The world’s great high-country drives offer unparalleled scenery through the windshield. From the bear-prowled highlands of America’s Northern Rockies to the glacier-thick buttresses of New Zealand’s backbone, mountain roads are rich in scenery—and, with sheer drop-offs, avalanche delays, and tempestuous weather often the norm, a fair sprinkle of danger. Here are five glorious high-elevation routes—but there are many more, and every one has its own rugged and expansive charm.
There are much higher roads in the Alps, but for sheer eccentricity and unforgettable highland scenery Norway’s Trollstigen is one of Europe’s great mountain drives. The Trollstigen is the “Troll’s Ladder,” a stretch of Norwegian National Road 63 defined by tight, steep switchbacks and a wheeling course. From a vantage near the 2,800-foot high point, the road looks like the wild design of a child’s playset. Looming crags are cleft by the Stigfossen falls, a cataract tumbling over 1,000 feet down the rough slopes.
Karakoram Highway (Pakistan-China)
The Karakoram, which includes the highest-elevation paved international border traverse on Earth, is a marvel of engineering and a magnet for adventurers. Bridging Pakistan and China, the 746-mile highway hits the border and its highest point (15,397 feet) at the legendary Khunjerab Pass in the Karakoram (“black gravel”) Range, a splendidly scenic and remote branch of the main Himalayan system that includes some of the tallest mountains and biggest non-polar glaciers anywhere. You’ll be in the company of such mighty peaks as 25,545-foot Rakaposhi, not to mention rare and imperiled wildlife like the snow leopard and Marco Polo sheep. You’re also retracing part of the Silk Road and passing through country long-steeped in Buddhism.
The Beartooth Highway (Montana-Wyoming, USA)
Yellowstone National Park is one of the world’s magnificent places, a vast wilderness rich in wildlife and geothermal drama. Such a premier destination deserves an equally awe-inspiring gateway, and such a gateway exists in the Beartooth Highway. Connecting two Montana mountain towns—Red Lodge and Cooke City—this route, technically U.S. Highway 212, dips into Wyoming for much of its length as it traverses the high, wild Beartooth Plateau, an uplifted exposure of ancient Precambrian rocks adjoining the Absaroka Range. You’ll see broad, rolling alpine tundra dotted with lakes and snowfields, rung with rugged, rocky mountains—including the horn for which the plateau is named. You’ll top out close to 11,000 feet in elevation; you may glimpse mountain goats in the high wastes, and anything from moose to grizzly bears back down in the conifer forests.
Sani Pass (South Africa-Lesotho)
The Drakensberg, or Dragon Mountains, were known to the Zulu as uKhahlamba, the “barrier of spears”—an apt name for these dramatic highlands, the most substantial in southern Africa and, reflecting thousands of years of human history, full of rock art. Arcing from South Africa to Lesotho, where the highest peaks are found and where the range is called the Maluti, the Drakensberg are striking in appearance, with slopes of sandstone rising to staggered crests and scarps of dark basalt. Sani Pass, an old livestock route dropping from the high country, bridges the two countries, exceeding 9,000 feet in elevation as it does so and passing near southern Africa’s king peak, 11,420-foot Thabana Ntlenyana. A sometimes-harrowing route, this is an incomparable journey across one of Africa’s windswept roofs.
Milford Road (New Zealand)
Fans of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film adaptations may recognize the astounding scenery along the Milford Road portion of New Zealand State Highway 94—but the gleaming mountains of the Southern Alps looming to both sides don’t require literary and cinematic association to impress. The drive itself—which, as with a number of these profiled routes, involves avalanche risk in wintertime—reaches a high point above 3,000 feet at the Homer Tunnel, a portal toward the head of New Zealand’s most famous landscape: the sheer-walled fjord of Milford Sound.
About The Author: Article contributed by Charlotte, on behalf of Customer Care Australia. Charlotte is a freelance writer, she writes travel articles for various travel and tourism blogs.
Photo Credits – Flickr: #1-96dpi, #2-preston.rhea, #3-Alex1961, #4-Michiel Van Balen, #5-macronix