Imagine driving down a scenic road in some exotic, far-flung locale when around the bend the railing disappears, the road narrows to practically a trail, and thousands of feet below — if you squint — you can see the skeletal remains of cars long lost. Yes, sometimes the road less taken is less taken for a reason. And in the case of these 12, it’s because they may very well kill you.
Old Yungas Road
We’d rather hitchhike the Highway to Hell than take our chances on Old Yungas Rd (aka: “The Death Road”), considered the most dangerous in the world. The 40-mile stretch linking La Paz to Coroico hugs cliffs that overlook a sprawling canyon and features so many sharp turns that you’d think drivers would putter along at 10mph rather than take a chance. They don’t. More than 200 people a year fall to their death in trucks, cars, and public buses.
Just like Old Yungas Road, the 155-mile Karnali Hwy in the Himalayas of West Nepal is a death wish (approximately 50 people die there a year). The dirt road’s surface is so bad that even cyclists who flock there for the stunning views are often like, “maybe not today.” And as you can imagine, vehicles that attempt to drive the road tend to slide on patches of dirt, choke on steep climbs, and generally get f*cked up from one too many potholes.
Considered one of the most scenic road trips in Europe, the Atlantic Rd has its dark moments. The five-mile highway links islands between Kristansund and Molde, boasts eight bridges, and has an infamous stretch along the ocean that gets battered by massive waves and fierce winds during storms. Conditions get crazy enough that you’ll wish you stayed in Oslo.
Vitim River Bridge
You’d think Vitim River Bridge would be called “VICTIM River Bridge,” considering its reputation as one of the scariest roads in the world. But lucky enough, there have been NO reported fatalities on the road. Which seems strange until you realize just how few people dare to drive here. The answer is… not many. The super-old structure is barely wide enough for a standard car and there are no railings — just iced over decaying wood (it is Siberia, after all) that could collapse at any moment.
Guoliang Tunnel Road
The literal English translation for the mile-long Guoliang Tunnel Rd is “Road that tolerates no mistakes.” Built by 13 local villagers in the Taihang Mountains (many of whom died during construction), the chiseled mountain tunnel measures only 15ft high by 12ft wide but rocks insane views of the Chinese landscape through 30 “windows” that were cut out of the cliff. Not only is it one of the steepest roads in the world, but it’s become one of the area’s top tourist attractions to be visited… on foot.
James Dalton Highway
If we’ve learned anything from Ice Road Truckers on the History Channel, it’s that the roads in Alaska suck. And the most infamous sucky road is the James Dalton Hwy, a 414-mile passage between the Arctic Sea oil fields and civilization. Winter is unfortunately peak season for drivers, and high winds and icy conditions turn the road into a Slip’N Slide for truckers.
This road isn’t high in mountains, bridged low over water, or even riddled with sharp turns. In fact, it’s just a normal 7.5-mile urban highway, and a wide one at that with up to 18 lanes. But to locals, its known as “Killer Highway” due to the high number of casualties and fatalities — thousands of deaths per year actually — that result from the heavy volume of traffic. A poor drainage system (which leads to heavy flooding during storms), hundreds of motorbikes — that tour buses can’t see — and even pedestrians walking nearby help contribute to the number crazy number of accidents.
Federal Highway 1
This road is straight up loco. Spanning 1,000 miles along the Baja Peninsula, and heavily used by freight trucks transporting goods to remote towns and villages, the road snakes through the mountains and along cliffs. It’s a heart stopper on its own, but what’s even scarier: drivers don’t need to pass a driving test in six Mexican states, meaning you could possibly be sharing that road with texting-addicted amateurs.
Nanga Parbat Pass
The road conditions on the 10-mile Nanga Parbat Pass (aka Fairy Meadows Rd) is a recipe for death: high altitude (10,000ft above sea level, so bring your chlorophyll tablets) combined with unstable, graveled roads combined with narrow passages all mean that you’re in for a wild ride. Oh yeah, there are no guardrails. And a steep, six-mile ascent. And did we mention it’s all gravel?
Rodovia de Morte is known as the highway of Death to Brazilians and not because the 2,700-mile stretch is in poor condition. In fact, it’s acceptable. Poorly maintained, but acceptable. What makes this road dangerous is the unstable weather and some steep cliffs that cause major accidents. Still, that’s not even what makes it super dangerous. No, what takes it to the next level is the fact that the road extends through some of the sketchiest, most poverty-stricken parts of the country. And gangs/bandits are stationed in several spots along the busy route. Detour please?
At 9,045ft up in the Alps, the Stelvio Pass is one of the most scenic drives in the world — the views are immense and insane. But appreciating those vistas may cost you; the 180-degree corners are dangerous, the concrete barriers low, and winter brings icy roads and slick conditions. One wrong move could send you over the cliffs.
Located in “the Valley of Death,” this notorious road is highly trafficked by the Taliban and attacks are de rigueur — so don’t expect an easy, breezy drive. Even still, the narrow mountain passes that always seem to be full of oversized freight trucks are just as frightening.