21 Heart-Stopping Roads to Drive Around the World

Trollstigen, Norway


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Ice Road on Frozen Lake.

White-Knuckle Wandering

There's nothing quite like a good road trip, especially when you're exploring new surroundings and enjoying the scenery. And while most travelers agree that seeing the world is about the journey, not the destination, there are roads so adventurous or spine-tingling that they become destinations themselves. Here are 21 routes around the world that should be on the adventurous driver's bucket list, including an icy road in northern Minnesota that connects a tiny U.S. enclave with the rest of the country — but only when Mother Nature agrees. 

Related: 22 Bucket List Roads to Drive Around the World

Northwest Angle Ice Road
Northwest Angle Ice Road by Lorie Shaull (CC BY)

Northwest Angle Ice Road


Open for just its second year, the Northwest Angle Ice Road in Minnesota was born of necessity. Traversing 37 miles over Lake of the Woods, it connects the Northwest Angle, the northernmost part of the contiguous U.S., with the rest of Minnesota. Otherwise, anyone who wants to get there in a regular vehicle, not a plane, has to drive through Canada — which became much easier said than done once pandemic restrictions came into play. The road, which some say makes drivers feel like they're on the moon or an Antarctic expedition, is only open during daylight hours, has a strict 20 mph speed limit, and is off limits during inclement weather. It also has a hefty price tag — $250 per vehicle — thanks to the high cost of maintenance, which comes in at an estimated $1,500 a mile. 

Related: Breathtaking Roads That Are Only Open Part of the Year

24 Bends Road
Wikimedia Commons

24 Zig Road


The ultimate test of a driver's nerve surely includes hairpin turns, and Southwestern China's mountainous 24 Zig Road has them in spades. It also has plenty of history, having served as a crucial link for Chinese troops transporting supplies to Chongqing during the Japanese invasion of World War II. Fortunately, it's not in active use, so curious tourists will have plenty of breathing room while they follow its twists and turns.

Related: 35 Stunning Landscapes That Make Earth Look Like Another Planet

The Autobahn, Germany

The Autobahn


Some German drivers may argue that the Autobahn's pedal-to-the-metal reputation is overblown, but the fact remains that for some stretches, there really is no speed limit. And yes, you are likely to encounter performance vehicles doing well over 100 mph — perhaps over even 150 mph — in the left lane. Unless you want to join them, natives recommend staying as far right as you can and keeping pace with the flow of traffic.

Related: What It’s Like to Drive in Other Countries

Million Dollar Highway, USA
Million Dollar Highway, USA by Alan Stark (CC BY)

Million Dollar Highway


The good news about Colorado's Million Dollar Highway? It offers some of the most breathtaking Rocky Mountain scenery you'll ever lay eyes on. The bad news? The road is so steep, narrow, and winding that you might not be able to enjoy all of nature's splendid vistas. Tackle the 70-mile section between Durango and Ouray for the most intense experience, RootsRated recommends. Along the way are plenty of reasons to stop for a break, including hot springs, skiing, and the historic mining town of Silverton.

Related: 12 Dangerous Roads You Should Never Drive in an RV

Atlantic Ocean Road, Norway
Lukas Bischoff/istockphoto

Atlantic Ocean Road


Atlanterhavsveien, as it's known in Norwegian, withstood a dozen hurricanes during its six-year construction in the 1980s. That gives you some inkling about the fierce display Mother Nature can conjure; during poor conditions, white ocean spray can be seen crashing dramatically over the road. Wait for sunny weather to safely enjoy this marvel of modern engineering, which consists of undulating bridges and causeways connecting small islands to the mainland. There are several scenic viewpoints at which drivers can stop and take in the view.

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Road of Bones, Russia

Road of Bones


As its nickname suggests, this ultra-remote stretch of Siberian road has a gruesome history. Also known as Kolyma Highway, it was built by Stalin-era political prisoners rounded up from gulags and forced to work in horrendous conditions. Some froze to death while others were shot, their bodies simply buried beneath or around the road. Today, it's a crucial link to Yakutsk, known as the world's coldest city, but is often all but impassable because of heavy ice and snow in the winter and mud during the very short summer.

