These Breathtaking Roads Are Not for the Faint of Heart

By Allyson ChenLast Updated Apr 25, 2020 7:01:56 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: Ludovico Alcorta/Wikimedia Commons

Humans have been creating and maintaining roadways since the dawn of civilization. Over time, some of these pathways have devolved into unpaved, overgrown areas of wilderness. Others continue to display the strength of human ingenuity by defying nature...or even gravity!

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But one thing all of these roads have in common is that traveling on them makes hearts pound and palms sweat. These dangerous, gorgeous and unreal roadways are not for the faint of heart, though they may be tempting for risk-takers and adventurers. Join us for a journey along the world's most breathtaking routes.

Guoliang Tunnel Road - China

Texting while driving is a considerable hazard. But, for travelers plodding along the Guoliang Tunnel Road, driving itself is a hazard. This stretch of road is carved into the side of the Taihang Mountains in China. It’s only about three-quarters of a mile long, but don't let its length fool you.

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Photo Courtesy: FANG Chen/Wikimedia Commons

At only about 13 feet wide and 16 feet tall, the tunnel’s size necessitates extreme care from drivers in vehicles of any size. Oversized trucks must wait their turn or risk causing huge backups, and some are even forced to turn around thanks to the tunnel's low ceiling — they quite literally can’t fit through.

North Yungas Road/Death Road - Bolivia

There are a few routes around the globe that compete for the macabre title of "Deadliest Road in the World," but North Yungas Road in Bolivia is one of the top contenders. Also known as "Death Road," this path climbs upward nearly a mile before dropping down steeply for a little over two miles.

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These elevations wouldn't be so intense, except that much of the road is carved into cliffsides and cars dangle precipitously off the edges as they snake along some sections. Also, a great deal of North Yungas Road is still unpaved, leading to dangerous landslides and flooding during periods of heavy rain.

Sichuan-Tibet Highway - China

The Sichuan-Tibet Highway is one of the few well-traveled roads connecting China and Tibet. At about 1,300 miles from end to end it's one of the longer routes on this list, but it's definitely a manageable distance — at least it would be if it weren’t so dangerous. In terms of breathtaking views, heart-stopping cliffside drops and chilly mountain breezes, there's hardly any road that compares.

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Still, travelers should be wise about choosing when they'd like to tackle this road; it becomes a muddy, virtually non-existent mess during the rainy season. Landslides and rockslides can ruin this journey, though strangers and fellow travelers can be even more dangerous when they’re broken down or desperate to hijack someone.

Vitim River Bridge - Siberia

Siberia's beauty largely comes from its forests, its tundra and its vibrant communities. And some of its beautiful features are its most dangerous. The Vitim is an ice-cold river that joins the Lena River and bisects the eastern areas of Russia. Thanks to its width, strength and temperature, travelers have long feared crossing it. Still, in the 1980s, a wooden train bridge was built across it to help facilitate commerce.

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This bridge continues to stand today, and it looks like something out of a woodsman's nightmare. Because Siberia experiences some of the coldest temperatures in the world, the Vitim River Bridge often ices over. The result is a death-defying ride over rickety wood and ice.

Fairy Meadows Way - Pakistan

The name "Fairy Meadows Way" conjures up an image of a quiet suburban street or a green, well-lit English garden. Most people wouldn't think about a gray, stone-ridden pathway through a craggy mountain in Pakistan when they hear "Fairy Meadows Way," but they should.

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This pathway is often considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world thanks to its steep inclines, lack of guardrails and constantly falling boulders. Visitors can only experience this route by hiring a local Jeep convoy. They then get to enjoy 10 miles of nonstop fear. Fun!

Stelvio Pass - Italy

One of the most dangerous aspects of a mountainside road is the inevitable section of switchbacks. Most rural roads are unpaved and easily destroyed by heavy wind and rain. Stelvio Pass is the longest paved mountaintop road in the world, so it has a little extra stability going for it, but it's still one of the most dangerous thanks to its head-spinning curves.

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At almost 30 miles in length, this zig-zagging roadway can give even the most hardened driver or passengers a case of carsickness. And travelers who decide to speed through the twists and turns can quickly find themselves tumbling down gravelly hillsides. Patience is a great driving tool if you absolutely must traverse this road.

