8 of the Steepest and Most Extreme Highways in North America for Thrill-Seeking Road Trippers (2024)

While federal law requires interstate highways to have a maximum grade of six percent, state highways are a different story. Pennsylvania maintains a highway with a 14.5-degree slope, and California is even steeper, with a highway at a whopping 26-degree grade. Highway grades are pretty easy to understand and expressed in 100-unit increments. For example, a highway with a six-percent grade means it gains (or loses) no more than six feet of elevation for every 100 feet of distance.

This year, for a road trip that won’t put you to sleep, choose one of these roads that put you at the edge of your seat – both to see the beauty outside your window and to brace yourself on the steep downhills. Here are seven of the steepest highway grades in the US that have somehow been allowed to exist, plus one through some of the most beautiful scenery in Canada.

California Route 108

8 of the Steepest and Most Extreme Highways in North America for Thrill-Seeking Road Trippers (1)

Photo: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

  • Starting and ending points: Modesto to Bridgeport
  • Steepest section: Sonora Pass
  • Max grade: 26 percent

In the 1850s, entrepreneurs built a series of passes through the Sierra Nevada mountain range to help immigrants reach California during the Gold Rush. The narrow routes were first cleared for wagons and later became private toll roads, then state highways. These passes, called the Trans-Sierra roads, cross over some of the country’s most inhospitable terrain. As a result, the roads are winding, narrow, and definitely steep.

There are more than 20 passes throughout the Sierra Nevada, but none as precarious as the Sonora Pass along CA-108. It’s just 90 minutes away from Sacramento, but you’ll know you’re not in the city – the twisting, hairpin turns and slog as you trudge up a mountain road at an incredible 26-percent grade will make it very clear you’re deep into the mountains.

To further underscore the potential danger, know that this highway (along with several other Trans-Sierra roads) closes to the public for the winter. Between roughly November and April, you’ll have to take the long way around. (And, oh, is it long.) And even when the road is open, slick roads and icy conditions still demand well-honed driving skills.

Travelers searching for the utmost beauty on their road trips will want to take a short detour to Stanislaus National Forest. With 78 alpine lakes, towering trees, and plenty of wildlife, nature-lovers will find themselves among some of the nation’s most fascinating natural features without the crowds of Yosemite National Park to the south.

Texas Farm to Market Road (Route 170)

8 of the Steepest and Most Extreme Highways in North America for Thrill-Seeking Road Trippers (2)

Photo: Moses Rode/Shutterstock

  • Starting and ending points: Candelaria to Study Butte
  • Steepest section: Area around Big Bend Ranch State Park
  • Max grade: 15 percent

Deep in the southwest corner of Texas, you’ll find this scenic highway that travels along the Rio Grande River. While a select few will recognize the road from the old western movie Contrabando, many will remember the steep, curving climb up what the locals dub “the Big Hill.”

Be careful when roadtripping along this highway. With no easy alternate route to Presidio or Big Bend National Park near the road’s endpoints, travelers have no choice but to drive up and down a 15-percent grade. And it’s reasonably common to have both wildlife and livestock wandering across the roads.

The advice here? Take your time.

As remote as this corner of Texas is (the nearest major city is San Antonio, which is six hours away), road-trippers will find only a spattering of cars along FM 170. Take “the Big Hill” as slowly as needed and enjoy the views from the overlook at the top. You likely won’t have any cell service either, so download a map in advance if you want to stop along the way. Cool nearby detours include the ghost town-turned-artistic hub of Terlingua, Big Bend Ranch State Park itself (not to be confused with Big Bend National Park), and the old movie set from Contrabando, which sits unmarked in a gully along the Rio Grande.

Utah Route 143

8 of the Steepest and Most Extreme Highways in North America for Thrill-Seeking Road Trippers (3)

Photo: mark higgins/Shutterstock

  • Starting and ending points: Parowan to Panguitch
  • Steepest section: Area around Brian Head Ski Resort
  • Max grade: 13 percent

Avid skiers may know this drive well. If you’re heading up to Brian Head ski resort for a long weekend, you’ll find yourself navigating one of the steepest roads in Utah.

Originally an old pioneer road used to transport logging materials, Utah Route 143 winds its way through the Dixie National Forest. The highway can reach grades of over 13 percent as it ascends to the top of the ski resort. As a result, drivers frequently overheat their brakes, and large trucks will try to avoid the byway altogether to keep them from catching fire. Oh, and of course, having fresh snow and ice on the ground really doesn’t help matters. Neither do the out-of-towners with two-wheel-drive cars and no winter driving skills trying to make their way in late at night on Fridays.

