Hairpin turn

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21 turns in Guizhou, China
Pass of the Cattle (Bealach na Bà in Gaelic) in Scotland, UK, showing a hairpin bend.
Some of the 48 hairpin turns near the top of the northern ramp of the Stelvio Pass in Italy
Hairpin turn on Mont Ventoux in France
Hairpins on a track to the south of Mont Valier, Pyrenees

A hairpin turn (also hairpin bend, hairpin corner, etc.), named for its resemblance to a hairpin/bobby pin, is a bend in a road with a very acute inner angle, making it necessary for an oncoming vehicle to turn about 180° to continue on the road. Such turns in ramps and trails may be called switchbacks in American English, by analogy with switchback railways. In British English "switchback" is more likely to refer to a heavily undulating road—a use extended from the rollercoaster and the other type of switchback railway.


Hairpin turns are often built when a route climbs up or down a steep slope, so that it can travel mostly across the slope with only moderate steepness, and are often arrayed in a zigzag pattern. Highways with repeating hairpin turns allow easier, safer ascents and descents of mountainous terrain than a direct, steep climb and descent, at the price of greater distances of travel and usually lower speed limits, due to the sharpness of the turn. Highways of this style are also generally less costly to build and maintain than highways with tunnels.

On occasion, the road may loop completely, using a tunnel or bridge to cross itself at a different elevation (example on Reunion Island: 21°10′52″S 55°27′17″E / 21.18111°S 55.45472°E / -21.18111; 55.45472). When this routing geometry is used for a rail line, it is called a spiral, or spiral loop.

In trail building, an alternative to switchbacks is the stairway.

Roads with hairpin turns[edit]

Some roads with switchbacks (hairpin turns) include:


United Kingdom:

North America[edit]

One of the most famous NASCAR tracks with hairpin turns was the old Riverside International Raceway in Riverside, California
Shafer Trail Road in Canyonlands National Park


  • Mexican Autopista 95D has a famous hairpin turn which is known as La Pera (The Pear), because it somewhat resembles the shape of that fruit.




Nujiang 72 turns/Baxoi 99 turns
Ancient 18 Hairpin Bends, known as Daha ata wanguwa on the way to/from Kandy/Mahiyanganaya
  • In Burma, The World War II–era Burma Road, constructed over the rugged terrain between the (then) British colony of Burma and China has many hairpin curves to accommodate traffic to supply China, then otherwise isolated by sea and land.
  • In India,
    • the Ghat road from Namakkal to Kolli Hills has 70 hairpin bends to reach the top of the hills,
    • Ponmudi Hills in Kerala has 22 hairpin bends to reach the hill top,
    • the Gata Loops, a part of the route from Manali to Leh,
    • the Agumbe Ghat road from Udupi to Teerthahalli in Karnataka have 13 hairpin turns. In fact, most of the Ghats include at least one hairpin turn.
    • there are 40 hairpins to reach Valparai from the Pollachi plains.
  • In Iraq, the road going up the Sinjar mountains starting from Shangal town to Gune Ezidiya village of the Yazidi sect has between 90–100 hairpin turns over a distance of 20 km (12 mi) from starting point[6] to ending point.[7]
  • In Japan, there is the known Nikkō Irohazaka, a one-way switchback mountain road (there are 2 separate roads; up and down), located at Nikko, Tochigi. This road plays a significant role in Japanese history: The route was popular with Buddhist pilgrims on their way to Lake Chūzenji, which is at the top of the forested hill that this road climbs. There are 48 hairpin turns, each labeled with one of the 48 characters in the Japanese alphabet:[8][9] while the narrow road has been modernized over the years, care has been taken to keep the number of curves constant. Iroha-Zaka ascends more than 1,300 feet (396 m).[citation needed] In Aomori Prefecture, the Tsugaru Iwaki Skyline is a toll road that allows drivers to ascend 2,644 feet (806 m) with an average gradient of 8.66% and sections up to 10%; to 8th station on the stratovolcano, Mount Iwaki. The road is considered to be one of the most dangerous mountain roads in the world due to the gradient and the constant 69 hairpin turns.[10]