Luxor-al-Hurghada Road - Egypt

Driving through Egypt is a great way to test anyone's patience and endurance. Throughout most of the country, driving rules and regulations are pretty lax, and Western drivers may struggle to navigate the roadways safely. This is especially true of the 188-mile-long Luxor-al-Hurghada Road.

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While drivers can easily traverse the long sprint of road within a few hours if they’re alert, they can quickly become depressed or sleepy thanks to the heat and lack of nearby civilization. Driving down this road has been described as "dangerously monotonous," and many collisions occur here every year.

Trans-Siberian Highway - Russia

Even though the Trans-Siberian Highway is almost 7,000 miles long, it's only the third-longest road in the world. Still, thanks to plenty of remote areas, inclement weather and degraded infrastructure, this highway can be one of the most difficult to travel.

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While parts of the Trans-Siberian Highway are well-paved, a great deal of it is simply dirt pathways. Depending on the time of year, these dirt sections can become impassable, soggy mud traps that swallow vehicles and halt all traffic for weeks at a time. And because much of this route passes through uninhabited tundra and wilderness, help is scarce.

Zoji La Pass - India

This mountainous pathway sits over 11,000 feet above sea level. The combination of falling rocks, unpaved roadways and reduced oxygen makes Zoji La Pass one of the most terrifying and potentially deadly paths in the world. Though it's only about 16 miles long, it typically takes motorists hours to wind their way along the bumpy trail.

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The majority of the Zoji La Pass is so narrow that cars cannot pass each other. Still, this road is an important connection between Kashmir and Ladakh, which is why it's in near-constant use despite the treacherous conditions.

Engineer Pass - Colorado

The narrow, pebbly lanes that make up Engineer Pass in Colorado are a dream for both off-road enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies. Only the smallest, hardiest and best-equipped vehicles can safely navigate the pathway into the San Juan mountains.

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Engineer Pass has been used by pioneers, travelers and tourists since the late 1880s, making it one of the oldest roads in Colorado. Those brave enough to traverse it can explore ghost towns, condemned mines and other reminders of early American expansion and homesteading life along the way. Sadly, rain can make this tricky pathway completely impassable, and its steep drops make nighttime travel impossible.

Taroko Gorge Road - Taiwan

Gorges, mountains and canyons have always posed problems for roadbuilders and travelers. Consequently, the roads built in these types of environments tend to be old, hand-carved, potentially dangerous — and strikingly gorgeous. The single-lane Taroko Gorge Road might not pose the same problems as many mountainside pathways, but because it's at a lower elevation, it does suffer from frequent flooding.

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Landslides are another common issue for this area, as are seasonal typhoons. And with blind corners, sharp turns and rock walls all around, speedsters aren't welcome here. Buses tend to bounce along at a slow pace, though oncoming traffic can spell trouble.

Tianmen Mountain Road/99 Bends - China

Speaking of hairpin turns, also known as switchbacks, Tianmen Mountain Road in China may have the sharpest and most dizzying turns of any road in the world. It’s also known as "99 Bends" because it has about 100 unique turns and twists.

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Though there are guardrails along most of this road, they're not quite tall or strong enough to keep large or speedy vehicles from zooming right off the side of the mountain. And this 7-mile-long road starts at about 4,300 feet above sea level and plummets to about 650 ft. That's a lot of ear popping.

BR-116/Highway of Death - Brazil

Brazil's BR-116 roadway, also known as the Highway of Death, is one of the longest and most beautiful routes in the world. It also happens to be one of the most dangerous. At 2,700 miles in length, here, travelers can experience much of Brazil's natural beauty while riding along on paved, fairly wide asphalt highways.

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However, passengers who decide to travel along the Highway of Death can also expect to experience endless potholes, possible hijackings and the absence of rest areas. This stretch of highway is also known for frequent kidnappings perpetrated by criminals involved in the child sex slave industry. Travelers, beware.

Alaska Route 11/James W. Dalton Highway - Alaska

The James W. Dalton Highway is just over 400 miles long, though depending on the conditions, it may as well be a million miles. This gravel and dirt roadway winds across some of the most desolate and wild areas of Alaska, and it's often buried beneath snow and ice. The resulting driving conditions are less than safe during much of the year.

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Most people who want to get to Prudhoe Bay avoid this highway, especially because about half of it is entirely devoid of gas stations, restaurants or any sign of human civilization. Still, travelers with plenty of fuel, survival equipment, supplies and mixtapes may want to give this lonesome highway a chance.