Due to sometimes icy conditions, the Utah Department of Transportation regulates the highway’s usage. Utah’s DOT regularly cleans the road and often requires chains in colder months. Because of their efforts, the most challenging aspect of driving this road is sharing it with the influx of skiers about to hit the slopes. If you go during a storm, make sure you have four-wheel-drive and snow tires or have chains in your trunk (and know how to put them on).

Wyoming US-Route 14

8 of the Steepest and Most Extreme Highways in North America for Thrill-Seeking Road Trippers (4)

Photo: Jess Kraft/Shutterstock

  • Starting and ending points: Yellowstone National Park to South Dakota state line
  • Steepest section: Shell Canyon
  • Max grade: 13.5 percent

Before the interstate system modernized cross-country travel, Americans relied on US highways like Route 66. One such highway, built in 1926, runs from Chicago, Illinois, to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. But just a few hours from the park, the road starts to get a little sketchy.

US-14 enters Big Horn National Forest about an hour outside of Buffalo, Wyoming. But the bighorn sheep aren’t the only big thing in the forest. The highway traverses near Black Mountain and Sibley Lake while steadily climbing at an average grade of 10 percent. If you thought that was tough, wait until you start to climb up the 13.5-percent grade breaking point.

Needless to say, RVs face an uphill (or, rather, downhill) battle the entire way, and semis avoid the highway altogether.

The road ascends precariously high at a max elevation of 9,430 feet, and the state of Wyoming shuts it down to the public for the winter. In spring and fall, the obvious place to stop along this scenic drive is Yellowstone National Park, though Devil’s Tower (from Close Encounters of the Third Kind fame) and Cody, a historical western town founded by Buffalo Bill, are just a short drive off the main drag.

Colorado State Highway 149

8 of the Steepest and Most Extreme Highways in North America for Thrill-Seeking Road Trippers (5)

Photo: Brian Wolski/Shutterstock

  • Starting and ending points: South Fork to Gunnison
  • Steepest section: Around Slumgullion Pass
  • Max grade: 9.5 percent

Also known as the Silver Thread Scenic Byway, CO-149 meanders up through the Rio Grande National Forest to Slumgullion Pass at 11,530 feet above sea level. With dizzying grades as sharp as 9.5 percent, it’s Colorado’s steepest paved road.

The highway cuts through the middle of the national forest and travelers could spot deer, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep in their natural habitats – the fact that it’s one of the steepest highway grades in the US doesn’t bother them one bit. While navigating the highway for rogue wildlife, adventurers may also want to make a stop at Lake San Cristobal, about a three mile detour). It’s the state’s second-largest natural lake at around 9,000 feet.

The byway was built over an old mining road once used to transport ores and supplies to the San Juan Mountains. Even experienced road-trippers will likely find the driving conditions challenging. Drivers who would like to bypass the bypass (get it?), can take Highway 285, which circumvents the national forest in a more leisurely, albeit longer, drive.

Pennsylvania Route 487

  • Starting and ending points: Paxinos to Dushore
  • Steepest section: Near Ricketts Glen State Park
  • Max grade: 14.5 percent

Travelers coming from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, might be able to attest to the difficulties of driving along Route 487 once they get about two hours south of the city.

The highway snakes through the Allegheny Mountain range, where treacherous switchbacks and grades well over 10 percent are sure to have even the most avid drivers riding the brakes. At one point, the highway gains altitude at a 12.5-percent grade, and at its steepest, road-trippers will find themselves struggling up a 14.5-percent grade.

Route 487 is the most scenic drive to Ricketts Glen State Park, a park renowned for its waterfalls, including 94-foot-tall Ganoga Falls. So despite having one of the steepest highway grades in the US (or perhaps because of that), it’s worth the drive. Be sure to pay close attention to the road, however. Cyclists also love to explore this road, so be mindful of your speed as you hit these steep downhill grades.

California Route 4

8 of the Steepest and Most Extreme Highways in North America for Thrill-Seeking Road Trippers (7)

Photo: N8Allen/Shutterstock

  • Starting and ending points: Hercules to Markleeville
  • Steepest section: Ebbetts Pass
  • Max grade: 24 percent

Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway is a sister of the Sonora Pass along CA-108. Many Trans-Sierra passes are tough to navigate, but these two take the cake. While Sonora Pass has the steepest highway in California, this one is pretty close — and the narrow lanes and sloping shoulders with steep drop-offs certainly won’t inspire confidence in most drivers.

