Kelley graduated from Fresno State with a degree in journalism. He has been an online writer for over 13 years.
Many People Die on These Deadly Highways
This list includes some of the most dangerous roads in the world. Videos are provided for each road, many of which show travel over some of the roughest terrain on the planet. So, if you don’t get frightened easily, fasten your seatbelt and take a virtual ride. And if you’ve actually traveled on any of these awesome avenues, please let the author know.
Now let’s begin the countdown!
15. Skippers Canyon Road (New Zealand)
Location: New Zealand
Length: 16.5 miles (26.5 kilometers)
Maximum Elevation: Unknown
Dangers: Unpaved, no guardrails, narrow, steep cliffs
When Skippers Canyon became a popular gold-mining area, the need for safer access to it increased. (Yes, while the road is still dangerous today (claiming hundreds of lives every year), it is far safer than the miners' original track.) It took seven years to carve this gorgeous and frightening road out of the cliff face. It was completed in 1890, and many sections of the road remain the same today as they were then.
Today, the road is frequented mostly by tour buses and adventure companies (pity their drivers!).
14. Butcher of the Extreme (France)
The author doesn’t know exactly where this road is located; nevertheless, it must be one of the most dangerous roads in existence. Of course, there are many other logging roads throughout the world, many of which are not paved, while others are little more than animal trails. At any rate, if traveling on this road is any indication of what this work entails, then the men and women driving logging trucks deserve pay for hazardous work—that’s for certain!
Read More from WanderWisdom
13. Cotahuasi Canyon Road
Location: Southern Peru
Maximum Depth of the Canyon: 3,525 meters or 11,595 feet
The Cotahuasi Canyon Road begins on the Pan American Highway near the city of Arequipa. A bus drive on the road takes 10 to 12 hours. The road is unpaved beyond Chuquibamba, where it’s quite dangerous in places, so only four-wheel drive vehicles should be used on this bouncy and scary stretch of the road. At present, the road has not been overrun with tourists and it’s easy to find places to camp along this deadly highway.
Please note that Cotahuasi Canyon is the third deepest canyon in the world and, for reference, more than twice as deep as America’s Grand Canyon. The world’s deepest canyon—above sea level, please keep in mind—is the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon in Tibet; its depth is 6,009 meters or 19,714 feet.
12. Taroko Gorge Road (Taiwan)
Length: 11.8 miles (19 kilometers)
Maximum Elevation: Unknown
Dangers: Narrow, blind corners, rockfalls, landslides, flooding, earthquakes
Similar to the Guoliang Tunnel Road (number 4 on our list), Taroko Gorge Road is carved out of and through the mountains. Due to the spectacular beauty of its surroundings, the road is well frequented in spite of its fearsome reputation. This means a slew of tour buses, cars, scooters, bicyclists, and pedestrians are all vying for space on the same narrow road—a frightening prospect, considering the number of blind turns and extremely narrow bends in the road.
The road is also very hard to keep in good condition, as heavy rainfall and typhoons often cause landslides and rockslides that leave sections of the road impassable.
While many who have visited say that it is well worth the danger, this is not a road for the faint of heart!
11. Karakoram Highway (Pakistan to China)
Location: Pakistan and China
Length: 810 miles (1,300 kilometers)
Maximum Elevation: 15,466 feet (4,714 meters)
Danger: Landslides, falling rocks, floods, avalanches, cliffs, and more . . .
Built as high as 15,000 feet above sea level and under very rough conditions, Karakoram Highway is sometimes considered the Eighth Wonder of the World. Construction on the road began in 1966 and was completed in 1979, although it wasn’t open to the public until 1986.
This dangerous road covers more than 1,300 kilometers and, at least in some places, follows the old Silk Road. Cutting through the most mountainous region in the world, the Karakoram Highway is beset with hazards: rock falls, landslides, avalanches, flooding, snow drifts, reckless drivers, herds of animals, precipitous cliffs and terrible storms.
Interestingly, the road meanders through the Hunza Valley, the scene of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, a novel about the mythical Shangri-La, a harmonious place where people live for centuries.
10. Fairy Meadows Road, a.k.a. Nanga Parbat Pass (Pakistan)
Length: 10 miles (16 kilometers)
Elevation Gain: ~8,000 feet (~2,400 meters)
Starting from Karakoram Highway and leading to the village of Tato, this road may only be 10 miles long, but it is absolutely harrowing. It is narrow (approximately the width of a Jeep Wrangler), unpaved, and unmaintained, and instead of guardrails, there is a multi-thousand-meter drop to the valley below. The road also climbs nearly 8,000 feet in a short distance, meaning much of the drive is composed of frighteningly steep sections. While the Fairy Meadows that await those who make the drive (and complete the rest of the hike on foot) are unspeakably gorgeous, few are brave enough to make it there.