Fairy Meadows Road
Fairy Meadows Road by Imtiazqureshi (CC BY-SA)

Fairy Meadows Road


If you want a taste of harrowing Fairy Meadows Road, you'll have to jump in a Jeep with a local driver as authorities don't allow tourists to tackle it. Take one look at the winding gravel track and you'll see why — there is exactly zero room for error, or you'll plummet thousands of feet to the valley below. Why would anyone chance such a journey? Once done, you can embark on a half-day hike to a stunning pasture in the shadow of some of the world's highest mountains.

Related: 22 Fascinating Places Where Tourists Aren't Welcome

Tail of the Dragon, USA
Tail of the Dragon, USA by Matt Lehrer (CC BY)

Tail of the Dragon

Tennessee and North Carolina

Legendary among motorcyclists who want to test their skills, Tail of the Dragon is an 11-mile portion of U.S. 129 linking Tennessee and North Carolina. The draw here is not the Smoky Mountain scenery — though the surrounding area has plenty, there's little on this road — but a staggering 318 twists and turns through the woods. The road demands complete concentration, and if you have any doubt about the potential danger, take a look at this map plotting dozens of fatalities since 1995.

Related: 16 Epic Motorcycle Rides Across America We Can't Wait to Take

Magic Roundabout, England

Magic Roundabout

United Kingdom

If you find traffic circles confusing yourself or hate them because no one else knows how they work, you may want to avoid Swindon, England, home of the so-called "Magic Roundabout." It's a nutty mashup of seven traffic circles in one, and for the uninitiated, it seems absolutely bonkers. For residents accustomed to the unique traffic pattern, it's actually a safe, efficient way for them to choose how they want to get from Point A to Point B. For proof, watch Wired's breakdown of how it works.

Passage Du Gois, France

Passage Du Gois


Driving on Le Passage Du Gois, which links the island of Noirmoutier to mainland France, is all about timing. This causeway's stone-paved, seaweed-covered surface is only driveable for about three hours each day — specifically, 90 minutes before and after low tide. The rest of the day, it's slowly reclaimed by the water and is completely flooded at high tide. Fortunately, there are now rescue poles that you can climb up if the rising tide gives you a nasty surprise.

Route Nationale 5 Madagascar
Route Nationale 5 Madagascar by Jaddy CM (CC BY-SA)

Route Nationale 5


As Lonely Planet puts it, Route Nationale 5 is "either the worst road in Madagascar, or the best 4WD adventure in the country." Indeed, an adventurous spirit is crucial for anyone who wants to tackle this road along the northeastern coast. Obstacles include mud and sand pits galore, sheer rock, massive potholes, and perilous river crossings that may involve either frighteningly rickety bridges or piecemeal oil-drum car ferries. The reward? Views of some of the world's most beautiful beaches, and glimpses of rare lemurs and humpback whales.

Furka Pass, Switzerland

Furka Pass


If you're a James Bond wannabe who likes to go fast, there's one road that should be on your bucket list: Switzerland's Furka Pass. Famously featured during a chase in "Goldfinger," this well-kept 19-mile route has loads of hairpin turns and gorgeous Alpine views. And because there's a drive-on train that shuttles travelers through the area more efficiently, Road and Track notes that the Furka is often empty enough for car enthusiasts to really see what their wheels are made of — even if they aren't lucky enough to be behind the wheel of an Aston Martin like 007.

Yungas Road, Bolivia

Yungas Road


Yungas Road, a treacherous, narrow ribbon clinging to mountainsides in the Andes, is a staple on any list of the world's most dangerous roads. Its nickname, "The Road of Death," gives you a pretty clear idea of why. Roadside memorials are a sobering and frequent reminder that Yungas claims, according to some estimates, as many as 300 lives per year. Fortunately, a safer route is now in place for locals, but that hasn't stopped tourists, many of them cyclists, from flocking here to cheat death — or attempt to, at least.