National Highway 08/Kabul-Jalalabad Road - Afghanistan

This rocky road isn't nearly as delicious as the ice cream, and it's far more dangerous. Kabul-Jalalabad Road follows along a perilously deep gorge and winds up the side, snaking into some truly dangerous areas. While the gray sands can cause visibility issues and falling rocks pose endless hazards, the greatest danger on this road is people.

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Peddlers and street salesmen are the friendly folks that travelers can expect to encounter, but members of the Taliban are just as likely. When you add sharp turns and reckless drivers to the mix, you end up with a deadly asphalt-laden cocktail.

Sa Calobra Road - Mallorca

This gorgeous route’s name translates to "The Snake" and is located on the picturesque island of Mallorca off the coast of Spain. The Mediterranean vibe of the island only accentuates its natural charm, and visitors can quickly find themselves enjoying the warm sunshine and sea breezes as they bound down Sa Calobra Road.

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Still, this road can be dangerous for lead-footed drivers, as the sudden turns and looping twists necessitate slow, careful navigation. Anyone can take their time along this roadway and enjoy the magnificent views. Just watch out for other speedy motorists!

The Atlantic Ocean Road/Atlanterhavsveien - Norway

The Atlantic Ocean Road in Norway is one of the most gorgeous yet dangerous roadways in the world. Its curved design is reminiscent of a dragon's tail or roller coaster, and while it may not breathe fire or complete a full corkscrew turn, this road does pose a bit of a threat to drivers.

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Though it curves elegantly into the air before dipping down and out of sight, high-powered winds and waves still batter passing drivers, causing many to swerve dangerously into the wrong lane. Others lose total visibility thanks to aggressive sea spray and angry ocean swells.

Eshima Ohashi Bridge - Japan

Steep drops and rises can make any motorist's palms begin to sweat. Not only are sharp inclines hard on a vehicle's engine, but they can also put gravity to the test. Then, sudden declines can cause brakes to squeal and lock, making steering nearly impossible. The Eshima Ohashi in Japan features both.

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Looking more like a vertical line drawn of concrete than a bridge, this fantastic engineering marvel is certain to make any traveler's stomach do a few hops and skips. Drivers with a fear of heights may be better off taking a different route.

Patiopoulo-Perdikaki Road - Greece

Patiopoulo-Perdikaki Road in Greece may be a mouthful to say, but it's far more than a tongue-twister. This mountainous pathway isn't recommended for tourists, as there are hundreds of steep drop-offs, missing guardrails and sandy, unpaved switchbacks.

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Locals may feel more capable of handling this road, but that doesn't mean that just anybody can deal with the rough conditions. It takes a sturdy vehicle and a robust driver to take on the ridiculous inclines and turns this gorgeous route presents. Even bicyclists have reported that portions of the roadway are exceptionally thin and difficult to manage.

Cotopaxi Volcano Road - Ecuador

Ecuador is home to some outrageously beautiful locales, and it's a shame that many of the roads found in this South American nation aren't built to last. Travelers looking to visit Ecuador's Cotopaxi Volcano Park must first brave a bumpy, pothole-ridden, poorly maintained pathway that extends about 25 miles.

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This road snakes right off of the Pan-American Highway, which is convenient for adrenaline-seeking motorists. Still, thanks to active eruptions, avalanches, icy conditions and constant erosion, drivers must use all of their focus to avoid fatal pitfalls and unexpected disasters. But, the views are amazing!

Skippers Canyon Road - New Zealand

Skippers Canyon Road is a combination of sensory experiences. The road itself is mostly gravel and dirt, and it meanders above and through Skippers Canyon like a delicate bit of thread. Most motorists avoid it thanks to the sheer cliff drops and the absence of safety railings.

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To make matters even more precarious, some parts of the pathway feature death-defying drops. Rental car companies refuse to uphold insurance for those who decide to brave this dirt road, and understandably so. Oncoming traffic can result in miles of reversing along treacherous cliffs.

Moki Dugway - Utah

Many of the planet's most dangerous and breathtakingly beautiful trails and roads happen to be carved into mountain faces. The Moki Dugway in Utah is one such path, and while it's a mere 3 miles long, it's also incredibly difficult to drive on. Not only is the Moki Dugway unpaved, but it's also ridiculously steep.

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This road begins at about 12,000 feet above sea level and ends in a deep valley. To do this, the engineers behind this roadway had to create carefully graded hairpin turns that barely allow vehicles to safely maneuver.