9. 99-Bend Road to Heaven (China)
Length: 6.8 miles (11 kilometers)
Maximum Elevation: 3,855 feet (1,175 meters)
Danger: Sheer drops, hairpin turns
It comes as no surprise that the country that brought us the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge and the rickety wooden walkways of Hua Shan also has its share of dangerous roads. Located in Tianmen Mountain National Park in central China, the 99-Bend Road to Heaven features—you guessed it—99 death-defying hairpin turns constructed hundreds of feet in the air. If you went off the road in such places, you’d surely die in a fiery crash.
In bad weather—with the ever-looming possibility of an earthquake—the road is incredibly treacherous. How many hapless folks must have died while constructing this highway in the sky?
The World's Curviest Roads (Most Hairpin Turns)
|Road||# of Hairpin Turns/Switchbacks||Elevation Gain*|
North Yungas Road, Bolivia
11,483 feet (3,500 meters)
Three Level Zigzag Road, Himalayas
9,050 feet (2,759 meters)
99-Bend Road, China
3,609 feet (1,100 meters)
Tsugaru Iwaki Skyline, Japan
2,323 feet (708 meters)
Los Caracoles, Chile
768 feet (234 meters)
Lacets de Montvernier, France
610 feet (186 meters)
8. Pan American Highway (Alaska to Chile)
Location: North, Central, and South America
Length: 30,000 mi (48,000 kilometers)
Maximum Elevation: 10,499 feet (3,200 meters)
Danger: Inclement weather, difficult terrain, cartels, wild animals
The Pan American Highway (PAH) is not entirely dangerous, that is, it’s probably no worse than your average American highway. But in some places, you risk your freedom and even your life by using the PAH as a means of travel. Certainly, a dangerous section of the PAH winds through Mexico and Central America, where drug cartel terrorists roam.
And in the Panamanian section of the road, you could encounter FARC rebels, who often take captives and hold them for ransom, sometimes for years, while others never escape their makeshift jungle prisons. Anyway, the PAH is 30,000 miles long and the only broken section of the road is the 60-mile Darién Gap, between Panama and Colombia, where the FARC are even worse. Let’s hope they never complete the highway through there!
7. Sichuan-Tibet Highway (China)
Location: China and Tibet
Length: 1,330 miles (2,140 kilometers)
Maximum Elevation: 15,420 feet (4,700 meters)
Dangers: Rockslides, mudslides, avalanches, hairpin turns, cliffs
This very long highway connects Chengdu in Sichuan with Lhasa in Tibet, through an area known as Kham. Continuously beset with rockslides and avalanches, the Sichuan-Tibet Highway is a treacherous, switchback-laden highway that winds among towering peaks, often causing vomit-spewing altitude sickness in travelers.
Along the way, numerous Buddhist monasteries, red-robed Buddhists and herds of yaks can be seen. The road was built between 1950 and 1954 and since then, many thousands of people have died while traveling on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway (a shocking 7,500 deaths for every 100,000 drivers).
6. James Dalton Highway (Alaska)
Length: 414 miles (666 kilometers)
Maximum Elevation: 4,739 feet (1,444 meters)
Dangers: Extreme weather, poor visibility, difficult terrain, steep grades, isolation, wildlife
Also known as the North Slope Hall Road, the James Dalton Highway is a road used by truckers, especially those who travel to and from the Prudhoe Bay oil fields on the north slope of Alaska. In fact, the road supports the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
The Highway is 414 miles long, paved in places, but about three-fourths of it is not. There are no medical facilities along the road, and only three towns exist along the way. It’s advised that anyone traveling the road should bring survival gear and plenty of supplies. Interestingly, the TV reality show, Ice Road Truckers, has many episodes dramatizing the rigors of traveling on this deadly, primitive road.
The Deadliest Roads in the USA
|Road||Deaths per Mile*|
I-4 (Tampa, FL to Daytona Beach, FL)
I-45 (Dallas, TX to Galveston, TX)
US 192 (Four Corners, FL to Indialantic, FL)
I-17 (Flagstaff, AZ to Phoenix, AZ)
I-95 (Miami, FL to Weston, MA)
I-10 (Santa Monica, CA to Jacksonville, FL)
US 175 (Dallas, TX to Jacksonville, TX)
I-37 (San Antonio, TX to Corpus Christi, TX)
US 290 (Junction, TX to Houston, TX)
I-78 (Union Township, PA to New York City)
5. Kolyma Highway and Lena Highway ("The Road of Bones")
Length: 1,914 miles (3,080 kilometers)
Maximum Elevation: Unknown
Dangers: Extreme weather, unpaved roads, ice, mud, low visibility
Travel through Siberia is always a challenge. Nicknamed the “Road of Bones,” this Siberian road from Magadan to Never meanders its way through one of the coldest regions in the world. It is a combination of two highways—the R504 Kolyma Highway and the A360 Lena Highway, both of which are subject to the same dangers (though the R504 is better maintained).
The highways are joined by the Lena River Ice Road, which is exactly what it sounds like: a "road" across the river that is open yearly from December through April, when the ice is frozen enough to drive on . . . or so one hopes. Sadly, dozens lose their lives each year when their vehicles fall through the ice.