Dalton Highway, USA

Dalton Highway


If you want to be alone with your thoughts, there's a road for that: the 414-mile James W. Dalton Highway, which traverses the most remote parts of Alaska before ending at Prudhoe Bay on the Bering Sea. Made famous on the TV show "Ice Road Truckers," Dalton doesn't even have a single amenity — no gas stations, rest stops, or restaurants — for its northernmost 240-mile stretch. Other concerns include steep terrain, mud, ice, and the windshield-busting rocks kicked up by the massive trucks supplying northern Alaska's oilfields.

Guoliang Tunnel Road, China
Guoliang Tunnel Road, China by FANG Chen (CC BY)

Giuoliang Tunnel Road


When villagers' pleas for a road to their remote town of Guoliang went unanswered, they took matters into their own hands and dug a tunnel through the mountains. The fruits of their labor is a narrow, twisting, 3/4-mile route marked by rock columns and "windows" affording views of the Taihang Mountains. Today, the tunnel is quite the attraction so don't be surprised if around that next blind curve is a tourist bus speeding toward you.

Karakoram Highway, Pakistan/China

Karakoram Highway

Pakistan and China

Anointed as one of "the world's scariest roads" by Travel + Leisure, the Karakoram Highway could cause heart palpitations in even the most hard-core drivers. It's the world's highest paved international road, forging a path from Pakistan to China that cuts straight across the Himalayas. How high? You'll hit more than 15,300 feet. Floods, landslides, altitude sickness, and dizzying drop-offs will compete with the mind-boggling views for your attention.

Trollstigen, Norway



Leave it to Norway to give one of its most famous tourist routes an unforgettable name: Trollstigen, or "The Trolls Road." Fjords, mountains, and waterfalls are all part of the scenery here, but you'll have to loosen your grip on the steering wheel to enjoy it — there are 11 hairpin turns as the road climbs from a lush valley up the slopes. Be sure to stop at the architecturally stunning steel and glass viewpoints.

Trans-Sahara Highway, Algeria/Niger/Nigeria
Trans-Sahara Highway, Algeria/Niger/Nigeria by Albert Backer (CC BY)

Trans-Sahara Highway

Algeria, Niger, and Nigeria

Its name probably conjures some trepidation about scorching temperatures and empty, endless sands, but the 2,800-mile Trans-Sahara Highway linking Algeria and Nigeria presents more risks than the treacherous desert conditions. There's political instability, the risk of bandit attacks, and sections of road that have been barely (or not at all) maintained, including unpaved sand tracks in Niger.

A piece of ice on the frozen lake

Storsjon Highway Ice Bridge


Think of driving this unique Scandinavian route as an exercise in trust. Drivers get to ditch the ferries that normally traverse Storsjon, or "Big Lake," from roughly January through April and instead drive on the frozen surface of the lake itself. The ice has to be close to 8 inches thick for the ice road to be maintained. Be sure to watch for the flashing lights that alert drivers if conditions aren't safe, and don't pull over to get out and test your best double axel as no stopping is allowed.

Road to Hana, USA

Road to Hana


The well-trodden Road to Hana is an immensely popular attraction for visitors to Maui, but it has its share of white-knuckle moments with tons of curves, one-lane bridges, and gorgeous coastal scenery that will always be competing for your attention. Certain portions of the road — namely, the road's "backside" — make rental car companies nervous enough that driving on them violates their contracts. Why? They're unpaved, very narrow, and see frequent rockslides and mudslides.

Related: The World's Most Remote Hotels

Sani Pass, South Africa/Lesotho

Sani Pass

South Africa and Lesotho 

You'll need a 4x4 to tackle the Sani Pass, which links South Africa and the small, mountainous kingdom of Lesotho. The gravel road is steep and rocky, with loads of sharp switchbacks and a decided lack of guardrails. You'll also need to be on the lookout for pack mules and the thick fog that often shrouds the highest parts of the pass. For your trouble, sweeping views await, as does a drink at the highest pub in Africa once you're in Lesotho.