The world’s dangerous roads, as many as they are, are plagued by poor design and unsafe speed limits. However, few have such perilous conditions that have sent drivers sliding across icy or slippery lanes or even plummeting to their deaths. From narrow cliff face paths to icy highways and storm-pummelled bridges, the world’s dangerous road are one too many and range from a dangerous road in Bolivia and India to China and all the way to Alaska. While some are carved into mountainsides at high altitudes, others are so close to the ocean that they’re in danger of being washed away. So much so that some of them even have the word “death” in their monikers.
Despite their life-threatening terrains, these roads still attract drivers who want to try their hand at these treacherous inclines. In fact, they even see tourists who want to experience the gorgeous scenery. While driving along these hair-raising benders isn’t what we’d advise, we do urge you to explore your wanderlust. So, test your bravery and read about these 15 most dangerous roads in the world, and decide whether you’d drive along with them!
Table of contents
- Karakoram Highway, Pakistan to China
- Tianmen Mountain 99-Bend Road, China
- James Dalton Highway, Alaska
- Guoliang Tunnel Road, China
- Zoji La, India
- North Yungas Road, Bolivia
- Killar to Pangi Road via Kishtwar, India
- Jalalabad to Kabul, Afghanistan
- Skippers Canyon, New Zealand
- Croatia’s Coast Road
- The A537/Cat and Fiddle Road, England
- Los Caracoles Pass, Chile
- Stelvio Pass, Italy
- Atlantic Road, Norway
- Kolyma and Lena Highways, Russia
Karakoram Highway, Pakistan to China
The 800-mile Karakoram Highway between Pakistan and China has long been considered the most dangerous road in the world. Sitting at an elevation of more than 15,000 feet, the road is plagued by a terrifying ensemble of natural disasters, avalanches, floods, falling rocks, and landslides. Having first built in 1959, some even call the highway the world’s eighth wonder if you can call it that. Construction ran from 1966 to 1979, with the road opening to the public in 1986. But, since then, there have been frequent fatalities, with landslides hitting vehicles and buses tumbling into gorges. In fact, close to 1,000 workers were killed when the highway was being constructed.
In some places, this highway follows what was the original iconic Silk Road. It begins in Hasan Abdal in Pakistan’s Punjab province through to the Khunjerab Pass in Gilgit-Baltistan. Interestingly, the highway also meanders through the Hunza Valley, the setting of Lost Horizon by James Hilton. Ironically, the novel is about the legendary Shangri-La, a harmonious haven where people have lived for centuries.
Tianmen Mountain 99-Bend Road, China
It’s no surprise that the country that brought us high-in-the-sky wooden walkways and one of the World’s Most Thrilling Skywalks also brings us a hair-raising road full of hairpin turns. Hailed as one of the World’s Most Scenic Drives, the 7-mile-long Tiamen Mountain Road is one of the world’s most dangerous roads. Located in the heart of Tianmen Mountain National Park in central China, the road features 99 death-defying hairpin turns. But, that’s not it – they’re constructed almost 4,000 feet in the air! The road leads to “Heaven’s Gate” on Tianmen Mountain, considered a gateway to heaven. So, you literally drive along the Road to Heaven if that assuages you! Sheer drops and hairpin turns aside, the road turns particularly treacherous in bad weather, with possibilities of earthquakes. All in all, this highway in the sky leading to heaven, literally, is dangerous to bits.
If you have the time, join this Private Tour of Tianmen Mountain, Sky Walk, And Glass Bridge that takes you to all the attractions on Zhangjiajie Mountain.
James Dalton Highway, Alaska
Traversing an eerie distance of 666 km (414 mi), the epic James Dalton Pass in Alaska is one of the world’s most isolated and dangerous routes. Also known as the North Slope Hall Road, the road begins at Elliott Highway and ends near the Arctic Ocean at Deadhorse. Truck drivers mainly use it for traveling to and from the northern Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields. In fact, the route is what supports the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Poor visibility, rugged terrain, and harsh elements due to Alaska’s extreme weather conditions are what make this road so treacherous. To add to that, large portions aren’t paved either, leading to the road becoming slippery and icy mid-winter. If that wasn’t enough, the surrounding tundra is also prone to lots of avalanches.
So much so that there aren’t any medical facilities, restaurants, or even gas stations anywhere on the route. Plus, it passes by just three towns. That’s why the government advises drivers and truckers to bring plenty of supplies and survival and safety gear. It’s no wonder that this road has been featured on multiple television shows, including Ice Road Truckers and World’s Most Dangerous Roads on the BBC.
Guoliang Tunnel Road, China
Intrepid travelers who’re keen on visiting one of the world’s remotest villages will have to traverse the treacherous Guoliang Tunnel. Carbed into a rocky mountain face in Henan, China, the 1.2 km-long (0.75 mi) tunnel leads to the isolated but utterly picturesque Guoliang village. In fact, before the tunnel was built, this village was virtually unreachable. When the Chinese government refused to build a road, 13 villages chiseled this path in the Taihang Mountains way back in the 1970s. The route can barely see two cars pass each other and measures just 3.5 meters in length and 5.4 meters in height. However, what makes it so dangerous is that no one knows how structurally sound the road is. So, rockfalls and trenches are commonplace. Moreover, the lack of lights and guardrails and the presence of sheer cliff drops make it especially dangerous.