The preferred time to travel on the road is winter, when the ground and water are frozen, making travel somewhat easier (though you still have heavy snow, ice, and extremely low visibility to contend with). But during July and August, when it tends to rain a lot, the road becomes a monstrous quagmire, leading to traffic jams miles long. Only the most rugged 4X4 vehicles can manage this muddy beast. To make matters even worse, people get so bored during these traffic jams that they’ve been known to rob each other to pass the time!
4. Guoliang Tunnel Road (China)
Length: 0.75 miles (1.2 kilometers)
Maximum Elevation: 2,000 feet (600 meters)
Dangers: sheer cliffs, no guardrails, extreme fog, rockfalls, mud
When the Chinese government decided it wasn’t worth the trouble and expense to make a road that would be used by only 300 villagers, 13 of those villagers decided to build a 0.8-mile tunnel through the solid rock of a vertical cliff. Located in the Taihang Mountains in the province of Henan, the villagers used explosives to blow their way through this vertiginous cliff. Lacking road-building experience, some villagers died in accidents.
The tunnel is 15 feet high and 12 feet wide, barely wide enough for two cars. Taking five years to build, the road was opened to traffic in 1977. Beware: This road is particularly dangerous when it rains!
Interestingly, at least two other cliff-tunnel roads have been constructed in this area of China.
3. Zoji La Pass (India)
Length: 5.6 miles (9 kilometers)
Maximum Elevation: 11,575 feet (3,528 meters)
Dangers: Extreme weather, no guardrails, steep cliffs, narrow, unpaved
Just about any road that winds through the highest mountain range in the world would probably be at least somewhat dangerous to travel. The Zoji Pass certainly qualifies in this regard, since it’s a dirt road with no guardrails or traffic signs and where landslides are a continual problem. Moreover, the road zigzags among craggy peaks at over 11,000 feet at its highest elevation.
Connecting the towns of Srinagar and Leh in the western Himalayan mountain range (Indian Kashmir), Zoji Pass is generally closed during the winter, when 50-foot snowdrifts make it impassable. Mercifully for drivers on the road, Zoji Pass is only about 9 kilometers long. By the way, it was originally built in 1947 and first used for military purposes.
2. North Yungas Road ("The Road of Death")
Length: 49.7 miles (80 kilometers)
Maximum Elevation: 15,256 feet (4,650 meters)
Dangers: landslides, rockfalls, fog, cliffs, narrow, no guardrails
If you don't want to travel on a road nicknamed “The Road of Death,” stay away from this one! Leading from La Paz to Coroico, the Road of Death is almost 50 miles of one-lane road, featuring vertical drops of as much as 3,000 feet into the Amazon rainforest below. Astonishingly, the road has over 200 hairpin turns.
Up until 1994, nearly 300 travelers died on the road every year. Numerous makeshift memorials can be seen in places where hapless folks have plunged over precipices and gone crashing down into the jungle ravines below. Fortunately, the worst part of the road has now been bypassed by a two-lane paved road, so vehicle traffic on the road has diminished. But cyclists still challenge the Road of Death, some dying in the process. Incidentally, the South Yungas Road to Cochabamba is considered almost as dangerous.
1. Killar to Pangi Road, via Kishtwar (India)
Length: 70.8 miles (114 kilometers)
Maximum Elevation: 8,280 feet (2,524 meters)
Dangers: Steep cliffs, no guardrails, unpaved, mud, isolation
This hair-raising road is only for people who love to drive in the mountains and have nerves of steel. Open only during the summer months, this rocky, gravelly road is about 70 miles long. A six-mile stretch of it is particularly hazardous; rocky overhangs look as if they could fall upon the roadway at any moment. The road was built hundreds of years ago by local villagers and has not been repaired over the decades.
Only wide enough for one jeep at a time and having no guardrails, this dirt-and-gravel road is terrifyingly unstable in places. One false move by a driver could send a vehicle 2,000 feet down a vertical cliff. This road is so frightening that it’s hard to watch videos of people driving over it. If your bucket list has this one on it, make sure it’s your last challenge! Not sure if you're up to it? Check out this travelogue about driving the Killar to Pangi road for more photos of and details about this harrowing route.
The Steepest Roads in the World
Dunedin, New Zealand
Los Angeles, USA
Hard Knott Pass
San Francisco, USA
- Alves, T. (2017, May 25). A Brief History of Skippers Canyon, New Zealand.
- Fisher, J. (2017, December 07). 25 most deadly highways in the U.S..
- Moulton, M. (2018, March 08). The 10 most freakishly terrifying switchback roads in the world.
- Skippers Canyon rated one of world's most dangerous roads. (2017, August 26).
- The Pan American Highway: The Longest Road In The World. (2016, April 05).
- Various entries from Dangerous Roads
Questions & Answers
Question: If people know these roads are dangerous, why don't they stop driving on them?
Answer: Most people probably don't drive on them. But some are public roads or highways, and if people have to get from one place to another, they may not have much choice but to use them.
© 2015 Kelley Marks