heavy rain, loose rocks, limited visibility, sheer drops, and over 200 hairpin turns whilst descending into the Amazon Rainforest below. That doesn’t stop thrill-seeking tourists from traveling (and even bicycling) the infamous route, which is one of Bolivia’s most popular attractions.
9. Skippers Canyon Road (Queenstown, New Zealand)
This unpaved road was carved out of the side of a mountain in New Zealand 140 years ago. Today, it’s still considered so dangerous you have to apply for a special permit to drive it. Rental companies won’t allow their vehicles on it, and standard drivers’ insurance won’t cover you should you run into trouble. The narrow road drops vertically to the Shotover River and, if you meet an oncoming vehicle, you’ll likely need to reverse up to 2 miles before finding a passing point. The miners who built it, in the late 19th century, had only hand drills and gunpowder at their disposal, and it took them years to complete this gorgeous but frightening road.
Whilst you may not be able to drive this road yourself, local tour operators can take visitors up the canyon, and don’t be surprised if it looks familiar, the road was a backdrop for Mission: Impossible Fallout and several Lord of the Rings films.
10. Canning Stock Route (Western Australian Outback)
The Canning Stock Route doesn’t offer much in the way of views: just dust, dust, and more dust, and barely a road sign to point you in the right direction. This 1,150-mile track in western Australia is regarded as the world’s most remote road, and you’ll need 3 weeks to drive it from start to finish. Doing the trip in the summer months is almost impossible, due to searing temperatures. Drivers are advised to travel in convoy and to carry plenty of food, water, and spare parts.
11. Stelvio Pass (Italy)
Europe has its share of scary roads too. Let’s look at one or two, starting with the Stelvio Pass in northern Italy. At an elevation of 9,045 feet, this spectacular road, which is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps, has 40 hairpin turns on the Lombard side, and 48 more on the South Tyrol side. Viewed from below, the road looks like a giant strand of spaghetti draped across the mountains. Don’t let the stunning Alpine views distract you though, only a low concrete barrier separates you from a rather steep drop.
12. Atlantic Road (Averøy, Norway)
The Atlantic Road runs through a small group of scenic islands in Norway. This twisting ribbon of coastal concrete might look beautiful, but don’t be fooled, it’s one of Norway’s most dangerous roads. Driving along it, you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster, with all the sharp twists and turns, and when the weather’s bad, which it often is in this part of the world, visibility disappears in a matter of seconds. On a stormy day, gusts of wind and huge waves crash over the barricades and onto unsuspecting cars.
13. Kolyma Highway (Russia)
The Kolyma Highway runs through Russia’s Far East, and it’s the most remote of all the highways in the country. The predominantly unpaved road is extremely dangerous in winter, with heavy snow, slippery ice, and limited visibility. The area itself is incredibly inhospitable, with Oymyakon, the coldest city on earth, only 60 miles away.
Kolyma is also known as the “Road of Bones,” because the skeletons of the forced laborers, who died during construction, were used in much of its foundations.
14. Tizi N’Test Pass (Morocco)
Last, but not least, on my list of world’s scariest roads is the Tizi N’Test Pass in Morocco, a narrow, winding road through the Atlas Mountains. Blasted out of rock in the 1920s, the steep drops mean its best avoided if you suffer from vertigo, and the local drivers tend to whiz along at frightening speeds, ignoring all road rules. With no safety barriers, this road should only be attempted in daylight, and during the winter, landslides and avalanches occur on an almost daily basis. On the upside, if you’re brave enough to drive it, you’ll enjoy beautiful views.
There you have my take on some of the world’s scariest roads. I hope someday you’ll try a few of them for yourself, and if you already have or think I’ve left some out, then do let me know.
If these roads pique your interest, check out our road trip coverage: