If you’re gonna hit the road, hit some of the best roads on Earth.
A great road challenges everyday notions, replacing the familiar–the dull grind of everyday commuting–with the epic: turns, terrain and landscape that adjust our perception of the world. But most of all, it elicits a thrill. These 20 mythic highways inspire us to hit the road.
Highway 1, aka “Big Sur”
Where: California, USA
This stretch of Highway 1 chases the ragged central California coastline through Big Sur, which runs from San Simeon to Carmel. This drive is renowned for its staggering views over perilous cliffs, revealing the Pacific Ocean’s whitecaps as they rush past immense dark rocks.
During peak traffic hours, lumbering rental cars and motorhomes dampen the pace. If you’re stuck in slow motion, we suggest a detour through the nearby but less-traveled Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, which cuts east and offers an amazing bird’s-eye view of the coast below.
Deals Gap, aka “Tail of The Dragon”
Where: Tennessee, USA
This stretch of U.S. Route 129 offers some of the sweetest curves outside of the Atlantic coast, with no fewer than 318 turns in the course of 11 miles. No driveways or intersections interrupt this forest-lined thoroughfare, though there are plenty of peg-scraping cruisers who knock down the average speed. While you’re there, be sure to visit the Tree of Shame, where crashed motorcycle bits adorn the tree and dangle from its branches as a reminder of the road’s dangers.
Arguably the most notorious racetrack in the world, this 12.93-mile loop of tarmac also happens to be a toll road that anyone with 24 euros and a need for speed can drive on non-race days. Racer Jackie Stewart once called the Nurburgring “the green hell,” and it features treacherous landmarks, including the Caracciola Karussell (the Carousel) and Flugplatz (also known as “the Airport,” for its tendency to launch vehicles airborne). But keep your inner Michael Schumacher in check: This series of 154 turns has a nasty reputation for humbling even the most seasoned drivers.
White Rim Trail
Where: Utah, USA
While Moab steals the glory when it comes to off-roading meccas, we’ll take the lesser-known White Rim Trail. Rated moderately difficult for high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles, according to the National Park Service, this 100-mile loop slices through the Canyonlands National Park. White-knuckle your way through a broad array of views and terrains, from arches and canyons to basins and stunning plateaus. Be sure to take plenty of water, as signs of civilization are few and far between.
Argentina’s Ruta 40 is one of the longest stretches of highway in the world, connecting 20 national parks with countless passes through the Andes mountain range. If you don’t have time for the entire span of more than 3000 miles, we recommend bypassing the tourist-clogged southern portion and exploring the harrowing and gorgeous upper elevations, where Ruta 40 climbs as high as 16,000 feet above sea level.
San Juan Skyway
Where: Colorado, USA
This scenic 236-mile stretch traverses some of the most breathtaking mountain passes in North America. Connecting Durango to Ridgway, the San Juan Skyway negotiates crusty mining towns and dizzying drops, offering its most impressive views along the “Million Dollar Highway,” which features spine-tingling hairpin turns and a daredevil’s delight–no guardrails.
It’s hard to go wrong driving through Ireland (as long as you stay on the left side of the road), but for an excellent Emerald Isle drive, seek out the Conor Pass. It runs from the southern end of the Dingle Peninsula toward Brandon Bay. This narrow road snakes through verdant vistas, and its view of the lakes below is the stuff of fairy tales.
Great Ocean Road
Imagine a kinder, gentler version of Big Sur tucked away in the Southern Hemisphere. The Great Ocean Road passes arresting natural rock formations such as Loch Ard Gorge and the Twelve Apostles. It’s a 151-mile coastal thruway not to be missed by relaxed road trippers who simply can’t get enough clear skies–and exotic roadkill.