The road is even worse when the weather is terrible, with mudslides, slipper conditions, and extreme fog blocking visibility. Despite its obvious danger, the area is very popular with tourists. In fact, locals now call it “the road that doesn’t tolerate mistakes!”
Zoji La, India
The perilous 9 km-long (5.6 mi) Zoji La connects the towns of Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir and Leh in Ladakh. “La” translates to “pass” in Tibetan, Ladakhi, and other Himalayan languages. During winter, this dangerous road of India is often closed since the heavy snowfall forms thick walls of ice on both sides of the road. However, even in normal weather conditions, the narrow dirt path is dangerous. That’s because it doesn’t have any traffic signs or protective barriers, even at 12,000 feet! What’s more, this dangerous road sees a lot of truck traffic. Since it’s the only road in India connecting the Kashmir valley with the Suru, Dras, and Indus valleys, it’s an important one too.
Like many of the most dangerous roads in the world, Zoji Pass is narrow, unpaved, zigzags like crazy, and is thus extremely vulnerable to landslides and avalanches. It’s no wonder that this is considered the most dangerous road of India! Mercifully, it’s not very long, as compared to the other roads on this list. In fact, this epic Leh Ladakh Bike Trip begins from Srinagar and onto Kargil via Zoji La.
North Yungas Road, Bolivia
Are you a fan of narrow roads and great heights? With no guardrails and measuring just 3.5 meters wide, North Yungas Road is often called the ” world’s most dangerous highway.” Set more than 15,000 high up in Bolivia’s Cordillera Oriental Mountain Range, it’s also the most dangerous road in Bolivia. It connects the capital La Paz and Corico and is one treacherous 80 km (50 mi) journey that’s narrow and foggy. What’s more, when the weather is wet, the route is prone to rockfalls and landslides. It’s also dubbed the “death road,” as almost 200-300 people lose their lives every year here. If that wasn’t enough, the route has more than 200 hairpin bends. One wrong turn and you land straight into the Amazon rainforest below!
Fortunately, the road’s worst part has become a two-lane paved road, making it slightly easier for vehicular traffic. Furthermore, it was also paved in certain areas, and guardrails were added in many places. Despite all safety additions, this road should still be traversed with a lot of caution.
Killar to Pangi Road via Kishtwar, India
The “killer” road from the village of Killar to Pangi Valley in Himachal Pradesh, India, takes the cake when it comes to the world’s dangerous road. The 70mile (113 km) stretch through northern India’s mountainous region of Kishtwar has some of the steepest cliffs on this list – almost 8,200 feet! Its unstable terrain and rocky overhangs are what make it the most dangerous road of India. Since local villagers built it hundreds of years ago, its structural stability has often been questioned. What’s more, it has no barriers or guardrails and is completely unpaved! If that wasn’t enough, it’s only wide enough for a single vehicle to pass.
In fact, the road is so dangerous that it’s open only in summer. During winter, mudslides, avalanches, and poor visibility make the terrain even worse. Due to its perils, it’s sought out by only extreme adrenaline or intrepid riders or drivers.
Jalalabad to Kabul, Afghanistan
Afghanistan has always been a contentious place, and the road between Jalalabad and one of the World’s Highest Capital Cities, Kabul, only adds to the danger. This 65 km (40 mi) highway justifies the “danger;” it snakes across the Taliban territory. However, the danger on this road has little to do with the insurgency actually. There are two reasons why this highway is so dangerous. Firstly, it’s a highly twisting and narrow road at an altitude of 2,000 feet. Secondly, Afghan drivers recklessly overtake fully loaded haulage trucks on hairpin bends at death-defying speeds. They often collide with an oncoming vehicle around a blind turn or lose control over the vehicle. In fact, the death toll along this road is so high that the locals have lost count.
Of course, what adds to the danger is that this highway is also plagued by Taliban-led kidnappings and suicide bombings – a peril that drivers have almost come to accept as a part of life. It’s what has given the road and the surrounding area the moniker of “The Valley of Death.”
Skippers Canyon, New Zealand
In the heart of southern New Zealand’s gorgeous Otago region sits the dangerously unpaved road of Skippers Canyon. Nestled right alongside the Shotover River, this unsafe road became popular during the country’s Gold Rush era. Since the Otago region was a popular gold-mining area with no access, the miners then constructed the Skippers Canyon’s original track. Unpaved and narrow with steep cliffs and no guardrails, it’s not hard to see why this road is considered dangerous! In fact, it took seven years to construct the original road. Even today, many of the original perilous sections remain just as they were. So, if you wanted to look for gold on the mountain slopes, then you had to travel along with 16.5 mile-long (26.5 km) road.