Pan-American Highway - Chile to Alaska

The Pan-American Highway is the longest road in the world, even though there are short sections that require passage via boat. Still, this highway stretches all the way from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Puerto Montt, Chile. Thrillseekers looking to take on this ultimate driving challenge may be eager to tackle this highway, but there are several potential dangers.

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Travelers must travel through 14 countries to complete the entire Pan-American Highway, and some countries may not be incredibly welcoming to tourists. In addition, certain stretches are controlled by rival criminal organizations, and kidnappings aren't unheard of.

Passage du Gois - France

Some roads are more magical than malicious. The Passage du Gois in France is one example. On the surface, it's just a stone-paved pathway leading to the small island of Noirmoutier. But when the tides roll in, that stony surface disappears beneath a dark and salty sea.

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Thanks to the tides, the Passage du Gois disappears twice a day before slowly re-emerging from its watery depths. While this is certain to frustrate untimely tourists, it's undoubtedly an excellent way for the residents of Noirmoutier to limit off-hours visitations and guests. Natural moat, anyone?

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route/Roof of Japan - Japan

This roadway is known as the "Roof of Japan" thanks to its high elevation and consistent snowfall. It traverses Mt. Tateyama and Mt. Akazawa-dake and is closed during the winter. However, when it reopens in April, massive walls of snow greet arriving tourists.

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The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is an engineering marvel that can make any traveler feel like they're truly visiting the top of the world. Thanks to strict guidelines and travel laws, this is one of the safest icy routes in the world, though accidents do occasionally happen. A melting snow wall is no one's friend, but it sure is breathtaking.

R504 Kolyma Highway/The Road of Bones - Russia

When you come across a route called the "Road of Bones," you know things are about to get seriously spooky. At just over 1,200 miles in length, this Russian roadway is a massive graveyard. It was built almost entirely by prisoners, back when Russia was the U.S.S.R. and Stalin reigned.

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When imprisoned people dropped dead of malnutrition, hypothermia or exhaustion, their bodies were buried in the haphazard roadway. Today, it's estimated that there may be hundreds of thousands of unclaimed corpses beneath the muddy mortar. Drive at your own risk.

Highway 1/Overseas Highway - Florida

Florida is home to some of the longest and most beautiful bridges in the world. The southern section of Highway 1, also known as The Overseas Highway, is essentially an incredibly long and flat series of bridges that connect Miami to the Florida Keys. Ranging from a two-lane road to a four-lane highway, this stretch of asphalt is fairly safe.

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Still, thanks to its tropical location, this stretch of highway sees consistent, blinding rain and wind. Unexpecting motorists can quickly find themselves trapped above deep and troubled waters as traffic slows to a crawl during a thunderstorm — and don’t even think about it during a hurricane.

Killar-Kishtwar Road - India

Only the most hardened travelers can handle Killar-Kishtwar Road in India. With drops of several thousand feet, no guardrails and over 100 miles of unpaved path, this remote, mountainous route is not for the faint of heart. In addition to the danger of falling or running out of fuel, there are also gigantic boulders tumbling down periodically.

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Oh, and landslides. And mudslides. And because the path often slims down to only a few feet in width, there's also a good chance that even the most skilled motorist can take a slightly bad turn and tumble down into the valley below.

Montana State Highway 2 - Montana

People might assume that high-traffic areas are the most dangerous, and while this is sometimes true, it's often the remote and quiet stretches of road that yield disasters. When drivers get complacent or overly confident on a rural two-lane road, the universe tends to step in to correct that behavior.

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While Highway 2 is strangely beautiful, it's also deadly. Linking Butte and Three Forks, this route navigates 63 miles of breathtaking Montana wilderness. Thanks to low traffic, many drivers disobey posted speed limits and quickly find themselves faced with blind turns that prove fatal. Drive, safely folks!

Old Hindustan Tibet Road - India to Tibet

India has some of the oldest roads in the world. These pathways were built by pilgrims, farmers and traders over several centuries and are sometimes impassable by vehicles. And while the Old Hindustan Tibet Road was built in the late 1800s, it shares many features with some of India's oldest roadways and can, therefore, be quite dangerous.

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At over 12,000 feet above sea level, it's one of the most breathtaking paths in India, and like many other rural routes, it's almost wholly unpaved. This road is a fantastic option for spiritual travelers, though, featuring several temples and shrines along the way.