Five Epic Road Trips: When, Where, and How to Make 'em Happen

The road trip. There's something almost primal about it. Still, college trips and family vacations can grow tame. When that happens, it's time to heed adventure's call, even if that means going to the literal ends of the Earth. Sound good? Great! Keep reading to get the scoop on five of the world's most extreme road trips!

The Karakoram Highway

What article about road-based adventure would be complete without mention of the Karakoram Highway? After all, this winding, asphalted remnant of the Silk Road covers some of the same ground as Marco Polo, and if that's not extreme, what is?

  • Location(s): The Karakoram Highway, or KKH for short, is a 1200 kilometer / 240 mile ribbon that has its jump-off point in Abottabad, Pakistan, winds through the Karakoram mountain range, and finally terminates in Kashgar, China.
  • When to Go: Various combinations of weather and border control policies make pinning down an exact timetable somewhat dicey. Still, the traditional spring (May-June) and autumn (September-October) windows are good spots to aim for.
  • How to Do It: The first thing you'll need to do if you plan on taking the KKH is to take care of your prep-work. Visas, timetables, and so on. Somewhat ironically, public transit is the best way to tick this trip off your list; it's cheap and readily available, and besides, road conditions are often impassable for regular autos.

The Canning Stock Route

Ever wanted to see the Outback? No, not the steakhouse - the real Outback! The Canning Stock Route is your chance. This 1820 kilometer / 1131 mile desert highway offers the solitude of the open road in spades, unparalleled views of the Australian wilderness, and several opportunities to interact with various First Nation tribes on refueling stops.

  • Location(s): The Canning Stock Route is entirely encapsulated within the state of Western Australia. It begins in Wiluna and ends in Hall's Creek.
  • When to Go: Australia is a friendly place on a local and national level, so visas and other such concerns should be easily navigated. Still, Mother Nature is somewhat less hospitable; The Canning Stock Route is best attempted in the wintertime (May-September).
  • How to Do It: Before you do anything else, you'll need to get a permit from the relevant authorities. Then comes the planning stage - the Canning Stock Trail is, give or take, a three week journey through open, vacant desert. A four-wheel drive vehicle capable of carrying the driver + passenger(s), repair supplies, and food and water supplies for all on board is non-negotiable. Not recommended for enduro-trip novices. Note: 4WDAustralia has a nice pre-trip pamphlet for those interested in tackling TCR.

El Camino de la Muerte

This ominously-labeled stretch of Bolivian road comes by its name honestly. More officially known as the North Yungas Road, it claimed an estimated two hundred lives every single year before the government stepped in and made some safety improvements.

  • Location(s): The North Yungas Road starts in La Paz, Bolivia and ends in Coroico, Bolivia.
  • When to Go: While it's no longer necessary to play real-life Mario Kart against all the commercial traffic that once wound its way along this cliffside route, it's still best to avoid going in Bolivia's rainy season, which runs from December to March.
  • How to Do It: The best bet is actually to bicycle this road trip. The breathtaking descent and jaw-dropping views are just the beginning - most people who dance with La Muerte continue their adventure with little or no pause (Coroico is a popular staging point for Amazonian expeditions).

The Manali-Leh Highway

India has always been a land of chaotic adventure for those lucky and daring enough to embrace her. The Manali-Leh highway exemplifies this - its 490 kilometer / 305 mile asphalt strand winds through some of India's most harshly beautiful mountain passes, offering a once in a lifetime opportunity for adventure-seekers and photo-bugs everywhere.

  • Location(s): As its name suggests, the Manali-Leh Highway begins in Menali in Himachal Pradesh and terminates in Leh, in Ladakh. Climates & sights encountered include various mountain climate zones, including glaciers.
  • When to Go: Due to unique climactic constraints, the Menali-Leh Highway is only open during the summertime (June-October).
  • How to Do It: While you can make the voyage on your own, it isn't recommended. Instead, bus service specifically tailored to the trip will spread the journey out over two days and a night's rest in the mountain town of Keylong, the better to avoid Acute Mountain Sickness (the altitudes here are brutal). You should reserve a bus ticket a few days in advance; don't just show up! Taxis are also available if you're brave enough. Be warned, though: The so-called Cannonball Run they'll take you on isn't for the faint of body or spirit!

The Trans-Sahara Highway

If you've ever wanted to feel like Mad Max, this is your chance. The Trans-Sahara Highway is a mind (and butt!)-numbing 4500 kilometre / 2700 mile odyssey through some of Africa's most unspoiled and unforgiving territory.

  • Location(s): You'll start in Algiers, Algeria, the goal being far-off Lagos in Nigeria, which you'll reach via another Nigerian city, Niger. The voyage, of course, takes place mainly in the Sahara Desert.
  • When to Go: It should go without saying, but just in case, here's a warning: Don't do this trip in the summertime! Instead, wait for the relatively cooler stretch between November and February.
  • How to Do It: Let's be real - this is a trip for the bona fide adrenaline junkie and / or the mildly unbalanced. The visa / permit process drives most people away before they even begin. Local laws require the hiring of a local escort / navigator, but don't count on him to help you - a massive degree of self-sufficiency and desert-based off-roading experience is required for this trip, not to mention a solid four-wheel drive vehicle and all the requisite supplies, food, water, and so forth. On top of all that, the relevant border crossings are often closed because of political instability. The good news? The roads themselves are actually decent and drivable.

There's little else to be said - the road is waiting. If you're brave, crazy, and hungry enough to answer its call, this guide will help you do just that. Good luck!

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