Route 4 winds for 61 miles through Stanislaus National Forest north of the Sonora Pass. The highway peaks at 8,700 feet and climbs portions of the range at 24-percent grades. Like Sonora Pass, Ebbetts Pass closes to the public for the winter. But come on: it’s one of the steepest highway grades in the US. You wouldn’t want to be caught on this insane road in the snow, anyway.

Those looking for an unforgettable road trip will love the scenery as the highway traverses through meadows and past reservoirs surrounded by pines. Travelers should take a moment to enjoy the beauty of the forest at Lake Alpine, and there’s a quick half-hike, half-scramble visitors can take to Ebbetts Peak. It’s only about half a mile long, though it gains about 450 feet of elevation.

As beautiful as it is, if you don’t want to take such an aggressive pass, opt for Highway 120, also known as Tioga Pass Road. It crosses the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range but is more evenly graded and maintained, though it also closes from roughly November to May. Of course, this will take you right through Yosemite National Park, so you won’t sacrifice too much beauty by skipping Stanislaus National Forest.

British Columbia Highway 99

8 of the Steepest and Most Extreme Highways in North America for Thrill-Seeking Road Trippers (8)

Photo: EB Adventure Photography/Shutterstock

  • Starting and ending points: Surrey to Cache Creek
  • Steepest section: Around Duffey Lake Provincial Parks
  • Max grade: 11 percent

There aren’t many Canadian highways that match the steepness of the US, and that’s for a good reason. With more snow, colder winters, and taller mountains than their neighbors to the south, the mountains in British Columbia are no joke to traverse, even in the best of conditions. As such, there are limited options to travel through parts of the country.

However, there is one notable route through the mountains: Highway 99. It connects Vancouver to the other side of the mountains near the Alberta border, crossing north of Whistler in the process. And it’s not without its trials.

The highway is constantly under inclement weather warnings for rain and snow. Now pin on an 11-percent grade near the peak, and it’s no surprise the locals have nicknamed this road the “Highway of Death” and the “Ski-And-Die Highway.” However, travelers willing to drive the stretch can stop at Garibaldi Provincial Park and hike to the famous lake’s narrow cliff edges, which offer breathtaking views. The road is considered one of Canada’s steepest, but also one of Canada’s most beautiful. 8 of the Steepest and Most Extreme Highways in North America for Thrill-Seeking Road Trippers (9)

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8 of the Steepest and Most Extreme Highways in North America for Thrill-Seeking Road Trippers (2024)


What is the most dangerous highway in North America? ›

US Interstate 95 (East Coast, US)

According to NHTSA's (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) data, 95 is the most dangerous highway in the United States, with fatalities as a daily occurrence. US Interstate 95 has a reputation for being a dangerous drive, especially during the winter.

What is the scariest highway in the United States? ›

What Is the Most Dangerous Highway in America? It may surprise you that Interstate 95 (I-95) is considered by some the most dangerous road. It is a 1,908-mile stretch of highway from Florida to Maine. Since its creation, it's earned the reputation for being one of the most dangerous highways in America by fatalities.

What's the deadliest road in America? ›

I-95. According to NHTSA's data, I-95 is the most dangerous highway in the United States.

Which of America's most scenic roads is also one of its most dangerous? ›

I-15, Nevada and California

The 181-mile stretch of Interstate 15 connecting Las Vegas and Los Angeles is a straight, well-maintained roadway, conducive to safe traveling. And yet, it routinely ranks as one of the country's most dangerous roads.

Who has the worst roads in North America? ›

Quebec has the worst roads in North America, surveys conducted by Nokian Tyres suggest.

What is the 1 most dangerous road? ›

Nicknamed “Death Road,” North Yungas in Bolivia is considered the most dangerous road in the world.

What is the highway of death in USA? ›

“The Highway of Death” and “Suicide 6” in Connecticut

I-95 meanders along nearly 2,000 miles of land, stretching from southern Florida to northern Maine. In Connecticut, I-95 covers about 112 miles, and has earned a few nicknames over the years. One is “the Connecticut Turnpike.” Another is “the Highway of Death.”

What state has the scariest roads? ›

Another interesting fact is that Mississippi consistently tops high-death-rate rankings. In fact, Mississippi was the state with the most deaths per 100,000 people in 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. That's a clear sign that Mississippi is the most dangerous state for driving!

How scary is the Million Dollar Highway? ›

FindMyPlate stated the Million Dollar Highway, more formally known as U.S. Highway 550, had been chosen as one of the most dangerous because of the high elevation (more than 11,000 feet at the summit) coupled with the number of hairpin turns without guardrails.

What is the most killer road? ›

Karakoram Highway in Pakistan and China

It spans 800 miles, and the biggest risk associated with the road is its landslides. That being said, it is also prone to flooding, heavy snow, and avalanches. The road started off with a deadly reputation, with 1,000 workers dying during construction.

