An infamous overhanging corner on Bolivia's 'Death Road'
© Jonas Witt; Flickr Creative Commons
Exploration

The 9 most dangerous mountain roads in the world

Landslides, blizzards, overflowing trucks – you can expect to encounter some, or all, of those things on these fearsome mountain passes.
By Gavin Newsham
5 min readPublished on
There’s much to be said for a nice mountain pass. There’s the unrivalled freedom, the extraordinary sense of adventure and those breathtaking vistas waiting around every corner.
But for every jaw-dropping view there’s an accident waiting to happen. Yes, take a trip on any one of these infamous roads and you won't just need travel insurance, you could probably do with life insurance while you're at it.
Here are some of the craziest mountain passes on Earth...

1. Bayburt D915 Highway, Turkey

Bayburt's numerous hairpin bends in Turkey.
One wrong turn on Bayburt's hairpin bends and you're in trouble
Long considered the world’s most dangerous road, the Bayburt highway was built by Russian soldiers in 1916 on the side of the mighty Soganli Mountain. And while it’s 179km long in total, it’s the infamous northern section, between Of and Bayburt, that'll have you running for the hills (but maybe not these particular hills). Just check out those horrifying hairpin bends – 29 in total and not one set of railings between them.

2. Sichuan-Tibet Highway, China

Sichuan-Tibet highway seen in snow.
The Sichuan-Tibet features scores of hairpin bends and avalanches galore
From beautiful forests to misty mountain tops, there’s plenty to admire about this 2,000km road from the Sichuan capital Chengdu to its Tibetan counterpart Lhasa. But there are also scores of hairpin bends, avalanches galore and lots and lots of landslides, so don’t be distracted when you’re taking in the sights from the comfort of your car. It's believed over 1,000 workers died during construction of the highway, which opened officially in 1954, and, half a century later, it continues to claim lives.

3. North Yungas Road, Bolivia

The Yungas Road near Coroico in Bolivia
Bolivia's Yungas Road, otherwise known as the 'Road of Death'
The very fact that its nickname is the ’Road of Death’ should tell you all you need to know about the North Yungas Road. Built in the 1930s by Paraguayan prisoners of the Chaco War, this 400km route, linking Los Yungas with the Bolivian capital La Paz, rises to the dizzying heights of 4,000m and is said to claim almost 300 victims every year, usually as a result of vehicles attempting to overtake, only to find a sheer drop and no barriers on the other side. The moral of the story? Stay in your lane.

4. Guoliang Tunnel Road, China

The Guoliang Tunnel cut into the cliff face.
The Guoliang Tunnel opened to traffic in 1977
Perched high up in the Taihang Mountains in China’s Henan Province, this remarkable tunnel road was carved out of the side of the cliff face by a 13-strong team of local men between 1972 and 1977. Most ludicrously of all, it was done by hand. Watch the video below to see just how precarious the mountain pass can be.
Yep, it’s 1.2km of sheer menace, measuring just 4m at its widest point. At the most difficult stage of construction, the villagers, armed only with their hammers and chisels, were progressing at just one metre every three days. A real labour of love, if a deadly one.

5. Karakoram ‘Friendship’ Highway, China-Pakistan

Karakoram Highway rockfall with truck trying to pass.
The effects of a rockslide on Karakoram Highway
With an elevation of 4,714m, the Karakoram Highway is the highest paved road on the planet and is often called the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. Construction started in 1959 and the road was finally opened to the public in 1979. But it came at a cost. Harsh, bitter winters and heavy monsoon rains in the summer make conditions extremely treacherous – so much so, in fact, that over 800 Pakistani and 200 Chinese workers lost their lives during the build, largely because of landslides and rock falls.

6. Zoji La Pass, India

India's Zoji La Pass hairpin bends seen from above.
India's Zoji La Pass is as perilous as it is picturesque
Set in an awesome location with the Drass basin on one side and the Kashmir Basin on the other, Zoji La (also known as ‘Zozila’) is closed for half of the year because the severity of the snowfall and it takes fully two months to clear the road so it can reopen in late spring. Stretching out to 9km long at 3,528m above sea level, its single, narrow lane is, in parts, little more than a dirt track and you’re advised not to linger too long at the pass’s highest point as you'll run out of oxygen. Sound advice.

7. Hana Highway, Hawaii

Bridge crossing lush green foliage as part of the Hana highway in Hawaii.
AC/DC may have as well been singing about a Highway to Hawaii
It’s a given that everything in Hawaii is a wonder to behold, but behind the eye-catching beauty of the Hana Road lies one of the most devilish routes on Earth. Linking Kahului with the town of Hana, it’s only 80km or so, but it can take over three hours to drive as it’s not only stomach-churningly narrow in parts, but there are also 620 tight curves and 59 bridges – 46 of which are only single lane. Incidentally, these bridges date all the way back to 1910, so here's hoping they stay upright for another century at least.

8. Skippers Canyon Road, New Zealand

Winding road on Skippers Canyon Road seen from truck window.
Skippers Canyon Road, New Zealand
Located in the Mount Aurum Recreation Reserve on the South Island, this 25km-long road was made by hand during the gold rush in Skippers Canyon in the mid-19th century. Put simply, it’s little more than a narrow gravel path along a sheer cliff face and it’s so dangerous that if you rent a car and try to tackle it yourself then your insurance will be rendered invalid. Our tip? Take one of the guided tours instead. They know what they’re doing...

9. Los Caracoles Pass, Chile

Winding road of Los Caracoles Pass seen in snow.
Los Caracoles Pass, Chile
Like many of these roads, it’s almost as though the mountains are teasing you, serving up spectacular vistas such as Argentina’s highest peak, Aconcagua, but at a cost. With endless miles of sharp, stomach-churning turns and bothersome blind corners, patience really is the key on Los Caracoles Pass, especially if you’re stuck behind a tractor. Luckily, it’s actually snow-covered for most of the year so access is limited, but whenever you travel ensure you give it the time and respect it warrants.