Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Travelers agree: These are the scariest road trip routes

Looking for road trip ideas? Travelers find these routes a little scary

Isolated stretch of highway in Death Valley with mountains in the background

There’s simply nothing like a road trip. The freedom to explore everything the open road has to offer is unmatched in my book. But not all road trips are created equal. According to a recent survey of 3,000 road trippers by QuestionPro, five routes in the United States strike fear into even the most adventurous hearts. 

These routes, known for their desolation, treacherous conditions, and remote locations, can turn a dream road trip into a nerve-wracking ordeal. Breaking down on a busy interstate is one thing, but even a minor mishap on one of these long, isolated stretches can leave you stranded for hours until help arrives — assuming you have cell service, which you may not. Are you a risk-taker in need of new road trip ideas? Look no further. If you’re up for the challenge, here’s where to find these scary — but oh-so-scenic — routes.

A stretch of isolated highway near roswell new mexico
Mike van Schoonderwalt/Pexels

New Mexico: U.S. Route 285

The top contender on this spine-tingling list is New Mexico’s U.S. Route 285, specifically the stretch between Vaughn and Roswell. On this road, the vastness of the landscape is matched only by the isolation it imposes upon travelers. While it might be the most feared route in America, it’s also an opportunity to experience the raw, unfiltered beauty of the Southwest in a way that few others dare to. Witness the unspoiled natural beauty as the landscape unfolds, with rolling plains and distant mountains as your road trip backdrop.

Rugged and scenic terrain in Death Valley California
Erick Nuevo/Pexels

California: Death Valley Road SR-190

With the word “death” in this road trip route’s name, it’s hard not to be wary of Death Valley Road’s most intimidating feature — its extreme heat. During the summer, this region transforms into one of the hottest places on Earth, frequently surpassing the 120-degree Fahrenheit mark, turning your vehicle into an oven on wheels. The road cuts through an arid, unforgiving wilderness, where services and resources are scarce. Still, the reward for this treacherous trek includes sand dunes, vast salt flats, and rugged mountain ranges unlike anywhere else in the country.

An art installation Prada storefront in Marfa, Texas on Route 90
Mick Haupt/Unsplash

Texas: U.S. Route 90

If a remote road trip is what you’re after, be sure to add this Lone Star State stretch to your route planner. Spanning a considerable distance between Del Rio and Marathon, this section of highway is where the open road meets desolation in its purest form. Here, the horizon seems endless, with rolling ranch terrain stretching out on both sides. I once got stuck on this highway in a line of cars several miles long, waiting for hours before a tow truck could reach the area and move a wrecked 18-wheeler that hit a guardrail, but the sunset and the art installations in Marfa were well worth the trip.

an ariel shot of mountains and ocean landscape on saddle road in hawaii
Lukas Rodriguez/Pexels

Hawaii: Saddle Road, Hawaii Route 200

In idyllic Hawaii, Saddle Road traverses the heart of the Big Island, bridging the gap between two volcanoes — Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. On this road trip route, the raw power of volcanic forces is palpable in every mile, and a lush landscape abounds. Traversing these volcanic highlands, you’ll encounter stretches where the road seems to disappear into the clouds, and visibility drops to near zero. Even the most experienced drivers will white-knuckle the steering wheel here.

a stretch of highway with mountains in the background
Enric Cruz López/Pexels

Nevada: U.S. Route 50

Dubbed the “Loneliest Road in America,” adding this stretch of Nevada highway to your route planner is one road trip idea that will require extra planning. The road cuts through vast desert plains, winding its way past rocky outcrops and distant mountain ranges. Historic markers, abandoned mining towns, and pockets of unexpected beauty punctuate the journey. If you get a little spooked, just be thankful you’re not a pioneer trekking across the unforgiving terrain on foot or horseback without an insulated cooler full of water to quench your thirst.

red jeep parked on scenic mountainside
Brett Sayles/Pexels

Do’s and don’ts to make road trips safer

  • Research your route, noting gas stations, rest stops, and points of interest along the way.
  • Don’t make unplanned detours. 
  • Keep emergency supplies on hand. Pack extra water, food, a first aid kit, and essential tools.
  • Ensure your vehicle is in optimal condition. 
  • Get adequate rest before your road trip and take breaks in safe areas.
  • Wear appropriate clothing for various weather conditions like extreme heat and sudden temperature fluctuations, especially at higher elevations.
  • Don’t drive recklessly or speed. 
  • Have a reliable means of communication for emergencies. 

