“Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all,” wrote the author Helen Keller. Indeed, nothing sharpens our appreciation of being alive more than the threat of annihilation. The following 20 roads are unbelievably dangerous; indeed, one small mistake can prove fatal. Only drivers with the strongest nerves and stomachs, not to mention a love of adrenaline, need embark.
20. James W. Dalton Highway, USA
Just three lonely villages punctuate the 414-mile-long James W. Dalton Highway in Alaska. Less than 40 people live along the route, and beyond them you’ll find no gas stations and no motels. Almost nothing but the bleak embrace of Arctic landscapes. Because it was built to service the Prudhoe Bay Oilfield, this largely unpaved highway is most of all plied by big rigs. Yes, they are some of the only vehicles solid enough to survive the ferocious sub-zero gales and savage potholes.
19. Camino de las Yungas, Bolivia
Dubbed the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” by the Inter-American Development Bank in 1995, the notorious Camino de las Yungas in Bolivia (also known as the “Death Road”) once claimed an estimated 300 lives per year – an average of almost one per day. While this route’s condition was significantly improved in 2006, its sheer drops of 2,000 feet continue to draw tourists keen to test their nerves.
18. Zoji La, India
At a head-spinning altitude of 11,575 feet, Zoji La is a high-altitude pass connecting Ladakh and Kashmir in Western Himalaya. Buffeted by high winds and snow, the unpaved one-lane road runs for 5.6 miles and skirts jaw-dropping chasms. All along the way, brave travelers will be rewarded with astounding views of the surrounding mountain peaks. Yet because of the precarious conditions, it is often entirely impassable in winter.
17. Stelvio Pass, Italy
Legendary racing driver Stirling Moss went over the edge at Stelvio Pass in the 1990s, proving that even the most seasoned hands can be undone by this treacherous Italian road. Named the “Greatest Driving Road in the World” by Top Gear, it is the second highest paved mountain pass in the Alps and boasts some 75 hairpin turns.
16. Fairy Meadows Road, Pakistan
This ten-mile-long gravel track in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region is said to be entirely unmaintained and intensely unstable. Naturally, Fairy Meadows Road – built by villagers from the Nanga Parbat Mountain – has no barriers to slow falls over its edge. Oh, and only its first section can be crossed with a motor vehicle. The rest must be completed on bike or by foot.
15. Furka Pass, Switzerland
Switzerland’s Furka Pass challenges drivers with steep gradients and multiple hairpin turns. What’s more, it was immortalized as the location for a high-speed car chase in the James Bond film Goldfinger. And while mists and blizzards add extra peril to this Alpine route, it remains a popular destination owing to its stunning views of the mountains. Plus, thankfully, and in the best Swiss tradition of efficiency, it is kept well-paved.
14. Col du Chaussy, France
Climbing to a dizzying height of 5,030 feet, Col du Chaussy is a hair-raising mountain pass connecting the remote village of Montvernier with the Maurienne Valley in the Rhône-Alpes region of southwest France. The road was included in the 2015 Tour de France route and is home to the famous “Hairpins of Montvernier” – 17 hairpin turns distributed over a single 1.5-mile section. That’s one roughly every 480 feet.
13. Skippers Canyon Road, New Zealand
Skippers Canyon Road in New Zealand is so precarious that local car rental companies refuse to insure drivers who use it. Carved into a sheer cliff face by mining companies in the late 19th century, the 16.5-mile highway is built on exceptionally soft and slippery rock that warps with rain and pressure. Nonetheless, the route is a major tourist attraction.
12. Dadès Gorge Road, Morocco
Also known as the “Road of a Thousand Kasbahs” for its profusion of Berber-built fortresses, the Dadès Gorge Road in Morocco plies a perilous route between the Atlas and Anti-Atlas mountain ranges. Drive this route at your own risk. Running for 100 miles with multiple hairpin turns, sheer drops and few barriers, it is stunningly beautiful but reportedly in appalling condition.
11. Sichuan-Tibet Highway, China
Wrecked vehicles are a common sight on the 1,330-mile-long mountain highway linking Chengdu in Sichuan with Lhasa in Tibet. The road careens through no less than 99 nerve-wracking switchbacks on a single 24-mile stretch. Add the threat of landslides, avalanches, ice, snow, mud and kidnappers, and this singularly hazardous stretch of road must remain the strict preserve of the most hardcore adventurers.
