There are actually two ways to reach Ivarstead from Whiterun, and if one follows the road signs they may find themselves taking the long way around the mountain. This route is potentially very dangerous for lower level players, as they must pass by a bandit tower (and deal with its occupants one way or another) and then likely encounter opposition such as Saber Tooth Cats as they get closer to Ivarstead itself.
A much shorter (and safer) path would be to instead travel east directly through Helgen where the Dragonborn first escaped after nearly being executed by the Imperial Legion. Note that the grounds will now be occupied by a small number of bandits. This route will cut through the southern foot of the Throat of the World and eventually lead to the crossroads just west of Ivarstead.
There is a third way that is actually shorter and safer than the other two routes. It leads up the side of the Throat of the World. TO find it, head to the Whiterun Stormcloak camp. Just to the north of the camp, toward the east, there is a path that leads up the mountain behind the camp. The trail zigzags toward the south of the camp, but leads to a snowy pathway high up around the mountain. There are no enemies or other hazards along this mountain pass. The pass comes out not far from the troll's cave to the north of Ivarstead.
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