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The Gearzette


- June 17, 2023

You’re like us … You’re haunted by remote mountain trails. You crave the thrill of winding roads, breathtaking views, and the freedom of the open road. Few roads conjure notions of an adventure more than mountain passes. So read on, and we’ll take you on a virtual journey to five of the most awe-inspiring mountain passes from around the world. From hairpin bends that make your heart race to panoramic vistas that will leave you breathless, these mountain passes are sure to leave an indelible mark on your adventurous spirit.​

Stelvio Pass, Italy​

The Alps are littered with great driving passes; the most famous must be Italy’s Stelvio Pass, thanks to the coverage it has enjoyed on Top Gear and the fact that it almost always features in articles about driving the best roads in the world. ​

What makes Stelvio greater than other Alps passes? First, it is longer and higher than most passes featured in this article. The highest point of the pass is 9,000 ft, which makes it the highest paved road in Eastern Alps. We suggest starting in Trafoi and ending in Bormio; you won’t drive a more dramatic 21 miles in your life. This will take you up the north face of the pass, where 48 crazy switchbacks await. ​

© Justin Kauffman

Pass of the Cattle, Scotland​

The Gaelic name of this iconic, narrow Highland road is Bealch na Ba; it links Loch Kishorn with the remote coastal village of Applecross. Britain might not have any alpine passes, but often, during the winter snowfall, the Pass of the Cattle is closed for days and weeks. There are warning signs at the bottom of the pass for those with long motorhomes or towing caravans; they should take the alternative route or a bicycle instead! ​

The pass starts at sea level and rises an incredible 2,000 ft in just over 5 miles. While the average gradient is 7%, the steepest section is 20%. The stunning views of the Isle of Skye and the Hebridean Islands are your rewards for conquering the climb and several switchbacks.​

© Craig Kolesky

Sani Pass, South Africa 

Famed South African travel author David Bristow (who wrote Best Walks of the Drakensberg, among others) believes Sani Top is the most scenic place you can reach with a vehicle in the Berg. The iconic pass is in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, near Underberg. It forms part of the border between South Africa and Lesotho, with the summit of the pass reaching an elevation of 9,429 ft above sea level. ​

 ​To get there, you must crawl up the famous hairpin bends of Sani Pass, once a bridle path for mules ferrying trade goods between the old Basutoland and Natal. Sani Pass is notoriously challenging, with steep gradients, severe switchbacks, and narrow, unpaved sections. It is only accessible by 4x4 vehicles, and driving on the pass requires skill and caution. In addition, the road is often closed during inclement weather, as it can become treacherous due to snow, ice, or heavy rainfall. The views are worth the effort, though — with dramatic landscapes that include rugged cliffs, deep gorges, and panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountains.​


Leba Pass, Angola​

Serra da Leba is the name of a mountain range located on the boundary of Huíla and Namibe provinces of Angola. It is home to one of the most famous switch-backed passes in the world, the Leba Pass. The pass offers awe-inspiring vistas and a thrilling driving experience. With an elevation of over 6,000 ft, Leba Pass is one of the highest passes in Angola, featuring steep gradients and sharp hairpin bends that add an adrenaline rush to the drive. The pass spirals from the 'plano alto' (high plateau) at over 6,000 ft to almost sea level in just over 6 miles. The drive is steep, reaching a 34% gradient through some sections, and the drive will see you traverse a range of climate zones. The panoramic views of lush valleys and cascading waterfalls make it a photographer's paradise. Additionally, Leba Pass holds historical significance as it served as a critical supply route during Angola's struggle for independence, symbolizing the country's rich history and progress. While caution is needed due to the challenging road conditions in most of Angola, Leba Pass features beautifully smooth tarmac; however, there is little guard-rail protection, which could be why it has long been referred to as 'the beautiful precipice’.

© Front Runner

Trail Ridge Road, Colorado​

Trail Ridge Road, located in Colorado, is a breathtaking scenic drive that spans through the Rocky Mountain National Park, reaching an elevation of 12,183 ft above sea level, making it the highest continuously paved road in the United States. This iconic road offers stunning panoramic vistas of snow-capped peaks, alpine meadows, and dense forests, making it a haven for nature lovers and adventure seekers. Built in the 1930s, Trail Ridge Road, is a marvel of engineering, featuring numerous hairpin turns, steep grades, and awe-inspiring switchbacks that offer an adrenaline-pumping driving experience. Along the way, visitors can witness unique ecosystems, including subalpine and tundra landscapes, and spot a variety of wildlife, such as elk, marmots, and bighorn sheep. In addition to its natural beauty, Trail Ridge Road holds historical significance, as it was once a major transportation route for early settlers and gold prospectors. If you plan on driving, heed our advice and start early. Tour buses, RV's, and other drivers usually pack the road around 10 or 11 a.m. An early start can mean enjoying the scenery at your own pace while photographing stunning sunrises and grazing wildlife.