Even today, the road takes your breath away – pun intended! If you’re keen on exploring the region, then this Half-Day 4WD Tour of Skippers Canyon is ideal for you.
Croatia’s Coast Road
Driving along the Adriatic coastal roads of Croatia is not for the faint-hearted. The road begins in Rijeka all the way up north to Dubrovnik at the other end of the country. Experienced drivers might find the two-lane highway with narrow, curved roads thrilling. But, they don’t have safety barriers or a shoulder and have lots of sharp turns and blind corners clinging to the cliffside. In fact, most of the road, especially the one between Crikvenica and Zadar, is positioned right at the cliff edges! What also makes the road is dangerous is because Croats are a fast-driving lot. If that wasn’t enough, the road conditions are such with rocks on one side and the lashing sea on the other. Plus, it’s a two-lane road for almost its entire length.
The A537/Cat and Fiddle Road, England
Imagine calling a picturesque country road in England’s Peak District one of the most dangerous roads in the world! The beautiful but lethal A537 between Macclesfield in Cheshire and Buxton in Derbyshire is called the ‘Widowmaker!’ It might be known locally as the Cat and Fiddle Road, but widowmaker is more apt because this tiny village road saw more than 34 accidents in two years. In fact, it’s dubbed the most dangerous route in the United Kingdom. Most of these casualties involved speeding motorcyclists enjoying the vast open space and the bucolic scenes and speeding around its treacherous bends. What makes matters worse is that the road is edged by steep embankments and stone walls, which add to the danger.
Los Caracoles Pass, Chile
Running between Argentina and Chile, Loa Caracoles Pass is one particularly hazardous road. Located 4,000 feet high in the Andean mountains, it’s also called Paso de Los Libertadores or Ruta del Caracol. The road has 20 tight hairpin bends, especially on the Chilean side. It’s also the road’s most scenic part and is what’s actually called Los Caracoles (the snails) and is terribly steep. What also adds to the danger is that heavy lorries travel along the dizzying and steep curves. Adding to the danger is the fact that this road doesn’t have any safety barriers, even at its highest elevation. If that wasn’t enough, the area is entirely secluded and is blocked by snow during winter. This Andean pass has 29 slow turns and requires your complete concentration and focus – and has humbled many egos.
Stelvio Pass, Italy
Looking at a photo of Stelvio Pass in Italy, it’s easy to assume that the photo is morphed because the perspective is all wrong. But that’s what makes the road so dangerous! Resembling a child’s random scribble, Stelvio Pass has more hairpins than there are pins on Helena Bonham Carter’s head! Nestled in the heart of the Italian Alps, it’s the Eastern Alps’ highest paved mountain pass and the Alps’ second highest. It lies at an elevation of just over 9,000 feet and has more than 60 death-defying hairpin turns. What’s more, nothing is sitting between your vehicle and the steep death drop but a low concrete barrier. If that wasn’t enough, this terrifying route goes on for more than 2 km!
However, all this comes at a price – the pass is one of the busiest roads in the world. So, don’t underestimate the zig-zag nature of the road, strap in your seatbelt, and rack up on your patience – and don’t look down!
Atlantic Road, Norway
Named one of the World’s Best Highways, the gorgeous Atlantic Road in Norway is undoubtedly breathtakingly beautiful. However, there’s a certain portion of the road that’ll have even the bravest of drivers with their hearts in their mouths. A particular 8 km stretch (5.2 miles) of the road between Utheim on Averøy and the mainland is nothing but a series of bridges in the sky. However, the hair-raising bit is when the road approaches HustadvikaIt, where it rises by almost 300 meters at an angle that’s clearly not meant for driving. So much so that you can’t see over the horizon until you actually arrive at it! During winters, it’s hazardous as not only do storms hit it, but there are also chances of you flying off and pummelling straight into the sea.
One of the most dangerous ways of sleeping with the fishes – literally – driving along the Atlanterhavsveien (as it’s called in Norwegian) is one activity for the bucket list.
Kolyma and Lena Highways, Russia
The top spot for the world’s dangerous road goes not to a dangerous road in Bolivia or India, but a lesser-known but deathly road in one of the coldest regions in the world. Nicknamed the “Road of Bones,” the Kolyma and Lena Highways from Magadan to Never (on the Russia-China border) are two highways with the same dangers. Think low visibility, mudslides, ice, unpaved roads, and extreme weather. Spanning more than 3,000 km (1900 miles), the highways are joined by the Lena River Ice Road, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s basically a road of ice that’s open in the winter, with everyone hoping that it’s frozen enough to drive on!
Sadly, that’s what makes this highway so dangerous, with dozens losing their lives each year with their vehicles falling through the ice. During winter, while the ice is frozen enough, the visibility is low. However, during summers, it becomes a horrible quagmire, leading to miles-long traffic jams. Oh, and to tell you one very interesting snippet, Lena River also happens to be one of the Longest Rivers In The World!