  • The Mount Hotham Pass on the Great Alpine Road in Victoria has numerous hairpin bends, as do the other roads in the region.
  • Galston Gorge in New South Wales. Vehicles like towed caravans are forbidden on this road, lest the caravan gets jammed and delays other traffic. Special penalties apply if overlength vehicles attempted to take this route.
  • Macquarie Pass in New South Wales, which winds through Macquarie Pass National Park has numerous hairpin bends which used to be so tight that semi-trailers had to stop and reverse to get around.
  • Kangaroo Valley Road in New South Wales, located near Berry.
  • Ben Lomond Road in Tasmania has 6 hairpin bends known as "Jacobs Ladder", which is a popular descent for cyclists[12]
  • Corkscrew Road in Montacute, South Australia starts at Gorge Road and winds, as its name suggests, up to Montacute Road. This 2.4-kilometre (1.5 mi) road has become famous through the Tour Down Under King of the Mountain climb for the difficulty of riding up the steep and sharp bends.[13]


Fairmont Hotel Hairpin in Circuit de Monaco.
A WRC car taking a hairpin turn during 2007 Rallye Deutschland
  • Fairmont Hotel Hairpin is the slowest turn in Formula One
  • Many venues used for motor racing incorporate hairpin turns in the racecourse even if the terrain is relatively level. In this case the purpose is to provide a greater challenge to the drivers, to increase overtaking opportunities or simply increase the lap length without increasing the area occupied by the track.
  • Martinsville Speedway is a paper clip shaped short track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit, measuring around 0.5 miles (0.80 km) in length.
  • The eleventh turn at Sonoma Raceway is a hairpin turn used in NASCAR.
  • Turn 14 at the Shanghai International Circuit, taken at just 65 km/h (40 mph).


The eastern ramp of the Liniebrug, a bike and footbridge built over the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal near Nigtevecht in the Netherlands in 2018, consists of a pair of hairpin bends.


If a railway curves back on itself like a hairpin turn, it is called a horseshoe curve. The Pennsylvania Railroad built a famous one in Blair County, Pennsylvania ascending the Eastern Continental Divide from the east. However, the radius of curvature is much larger than that of a typical road hairpin. See this example at Zlatoust[14] or Hillclimbing for other railway ascent methods.


Sections known as hairpins are also found in the slalom discipline of alpine skiing. A hairpin consists of two consecutive vertical or "closed gates" which must be negotiated very quickly. Three or more consecutive closed gates are known as a flush.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "England". Top Hairpin-bends. Retrieved 2019-11-23.
  2. ^ Statens vegvesen, Møre og Romsdal (2001): Vegminner i Møre og Romsdal fylke. Molde.
  3. ^ National Road Authority of Norway[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ Rødland, Kjartan (2000). Tut og køyr!: vegar og vegplanar i Hordaland 1970–2000. Bergen: Alma mater og Statens vegvesen Hordaland. ISBN 8241902638.
  5. ^ "Travel – National Geographic".
  6. ^ "Wikimapia – Let's describe the whole world!".
  7. ^ "Wikimapia – Let's describe the whole world!".
  8. ^ "Nikko Travel: Irohazaka Winding Road and Akechidaira Plateau".
  9. ^ "NIKKO TOURIST ASSOCIATION". Archived from the original on 2014-08-04.
  10. ^ "About the Tsugaru Iwaki Skyline".
  11. ^ "Wikimapia – Let's describe the whole world!".
  12. ^ "The Ben Lomond Descent". Archived from the original on 2014-01-25.
  13. ^ "Corkscrew Road for Tour Down Under".
  14. ^ "Златоуст - Google Maps".

External links[edit]

Media related to Hairpin turns at Wikimedia Commons