10. Shafer Canyon Road, USA
Shafer Canyon in eastern Utah was the location for that iconic scene in Thelma and Louise where the heroines drive off the edge of a cliff together. Originally built by uranium miners in the mid-20th century, the 18-mile dirt road known as Shafer Canyon Road zigzags up a steep cliff face to bask in some of the country’s most photogenic landscapes. Mind you, it still looks pretty darn precarious.
9. Rohtang Pass, India
The name “Rohtang” means “a pile of corpses,” a reference to the many poor travelers who lost their lives trying to cross this deadly pass. The Himalayan road is actually an ancient trade route connecting the humid Kullu Valley with the arid Lahaul and Spiti Valleys, and it has a long and infamous reputation for blizzards and landslides.
8. Trollstigen Mountain Road, Norway
The Trollstigen in Norway skirts Europe’s steepest mountain, the Trollveggen (“Troll Wall”), with a multitude of sharp turns. Inaugurated in 1936 by King Haakon VII, the 66-mile road took eight years to build. This route – whose name translates to “Trolls’ Path” – passes through a dramatic landscape of jagged mountains, cascading waterfalls and mysterious fjords. And because of the threat of adverse weather conditions, the Trollstigen is closed through late fall and winter.
7. Strada delle 52 Gallerie
Thanks to a string of fatal accidents, cars and bicycles are officially banned from Italy’s Strada delle 52 Gallerie, but locals often ignore the rules and drive on it anyway. Built amid the rocky spires of the Pasubio massif, the four-mile-long road served as a military mule trail during the First World War. It also boasts no less than 52 tunnels, some of them little more than 7 feet wide.
6. Paso Internacional los Libertadores, Chile
Prior to 1980, this highway in the Andes Mountains had more than 65 switchbacks in a single six-mile stretch, but that number was significantly reduced with the construction of a tunnel. Nevertheless, Paso Internacional los Libertadores continues to boast some 20 hairpin turns, frequent ice and snow and, due to its location on Chile and Argentina’s international border, high volumes of traffic.
5. Guoliang Tunnel, China
Known locally as “the road that does not tolerate mistakes,” Guoliang Tunnel in China’s Taihang Mountains induces the dual terrors of vertigo and claustrophobia. It was actually carved out of the mountainside by local villagers using simple hand tools. As a result, the 0.75-mile tunnel is just 13 feet wide and 16 feet high. Meanwhile, its walls are punctured with 30 windows overlooking the vertiginous drop below.
4. Jacob’s Ladder, Australia
Snaking up the slope of Ben Lomond Mountain in Tasmania, Jacob’s Ladder is a single-lane gravel track that reaches its apex at a giddy 5,150 feet. It also boasts some of the world’s most infamous hairpin bends and offers staggering views over the surrounding range. However, given the sheer drop and slip-prone surfaces, it may be safest to keep your eyes on the road.
3. Passage du Gois, France
The briny waters of the Atlantic Ocean cover the Passage du Gois for all but a few hours each day. Hence, low tide signals a mad rush to cross the passage – a 2.5-mile road connecting the island of Noirmoutier with the French mainland. Nevertheless, many visitors still get wet. And in 1999 its seaweed-strewn surface caused a major crash in the Tour de France.
2. The Moki Dugway, USA
Utah’s Moki Dugway is a steep, winding, unpaved dirt track that climbs 1,200 feet up a sheer cliff face of Cedar Mesa. Built by Texas Zinc to transport uranium ore, the road is frequently closed thanks to damage caused by inclement weather. It’s actually named after the Pueblo Indians whose ruins lie scattered around the landscape, and it offers stunning and expansive – not to say nerve-jangling – views.
1. Tianmen Shan Road, China
An astonishing 99 hairpin bends punctuate the 6.8-mile road to the summit of Tianmen Mountain in China’s Hunan province. Yet while the route is known as the “Avenue To Heaven,” this is because the rock archway at the summit is considered a mythical threshold to the divine – not because drivers meet their end here. Interestingly, the road took eight years to complete and is complemented by the world’s longest mountain cableway.