A truly crazy drive has to have a hint of danger, and it has to be beautiful: not just thrilling, but scarily scenic. Here’s a collection of worldwide drives that are guaranteed to make your heart go vroom-vroom.
Crazy Drives: Stelvio Pass, Italy
Residents of the Alps have spent centuries perfecting the art of living life on steep slopes. One of the most spectacularly serpentine of the switchback-filled roads that ascend and descend these mountains is Italy’s
Stelvio Pass, which has 60 hairpin turns and reaches elevations of more than 9,000 feet. The first road here was built in the 1820s, and the layout has changed little in the past two centuries.
When you think of San Francisco
, one image that probably comes to mind is twisty-turny Lombard Street, which packs eight switchbacks and a quarter-mile of roadway into a single block of the Russian Hill neighborhood. The so-called “Crooked Street” is a landmark now, but when it was built in 1922, it was designed as a practical measure to negotiate the hill’s 27 percent grade. The curvy, red-brick-paved street is open only to cars going downhill, and its speed limit is just 5 mph.
Crazy Drives: Trollstigen, Norway
This road’s name means “The Troll Ladder” in Norwegian, and it’s easy to see why. The narrow road traverses the steep side of one of Norway’s
famed fjords, reaching so high that it frequently climbs above cloud level. Originally built in 1936, Trollstigen has a 9 percent grade and was redone in 2005 to make it safer, but vehicles more than 40 feet long are still prohibited. Adding to the area’s overall beauty, Trollstigen also passes the Stigfossen waterfall, which cascades more than 1,000 feet down the side of the fjord.
Crazy Drives: Mauna Kea, Hawaii
There are high-altitude roads, and then there’s the road to the summit of Mauna Kea
, on the Big Island, which climbs to 13,780 feet. It gets so high, in fact, that it experiences something rarely seen in Hawaii
— closures due to snow. If you rent a car, chances are your contract forbids you to drive on this road, which is about 15 miles long and is unpaved for five steep miles in the middle. That crater in the photo isn’t the summit, by the way: It’s just one of many basaltic cinder cones you’ll pass on the volcano en route to the top.
Crazy Drives: North Yungas Road, Bolivia
The North Yungas Road in Bolivia
is undeniably beautiful, but on this route — often referred to as the Road of Death — the stunning scenery masks danger. As the road hugs the lush, green cliffs, the views are jaw-dropping, but the drop-offs are 2,000 feet or more, and guardrails to protect you are few. Gorgeous waterfalls flow down these cliffs, but the water often tumbles onto the road and drenches it. Most of the road is no more than 10 feet wide, and it’s extremely steep — it gains more than 11,000 feet of elevation over its 40-mile length.
Crazy Drives: Grimsel Pass, Switzerland
The winding highway that traverses Grimsel Pass seems to flow like a ribbon up and down the Swiss Alps
. Built in the 1890s, the much-forested road features wide, sweeping turns and offers gorgeous views of the rugged surrounding landscape, the Rhone Glacier and an assortment of glacial lakes. The last bit up to the top is especially scenic and is filled with switchbacks. Right next door is the Furka Pass road, which was featured in the James Bond film “Goldfinger.”
Crazy Drives: Highway 1, California
has two lanes, 33 bridges and enough air below the roadway to lead one Web site to call it “122 miles of vertigo” — but its beauty is worth the risk. The road winds its way along the cliffs of the California coastline, right next to the Pacific Ocean; around Big Sur, the drop is around 1,000 feet. Highway 1 is widely considered one of the most beautiful roads in the world, and it’s been designated an “All-American Road” by the Transportation Department.
Crazy Drives: Iroha-Zaka, Japan
This road plays a significant role in Japanese history: The route was popular with Buddhist pilgrims on their way to Lake Chuzenji
, which is at the top of the forested hill that this road climbs. There are 48 hairpin turns, each labeled with one of the 48 characters in the Japanese alphabet: while the narrow road has been modernized over the years, care has been taken to keep the number of curves constant. Iroha-Zaka ascends more than 1,300 feet, but there are separate roads for vehicles heading uphill and downhill.
Crazy Drives: Road to Hana, Maui
This incredible 68-mile byway has more than 600 curves and close to 60 bridges — many of them a century old — plus a view that can’t be beat. The road is so narrow and twisty that a one-way trip takes around three hours, and almost all of it goes through tropical rain forest, taking you past bubbling waterfalls as palm trees sway overhead. The highway clings to the cliffs of the Maui
coastline, and offers languor-inducing beach views. Take it slowly, both for safety and to enjoy the sights along the way; you’ll be glad you did.
Crazy Drives: Milford Road, New Zealand
The Milford Road doesn’t have many drop-offs — but it runs right between the high mountains of New Zealand’s
Southern Alps, and the avalanche danger is high enough that the government prohibits vehicles from stopping in avalanche-prone areas. The road is incredibly scenic as it winds in, around and through Fiordland National Park
, whose peaks starred in the “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy as the Misty Mountains. The road is about 75 miles long, and a nonstop drive takes about two hours. It also provides the only road access to Milford Sound
, one of New Zealand's biggest tourist attractions.
Crazy Drives: Taroko Gorge, Taiwan
Taroko means “magnificent and splendid” in the language of the aboriginal Truku tribe, a name that gives you a sense of the views you’ll see while you’re driving here. You’ll want to watch the road closely, though: It’s steep and narrow, and is essentially carved right out of the rock. It winds in and out of the mountains — one of the road’s features is the “Tunnel of Nine Turns” — and also takes drivers high above the whitewater Liwu River as cliffs hang overhead.
Crazy Drives: Splugen Pass, Switzerland and Italy
Splugen Pass is a study in contrasts: One minute, you’re switchbacking your way through tunnels literally stacked on top of each other within the mountain, heading past sharp vertical drops providing stunning views into the valley. The next minute, you’re sweeping through lovely alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, the land seemingly horizontal — for the moment. The variety makes this one of the most gorgeous drives there is, and you can even bike across if you prefer to leave your car at home.