There’s nothing like a road trip: scenic views, surprising stops, the time spent with friends or with your own thoughts. But with untold millions of miles of roadways tracing the globe, it can be hard to pick the best route. Here are 10 of the world’s best road trips.
Climb the switchbacks on the Trans-Andean Highway
The Trans-Andean Highway delivers more thrills than a theme park, coiling along more than 200 miles of mountain passes between Chile’s booming capital and western Argentina’s Mendoza wine country. A defunct railway tracing part of the route only adds to the roller-coaster effect.
A major commercial thoroughfare through the continent’s Southern Cone, the challenging road also offers magnificent sightseeing. Twenty-nine hairpin turns climb some 11,500 feet on the Chilean side of the Andes, and on the Argentine side, drivers can glimpse 22,841-foot-high Mount Aconcagua, the tallest peak in the Western Hemisphere.
Travel tip: Watch out for border crossing delays at the nearly two-mile-long tunnel in Christ the Redeemer International Pass, named for a four-ton statue placed there in 1904.
Sightsee along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Linking the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, the winding Blue Ridge Parkway unspools along ridgetops, into fertile valleys, and past the highest peak east of the Mississippi (Mount Mitchell).
Though it’s possible to drive the traffic light–free road without stopping, farms, fields, and small towns offer plenty of diversions worth braking for. Travelers can climb Sharp Top Mountain, eat cornmeal cakes at the historic Mabry Mill, or listen to bluegrass music as they wander beneath the white oaks, red maples, mountain magnolias, black cherries, and tulip poplars at Flat Top Manor.
Travel tip: Though many drive the parkway in fall for its dramatic foliage, the route inspires no less awe in other seasons—especially spring, when wild ginger, trout lily, and jack-in-the-pulpit wildflowers bloom.
Brave Bolivia’s “Death Road”
For some 65 miles in the Bolivian highlands, little more than a lane separates drivers from skydivers. North Yungas Road—which includes a 25-mile pass marked with memorial crosses known as the Death Road—descends from the outskirts of La Paz to the subtropical town of Coroico.
Though a safer, paved bypass of Death Road was recently completed, mountain bikers and drivers still dare the one-lane route through the pass of La Cumbre on a barren, 15,255-foot ridge.
Travel tip: Driving on the right side is the norm in Bolivia, but travelers are advised to drive on the left on North Yungas, in order to better gauge the wheels’ distance from the edge of the road—which drops without a guardrail to the valleys below.
Drive a narrow mountain tunnel in China
In 1972, after centuries of isolation, the villagers of Guoliang decided to forge their own route through the remote Taihang Mountains in northeastern China. They had long relied on a steep mountain trail also known as a “heaven ladder.” Then 12 local men hand-carved a rough recess through the mountain over the course of six years, using only heavy hammers and steel drill rods. The Guoliang Tunnel Road (officially known as the Precipice Long Corridor) is just 19 feet wide and 13 feet high, with rough, open “windows” peering out over views of the gorge hundreds of feet below.
Travel tip: This twisting tunnel’s rock walls are badly cracked, with chicken wire at the entrance. Drivers are wise to turn on their headlights and honk their horns as they pass through.
Zoom down Austria’s High Alpine Road
Climbing nearly 3,000 feet in just under 30 miles, classic BMWs and roadsters whip around the curves of the Grossglockner High Alpine Road between the Austrian states of Salzburg and Carinthia. Overhead, griffon vultures and golden eagles circle the Alpine peaks, where rare ibex and pudgy marmots scurry among brown bears and wolves. The joyride delivers drivers to the wilds of Hohe Tauern National Park, the largest nature reserve in the Alps and a magnet for hikers and cyclists.
Travel tip: The Grossglockner charges a toll (around €34.50, or $38). Between May and November, stop off at the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe visitors center, where a funicular shuttles passengers to an overlook of the colossal Pasterze Glacier.
Cruise one of New Zealand’s most scenic highways
The southwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island poses the best kind of driver’s dilemma: Do you zip down wide-open roads or take your time to enjoy the views?
From Queenstown, follow state highways south along the shore of Lake Wakatipu to turn off on Milford Road (aka Highway 94). This scenic, high-altitude route curves northwards through rainforests and past the white-capped Ailsa Mountains before ending up at the mirror-like, tea-colored waters of Milford Sound, a marine reserve home to penguins, dolphins, and New Zealand fur seals.
Travel tip: The Milford Road eventually meets the Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain, where an optical illusion makes the peak appear to shrink as people approach it. Drivers stop at Lake Gunn for a short nature loop.
Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway, Cactus Flat to Wall
Step back in time on the Historic Columbia River Highway
Long ago bypassed by an interstate, the skinny, two-lane Historic Columbia River Highway has seen little change since its completion in 1922 as the United States’ first planned scenic roadway. The route winds above Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, taking in six state parks, seven waterfalls, and—on clear days—views of five mountain peaks, including Mount St. Helens. Breathtaking in any season, the highway is especially picturesque in spring, when endemic wildflowers bloom, and winter, when waterfalls freeze and massive icicles hang from graceful arched bridges.
Travel tip: At Crown Point, drivers stop at the Vista House, an elegant art nouveau observatory 733 feet above the Columbia River.
Get spooked in the Transylvanian Alps
Romania’s twisting, mile-high Transfăgărășan Road traces a north-south route between the country’s two highest peaks. Vlad the Impaler, the prince who inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is perhaps the region’s greatest claim to fame, and tourists can stop at the ruins of 700-year-old Poenari Castle after a scenic drive past the Arges River, the crescent-shaped rim of Vidraru Dam, and the emerald Vidraru Lake. Stop off at the 20-story Bâlea Waterfall to catch a red cable car up to Bâlea Lake, with two year-round chalets and an ice hotel built from scratch each winter.
Travel tip: As if crossing 27 bridges and aqueducts, navigating an unlit tunnel, and keeping an eye out for errant flocks of sheep in the road wasn’t challenging enough—treacherous weather conditions mean Transfăgărășan Road is only reliably open from late June through mid-October.
Explore the Canadian Rockies
Running 144 miles between Banff and Jasper National Parks, Icefields Parkway brings drivers into the imposing landscape of the Canadian Rockies. Keep your eyes peeled for sightings of bighorn sheep, caribou, moose, grizzlies, and black bears, though you won’t have to search hard to glimpse surreal, inverted landscapes in the parkway’s mirror-like glacial lakes.
Travel tip: Traffic is usually light—unless there’s a bear on the side of the road.
Climb the mountains of Morocco
Morocco’s Atlas Mountain Road tests drivers’ mettle, with two narrow, guardrail-free lanes snaking around too many blind curves to count. The 116-mile route takes in the otherworldly landscapes visible from Tizi-n’Tichka Pass as the road climbs more than 6,000 feet from Marrakech through the High Atlas Mountains and back down to the desert oasis of Ouarzazate.
Travel tip: Along the way, obstacles range from unpredictable surface conditions to goats, camels, and mules blocking the road.
- Nat Geo Expeditions