Which country has the deadliest road? ›

The 8 most dangerous roads in the world
  • Carretera a los Yungas (Bolivia) ...
  • Guoliang Tunnel (China) ...
  • Karakorum Highway (Pakistan) ...
  • James W. ...
  • Skippers Canyon (New Zealand) ...
  • El Caracol (Chile-Argentina) ...
  • Rohtang Pass (India) ...
  • Passage du Gois (France)

How many people have died on the Million Dollar Highway? ›

12 Million Dollar Highway Deaths Are Part Of Its Fame

The Million Dollar Highway was named the most dangerous highway in the US to drive.

What is Earth's most dangerous road? ›

Running from the high-altitude Andean city of La Paz to the subtropical Yungas valleys and the Amazonian lowlands beyond, the 64km Yungas Road involves a sharp 3,500m descent.

What is the scariest section of the Million Dollar Highway? ›

Running north on the highway, the scariest part of the drive is encountered on the stretch of highway from the Red Mountain Pass through the Uncompahgre Gorge. Here, you'll encounter very narrow lanes, steep cliffs, and no guardrails.

What is the most dangerous death road? ›

What is the actual name of the Death Road? The former world's most dangerous highway is alternatively known as Death Road, Grove's Road, Coroico Road, Camino de las Yungas, El Camino de la Muerte, Road of Death or Unduavi-Yolosa Highway.

Who has the safest roads in the world? ›

The Nordic country gets many things right – and driving is one of them. According to the data we sourced from OurWorldInData and Gov.UK, Norway has officially earned the title of the safest place to drive in the world, with only 1.5 traffic-related fatalities per 100,000 people.

What are the most lonely roads in America? ›

In July of 1986, Life magazine dubbed Nevada's Highway 50 the “Loneliest Road in America.” The article claimed there were “no points of interest” along the route and “warned” readers not to risk traveling it unless they were confident of their “survival skills.” However, Nevada adventurers knew better then—and still do ...

What is the least driven road in America? ›

The Loneliest Road in America got its name from an article published by Life Magazine back in 1986. According to them the drive from Baker to Dayton was totally empty and there was absolutely nothing to see there.

What is the most dangerous night on the road? ›

The Top 10 Most Dangerous Days to Drive
  • #9. Black Friday. ...
  • #10. Christmas. ...
  • #1. Intoxicated Driving. ...
  • #2. Distracted Driving. ...
  • #3. Fatigued or Drowsy Driving. ...
  • #4. Lack of Vehicle Maintenance. ...
  • #5. Driver Inexperience. ...
  • #6. Inclement Weather.
May 13, 2022

What is the longest road in the world? ›

The Pan American highway connecting North America to South America in 48,000 kilometres is the longest highway in the world.

What is the most dangerous transport in the world? ›

Passenger vehicles are by far the most dangerous motorized transportation option compared. Over the last 10 years, passenger vehicle death rate per 100,000,000 passenger miles was over 20 times higher than for buses, 17 times higher than for passenger trains, and 595 times higher than for scheduled airlines.

Are there abandoned highways in the US? ›

The United States is full of abandoned highways and some of them are really stunning to visit. Abandoned 4 lane highways and tunnels are everywhere. There are ghost highways all around the country.

What is the deadliest road in Florida? ›

According to the Find By Plate study, I-95 is the 17th deadliest road in America, stretching from Miami to Houlton, Maine across more than 1,900 miles.

How many road deaths in usa? ›

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released its latest projections for traffic fatalities in 2022, estimating that 42,795 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes. This represents a small decrease of about 0.3% as compared to 42,939 fatalities reported for 2021.

What state is the loneliest road in? ›

U.S. Route 50 (US 50) is a transcontinental highway in the United States, stretching from West Sacramento, California, in the west to Ocean City, Maryland, on the east coast. The Nevada portion crosses the center of the state and was named "The Loneliest Road in America" by Life magazine in July 1986.

What state has red roads? ›

It is an extremely vesicular basaltic lava with very small vesicles and very lightweight. You can find scoria all over North America. The red variety is commonly used as landscaping rock at Taco Bell. There are many other sections of highways and interstates that are red throughout Wyoming.

What state has the bumpiest roads? ›

Roads with an IRI score of more than 170 are considered to be in poor condition.
  1. 1. California. Although California spends close to $32,000 per year on roads, it is ranked number one for road roughness. California has a road roughness index score of 160.3. ...
  2. Rhode Island.
  3. Nebraska.
  4. Wisconsin.
  5. New York.

