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Adventure, Travel / January 25, 2016

Our road trip bucket list

Written by: Matt Minich

Motorheads we are not. We don’t often advocate for any motorized travel that isn’t absolutely required for access to a crag, trailhead, or surf break.

But sometimes even we feel that peculiar, soul-stirring sensation that bikers, RVers, and station wagon dads know as “The Call of the Road.”

So this week, we’ve rounded up the four long drives we dream of when we’re stuck behind a desk.



1. Central Asia’s Pamir Highway

Photo by Alj87.

Photo by rugbyxm.

The second-highest highway in the world connects two nations most people have barely even heard of: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Topping out at 15,270 feet, the mostly unpaved highway will test even the most rugged overland setup.

Travelers on the 450-mile route often share the road with shepherds and livestock, and stay overnight in some of the most remote villages on Earth. Also popular with adventure cyclists, the trip is most often tackled over three or four days by land cruiser or motorcycle.

If you go: A trip along the Pamir Highway requires serious planning. Many travelers choose to hire a driver and vehicle in Kohrugh, but it is possible to hitchhike the route. A traveler’s visa is required for entry into Tajikistan, and travelers should learn some basic Russian. Weather is friendliest in the summer and early fall.

Upon arrival in Osh, we recommend a stop at Adi’s Coffee Shop on the corner of Lenin and Mononova. The coffee is good, and the owners speak English.


2. Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way


Photo by Greg Clarke.

Photo by Greg Clarke. Photo has been cropped.

Ireland doesn’t try to hide the fact that its 1,553-mile Wild Atlantic Way is intended for tourists. The route’s website (a very solid resource) even has a page that lists great places to Instagram along the way.

So it’s not exactly off the beaten path. Rather, it is the beaten path, connecting 188 must-see “discovery points” along Ireland’s craggy west coast. Those points include the famous Cliffs of Moher, centuries-old churches and abbeys, and dozens of protected beaches and bogs. A drive of the WAW will take travelers by many of Ireland’s must-see spots.

If you go: Devote two weeks to this drive if your want to do it right. Peak tourist season in Ireland runs from June through September—many destinations close in mid-winter. The WAW website provides pretty much all the info you’ll need, but we disagree with them on one point: the site recommends driving the route from north to south, but we think the reverse is better. Driving from south the north will put you on the coastal side of the road and away from crowds in many destinations. 

3. Chile’s Carretera Austral

Photo by Rakela

Photo by M-M. Photo has been cropped.

When it was completed in 1976, Chile’s 770-mile Carretera Austral provided overland access to places that had only been accessible by boat, airplane, or horse for centuries. From its start in Puerto Montt to its terminus in Villa O’Higgins, the highway services just 100,000 residents.

It also provides access to some of the wildest country on Earth. Travelers pass some of Chile’s wildest national parks and most imposing peaks. To see everything, most travelers drive out and back over the course of a week or more.

If you go: Travel visas are not required for U.S. citizens traveling to Chile, and rental vehicles are readily available in Puerto Montt and Coyhaique. The weather is friendliest from late November to early March.

We strongly recommend a side trip to the coastal village of Caleta Tortel, and suggest you don’t miss out on at least one traditional Patagonian barbecue. 


4. The Alaskan-Canadian Highway

Photo by Jerry and Roy Klotz, MD.

Photo by Glenn. Photo has been cropped.

Let’s be real. If you’re going to take a big, adventurous road trip this year, chances are you’re going to do it in North America. That’s where your car is, after all. Fortunately, staying on your home continent doesn’t mean you have to compromise.

Stretching from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, AK, the Alaskan-Canadian Highway (or ALCAN) winds through 1,422 miles of mostly pristine Rocky Mountain wilderness. And unlike the routes mentioned above, it’s fully paved.

If you go: Peak season on the ALCAN is mid-summer, so if you plan to travel during these months plan to book hotel rooms or campsites in advance. In any time of year, make sure your car is in working order and bring a complete maintenance kit.

Feature photo by Greg Clarke. 

Do you love a road trip that didn’t make it on this list? Pitch it to us at [email protected]

about the author

Matt Minich

Matt Minich is Editorial Director for Shoulders of Giants. He has spent more than a decade writing, editing, and curating content about outdoor sports and adventure. As an adventure journalist he has climbed peaks in Patagonia, rappelled waterfalls in Colorado, B.A.S.E. jumped in Moab, and sampled fermented horse milk in Kyrgyzstan.

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