Photo by Flickr user Michael Fernando Jauregui Schiffelmann
Dare to journey down the rabbit hole of danger and uncanny thrill as we navigate the path less traveled. Bear witness to winding snake-like trails perched on cliff edges, icy arteries cutting through desolate landscapes, and suffocatingly narrow pathways. These are not your everyday commutes; they are highways to hell that test the nerve and resilience of even the most experienced drivers.
1. Yungas Road, Bolivia
Infamously known as the “Death Road,” this path – carved into the side of the Cordillera Oriental mountain range by Paraguayan prisoners during the Chaco War in the 1930s – is notorious for its hazardous conditions, which include fog, landslides, cascades and precarious cliffs that drop a daunting 2,000 feet at every turn. The road is narrow, at times barely 10 feet wide and with no guardrails. Up to the mid-1990s, it saw nearly 300 fatalities every year, justifying its ominous moniker. Despite attempts at modernization and the opening of a bypass in 2006, the road still claims lives, making it a significant risk for drivers. Hence, even as it morphs into a destination for thrill-seeking cyclists, Yungas Road retains its standing as one of the most perilous routes on the planet.
2. Kabul–Jalalabad Road, Afghanistan
Heading to the Middle East, the Kabul–Jalalabad Road in Afghanistan is considered one of the most dangerous in the world due to its many traffic accidents. The road runs through a narrow mountainous path with sharp turns and high cliffs, often alongside a deep valley of the Kabul River. Also known as National Highway 08 (NH08), the road is about 94 miles long and travels upwards from an elevation of 1,886 feet in Jalalabad to 5,872 feet in Kabul.
3. Zoji La Pass, India
At an elevation of 11,601 feet above sea level, this high mountain pass offers a unique blend of stunning views and heart-stopping moments. Zoji La Pass is often blanketed in dense jungles and snow-covered summits, creating an unforgettable but risky experience. The road to the summit, known as the Srinagar-Leh Highway or National Highway 1D, is mostly unpaved, yet navigable by most passenger vehicles in good weather. However, its narrowness and sharp mountain edges make maneuvering particularly challenging for cars and heavy vehicles. The conditions worsen in winter when the area is subjected to high winds and heavy snowfall, leading to the pass being closed for most of the season. The road’s 119 mile length further adds to the difficulty and risk associated with the journey.
4. Guoliang Tunnel Road, China
Perched in the cliffs of the Taihang Mountains in China, the Guoliang Tunnel Road is renowned for its hazardous positioning and laborious construction, earning it the distinction of being one of the most treacherous roads in the world. This daring marvel, hand-chiseled by local villagers in the early 1970s, unfurls over .78 miles and is 16 feet tall and 13 feet wide, essentially serving as the sole artery linking the village of Guoliang to the external world. It’s the product of relentless toil and sheer perseverance, with the most challenging phase witnessing a progression of merely one meter every three days. Over 30 “windows” of varying sizes and shapes were initially intended for rubble removal but now serving as conduits for light.
5. Skippers Canyon Road, New Zealand
Skippers Canyon Road in New Zealand is characterized by its narrowness and sheer drops of over a thousand feet, making it an undeniably challenging route to navigate. It was laboriously hand-carved into the cliffside by miners in the late 1800s and retains much of its original character, amplifying its risk factor. Remarkably, the road is largely one-way and does not offer much room for vehicles to pass each other. In addition to its inhospitable structure, the road’s lack of guardrails exacerbates the already dire risk of falling off the edge. Skippers Canyon Road has a reputation so notorious that car rental companies won’t cover insurance for drivers daring enough to tackle it.
6. James Dalton Highway, Alaska
The James Dalton Highway in Alaska, known locally as The Dalton Highway, is recognized as one of the most dangerous roads on the globe due to its perilous conditions and remoteness. The 414-mile route is infamous for its icy circumstances, isolated location, and unpaved portions, making it one of the most secluded highways in the U.S., and the northernmost in Alaska. Travelers on this treacherous route only have access to three towns along the way, which implies merely three gas stations, while the nearest medical facilities are located in Fairbanks and Deadhorse, at the extreme ends of the road. Its fame for danger is well-known, having been featured on the reality TV show “Ice Road Truckers” and the BBC’s “World’s Most Dangerous Roads.” With limited amenities and services, it requires excellent preparation and the need to always travel with survival gear in case of emergencies.
7. Atlantic Ocean Road, Norway
The Atlantic Ocean Road in Norway, known in Norwegian as Atlanterhavsveien, is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous roads in the world due to a combination of its construction and environmental factors. At a length of only 5 miles, this seemingly innocuous section of County Road 64 connects an archipelago in Hustadvika and Averøy municipalities, featuring dramatic twists, brutal dips, and dizzying turns. Positioned just above the often raging waters of the North Atlantic, the road is exposed to harsh sea waves that frequently crash onto the tarmac during storms, rendering it a perilous path. Besides the Atlantic’s wrath, the road, which resembles a rollercoaster more than a thoroughfare, is defined by eight bridges which connect various islands. These bridges, combined with the road’s undulating trajectory, make for a journey that is thrilling, scenic, and simultaneously treacherous. Despite its precarious nature, it’s still considered an ultimate ride, offering unparalleled adventure and stunning views of the surrounding landscapes.
8. Taroko Gorge Road, Taiwan
Taroko Gorge Road, meandering through the heart of Taiwan’s majestic Taroko Gorge, is an engineering marvel carved from mountainous rocks, yet it poses significant risks to those daring enough to traverse its length. Its narrow and winding paths can barely accommodate one bus at a time, and often, pedestrians, scooters, cars and massive tour buses vie for this tight space. The terrain’s susceptibility to earthquakes and typhoons, frequent causes of landslides and road blockages, further accentuates the perilous nature of this highway. Additionally, blind curves, sharp turns, and occasional low visibility make driving a hair-raising experience, especially with the looming possibility of encountering another vehicle around a bend. The precarious balance between the road’s scenic beauty and inherent danger indeed marks Taroko Gorge Road as one of the world’s most frightening thoroughfares.
9. Canning Stock Route, Australia
Cutting a path through the vast deserts of Western Australia, the Canning Stock Route stretches a whopping 1,149 miles, making it the longest historic stock route in the world – notable for traversing the Gibson Desert, Little Sandy Desert, and the Great Sandy Desert, among other challenging terrains. The Canning Stock Route’s dangerous reputation is underscored by its lack of basic services and emergency support. Those who embark on this journey must be prepared with enough food, water, spare parts, and at least basic mechanical knowledge to fix a faulty vehicle. The absence of towns or reliable surface water sources along the route further compounds the risks involved, making careful planning a must for survival.
As the dust settles, these roads stand not merely as threats, but as awe-inspiring landmarks of human resilience. Buckle up and drive safe, for the world is full of roads less traveled, waiting to tell their spine-tingling tales.