What is the safest highway in America? ›

Other top five safest highways include the 131-mile New Hampshire section of Interstate 93 that runs from the Boston area to Vermont; the 111-mile I-95 Connecticut Turnpike; Wisconsin's 348-mile Interstate 94 that runs from the Minnesota to Illinois state lines; and Massachussetts' 120-mile Interstate 495 that runs ...

Why are there no guardrails on the Million Dollar Highway? ›

But the 20-mile section known as the Million Dollar Highway starts outside Ouray and traverses down Red Mountain Pass, ending in Silverton. Guard rails are absent in some areas as the road is too narrow to install them.

What is the deadliest road in Colorado? ›

The deadliest roads all have higher speed limits

Colfax Avenue between Ingalls Street and N. Broadway in Denver. This stretch of road is only 4.1 miles long, but it played host to 18 fatalities as a result of 17 crashes in just three years.

What is the scariest drive in the world? ›

North Yungas Road, Or “The Road of Death” (Bolivia) Bolivia's “Death Road,” considered the world's most dangerous road, and it doesn't get its name for nothing! This single lane, dirt road, connecting La Paz to Coroico, clings precariously to the side of the Cordillera Oriental Mountains.

What kills the most people on the road? ›

Speeding is a major factor in traffic deaths and injuries. The role of speeding in crashes is described in terms of its effect on the driver, the vehicle, and the road.

What is the scariest mountain pass in the United States? ›

#1 – Red Mountain Pass, CO

Colorado Route 550 is known as the Million Dollar Highway.

Which country has the best drivers? ›

The world's best drivers are in Switzerland and the UAE, while the most polite drivers are found in Turkey, according to a study by global transfer service i'way. The study analysed reviews and ratings from passengers in 120 countries from February 2022 to February 2023.

What is the safest country to drive in? ›

The safest roads in the world can be found in Norway. Scoring an impressive 8.21 out of 10, the research found Norway the safest country to drive in.

What is the highway of death now? ›

After the war, the Highway of Death (Highway 80) was repaired in the late 1990s. In 2003 it was used by U.S. and British troops during the invasion of Iraq. Today some pieces of equipment, destroyed in 1991, can still be found along the highway. Discover other roads around the world: click here or see our road map!

What are the highest death tolls in history? ›

Wars and armed conflicts
EventLowest estimateHighest estimate
World War II70,000,000118,357,000
Mongol invasions and conquests30,000,00057,000,000
Taiping Rebellion20,000,00040,000,000
European colonization of the Americas8,400,00080,000,000
45 more rows

How many road deaths in usa per day? ›

That NHTSA notes that this data indicates there are on average 99 fatalities every day from a car accident. There are 7,507 people injured in the United States in car accidents every day. That number is high. America experiences more car accident fatalities and injuries than any other first-world country.

What ocean is the most dangerous road? ›

Connecting the town of Kristiansund and Molde and passing through the island of Litllauvoya, Storlauvoya, Lyngholmen, the Atlantic Ocean Road is simply dangerous. The fjord county in Norway consists of lots inhabited small islands that were needed to be connected by road.

Which is the dangerous animal in the world? ›

The Nile crocodile is the most aggressive animal in the world mostly because it considers humans a “regular part of its diet” according to a-z-animals.com. The animal can weigh up to 1,650 pounds and can be found in 26 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

What is the most dangerous land? ›

Download Table Data
Country2022 GPI2022 Danger Rank
58 more rows

What is the ghost town on Million Dollar Highway? ›

Ironton. Ironton is an easy-to-reach ghost town, just off Highway 550 (Million Dollar Highway), south of Ouray. Established in the 1800s, the last Ironton resident passed away in the mid-1900s. At one time Ironton had over 1000 residents, with a couple of trains running from nearby Silverton daily.

How long does it take to ride the Million Dollar Highway? ›

While technically the Million Dollar Highway can be driven in under an hour if you do not stop, to truly enjoy the drive, as well as experience the towns at the beginning and end of the drive, we recommend allotting at least a half day to drive the road and at least two days in the area if you want to experience ...

What is the best time of year to drive the Million Dollar Highway? ›

Summer is a great time to do the San Juan Skyway road trip because the weather is typically sunny and warm. However, with the leaves turning yellow, a fall road trip through Colorado would also be a perfect time to do this drive.

Why is highway 1 dangerous? ›

Pacific Coast Highway (SR-1)

The most dangerous stretch runs through the Big Sur region, where the road narrows to one lane in each direction and hugs the cliffs. Because there is no passing lane, impatient drivers often make dangerous and illegal moves into oncoming traffic to pass slower vehicles.


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