The Highest Roads on Earth
How our roads came to be is fascinating. Many roads are paved over paths that horse and buggies have travelled over the ages. It is amazing to see the human feats of clearing and paving roads to traverse over some of the most dangerous areas in the world. Every continent has a stretch of road that only the bravest would travel over. The highest highs of the mountain ranges still needed to be passable, and now we have the highest roads on earth.
- Asia: The mountain pass of Khardung La (Khardung Pass) in India reigns high at 17,582 ft. It was built in 1976 and has been passable by motor vehicles ever since 1988. This access road isn’t just for looks; it serves as a vital pipeline to the military outposts and to the Siachen Glacier, which is sometimes referred to as the Third Pole. Historically, the pass has served as a major trade route from Leh to Kashgar in Asia. Before the road was built, 10,000 horses and camels would make this trek every year.
- USA: Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the United States highest elevation road that you can pass over. It begins at the Idaho Springs Visitor Center, and continues on Highway 103 and 5, which leads you between the Mount Evans Wilderness. It ends near the summit of Mount Evans, stretching over 28 miles long. During this drive, you will gain over 7,000 ft of elevation, making the final elevation of 14,130 ft. This route was originally designed in 1915-1920 to be the primary access to a proposed National Park for the Evans Wilderness area. Make sure to come during the summer months! After Labor Day, the road becomes impassable.
- Europe: The Pico de Veleta in Spain leads from the city of Granada. The summit is 3395 meters (or 11,138.5 ft for us Americans), and during the ascent, you will gain over 2700m (8,858 ft). Beware of the conditions of the road. There are parts that are difficult to pass by car. Many cyclists love to tackle the challenge of riding the highest peak in Europe. There’s typically very little traffic down this road except for the bikes. If you choose to cruise down this one, you’ll see some amazing views!
- South America: In the Venezuelan mountain range of Cordillera de Merida, Pico el Aguila stands tall at 4,100 m (13451.5 ft). If you start out in Trujillo, you will go from 300 m (984 ft) to the summit at 4,100 m. That’s a gain of over 3800 m (12,467 ft)! Take your time getting up to the top. Soak up the amazing mountain range, and let your body acclimate to the higher elevation. Some have been known to get sick and lightheaded from the drastic incline.
- Africa: Africa’s highest road is Sani Pass and Kotisephola Pass in Lesotho, South Africa reaching up to 2876 m (9435.7 ft). It’s a steep incline up the side of a mountain. It is a cut road, but it’s not technically paved. If you want to climb this one, make sure to have a vehicle with 4-wheel drive to make it to the top. This road also attracts a number of adventurous cyclists who want to make the climb to the top.
All of these highest roads on earth are sure to be a thrilling adventure. Before making the trip, do a little extra planning to know what to expect on your journey to the top. Plan out stops for photos and scenic detours. Even though the roads are clear, be aware of how the elevation can affect your driving. Thinner air and cooler temperatures can change how the car, and you, operate. Save travels!