Remember, if you get in an accident or have an emergency on many of these isolated road trip routes, help may be hours away. A level of preparedness beyond the ordinary road trip checklist is not just recommended — it’s essential. 

Editors' Recommendations

Ashley Jones
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ashley is a freelance journalist with bylines across a range of online and print publications.
From Alaska to Maine, these are 12 best road trip routes in the U.S. for embarking on an adventure of a lifetime
Add these locales to your road trip bucket list
Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur, California

Spring and summer will be here before we know it, and it inspires us to plan a road trip and revel in the alluring beauty of nature. Thankfully, you needn’t look far, as every state in the country offers a great road trip route. There are obvious choices like Florida’s Overseas Highway and Hawaii’s Road to Hana, but the country offers many lesser-known – though just as stunning – scenic drives. Excited? Pack your road trip gear and essentials, gas up your road trip car, and map out a memorable cross-country adventure with these best U.S. road trip routes.

Seward Highway
Despite its unfortunate name, Seward Highway is like a Chili’s appetizer sampler platter of everything that makes Alaska's breathtaking landscape famous. The two-hour drive between Anchorage and the seaside village of Seward includes shoreline views in Turnagain Arm, looks at the jagged peaks of Chugach Mountains, and a dip into the Kenai Peninsula. The latter is famous for sea kayaking, glacier hiking, rafting, fishing, and a host of outdoor activities.

Read more
How to survive a long-distance RV road trip with your significant other
These tips will help you have an amazing adventure
Couple outside an RV during a road trip

A road trip is the perfect opportunity to step out of your comfort zone. On the best trips, every day is exciting, novel, inspiring, and Instagram-worthy. But travel can also be stressful, tiring, frustrating, and unpredictable. It’s one thing to deal with these things on your own. But adding a partner into the mix changes the dynamic. It can make things a lot more interesting, sometimes for the worse.

Our best advice when traveling with your partner
Here’s how to survive a long-distance RV road trip with your significant other (without killing each other).
Don’t let it be a "compatibility test"
Above all else, be honest with each other about what’s involved in a long-distance road trip. A six-week, cross-country RV trek isn’t the time to learn that you and your significant other are not quite as compatible as you thought. Hard travel days have a way of bringing out a different side of people. That can put a strain on even the healthiest relationships.
Take a "shakedown trip"
If you’ve never traveled in an RV or in an RV with your partner, plan a “shakedown trip” -- a trip close to home to test things out together in your new rig -- before committing to a long-distance journey. This will let you both experience living in a confined space with one another. If you don’t yet have an RV, consider renting one to get the whole experience before buying your own camper. Test the waters to see how things go, so you don’t have to worry about things going sideways when you’re 400 miles from home.
Decide your roles
Traveling in or towing an RV requires more planning than your average road trip. Setting up and breaking camp isn’t just a matter of jumping in or out of your car and checking into your hotel. There’s finding your campsite, parking and leveling your RV, hooking up the electric, water, and sewer lines, double-checking that your appliances are working correctly -- the list goes on. All of this is much, much easier with two people. It’s easier still if you decide on your roles beforehand. When I travel with my girlfriend, we don’t even have to discuss what needs to be done when we get where we’re going. We just do it. This is especially nice at the end of a long travel day. I take care of parking, leveling, and hooking up our utilities while she gets our cat squared away, fixes our bedding, and sets up the kitchen.
Plan your en-route entertainment
This might seem trivial, but I promise it’s one of the most essential tips on this list. If you’re planning to cover hundreds of miles and hours in a confined space together, you’ll probably want some entertainment along the way. If you and your S.O. are always in sync here, great. If not, take a second before your trip to plan out a playlist, download some audiobooks, or find the best long-road-trip-friendly podcasts to listen to together. That way, you’re not stuck arguing over how many replays of Despacito is too many.
Be realistic
Traveling with an RV, even an ultra-light travel trailer, isn’t an ordinary road trip. Campers are big, unwieldy, and unlike ordinary vehicles. Navigating freeways means being patient, extra cautious, and hyper-aware of your surroundings. All of this makes RV road trips more tiring. If this is your first RV road trip together, be prepared for this. If you’re used to covering 600 miles in a day on a normal road trip, you may only want to tackle half that with an RV in tow. If you and your significant other are both comfortable driving your RV or towing your travel trailer, divvy up the driving duties whenever possible so you can both rest along the way.
Make time for yourself
For couples traveling long distance, they may be together almost non-stop. Depending on your relationship, things can start to feel a bit cramped. Even in a more spacious RV, things will be cramped. Some couples can spend day and night together for weeks on end. Others, even those in perfectly healthy relationships, need regular time apart. Learn to appreciate each other’s need for space. If you want to take a solo hike or visit a museum your partner isn’t interested in, go it alone. Don’t overthink it. Use the time apart to allow the heart to indeed great fonder.
Learn to say "yes!"
There’s no sense in traveling hundreds or thousands of miles from home only to go to the same shops and restaurants and do all the same things you do back home. If your partner wants to try something new, lean into it. If it’s something you wouldn’t normally be into, be flexible. Learn to say “Yes!” without thinking too much about it. Travel is, after all, about new experiences.
Stop often
On a long pleasure trip, forget about “making good time.” You probably won’t with an RV in tow anyway. Who cares if you get where you’re going an hour later than you expected if everyone was stressing over keeping to a predefined schedule? Stop frequently along the way whenever you or your S.O. needs a snack, bathroom break, or to snap a photo. Learn to ignore the clock and just enjoy the journey.
Document your journey
Remember to take photos and videos and write down your experiences in a journal, even if it's just notes and not comprehensive. This is the best way to make the memories last, which you can cherish long after the trip is over.
Try new things
Take advantage of being somewhere new and step outside your comfort zone and try new foods, activities, and experiences. You might discover something you love that you can bring back from the trip.
Be prepared
Even for solo trips, it pays to be prepared. But, this is doubly true for couples. You don’t want a lack of preparation to become a sore spot when the unexpected happens on the road. Even if planning isn’t in your nature, at least think about the next few days in advance. Consider the route you’re planning to travel and whether it requires any special preparations for your RV. Do you need to change up your directions to account for poor road conditions, a certain bridge that’s too low, or a ferry crossing? Call ahead to confirm your reservations at any upcoming campgrounds or campsites. Pack plenty of food, water, and extra clothing in case of a breakdown. A first aid kit and a well-stocked emergency automotive kit are wise, too.
Roll with the punches
Travel far and long enough in an RV and things will go horribly wrong. Learn to expect -- and embrace -- the unexpected. Whether it's flat tires, lousy weather, a leaky sink, no vacancy at your next stop (even though you’re sure you made a reservation), or obnoxious campground neighbors, the travel gods will deal you a crap hand at some point. As in life, learn to roll with the punches as best you can. You and your S.O. will get annoyed and upset, maybe even with each other. Fights may (will) happen. Just know that the sting of the moment will fade and, in another year, you’ll have a great story to tell and laugh about together.

Read more
These are the travel memberships and subscriptions that are worth the money – CLEAR, Global Entry, and more
Not all travel programs are created equal
Traveler pulling a rollaboard suitcase outside an airport, sun shining directly into the camera.

From Netflix and smartphone apps to food delivery services, everyone is vying for your subscription dollars these days. Most aren’t worth the expense, in our opinion. There are a few, however, that make legitimate sense — and cents — for travelers. If you're planning to travel in the upcoming year, here are the best travel memberships and subscription services that are worth the money in 2024.

TSA PreCheck
Let’s start with the most obvious travel membership: TSA PreCheck. Even for U.S.-based travelers who only fly a handful of times per year, the recurring cost is worth the time and money. A five-year membership costs $78 (less than $16 annually). It’s guaranteed to save you hours at the airport because PreCheck passengers needn’t remove their shoes, belts, or light jackets, and can leave laptops and liquids in their carry-on luggage.

Read more