Hiking is one of the best ways to explore a wide-open destination and is also one of the best ways to burn calories. From easy trails in city parks to steep climbs up challenging peaks, there’s a hike for every fitness level and interest.
The United States is home to hikes that are known for their physically demanding nature, risky natural environments, and routes that seem almost impossible to plan. Ranked by difficulty, these are the seven hardest hikes in the US based on physical difficulties, risks and dangers, logistics, and uncontrollable environmental considerations. Read on to discover the most dangerous hikes in the US!
Travel on: A hiking and trekking tour
1. The Maze
There’s a reason this hike is called The Maze: it’s quite literally a labyrinth of red rock and dead-end canyons that takes expert planning and self-sufficiency to tackle. While undeniably beautiful, The Maze poses challenges for inexperienced hikers and it’s why it’s top on our list of the most dangerous hikes in the US.
Located in Canyonlands National Park in Utah, access to The Maze requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Expect unmarked routes, cairned canyons and steep sliprock. Come bearing necessary provisions such as food, water, and lengthy rope for lowering packs in steep locations (if you’re especially afraid of heights, go elsewhere). Temperatures reach nearly 118 degrees Fahrenheit in the high season. One mistake and you could be left for up to three days waiting for rescue.
- Location: Canyonlands, Utah
- Length: Four miles
2. South Kaibab Trail/Bright Angel Trail
Imagine a trail that descends into a massive hole that you have to climb back out of—that’s South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails. They don’t call it “the death zone” for nothing. Located in the heart of the Grand Canyon, this hike offers an up-close experience with the canyon few tourists can say they’ve experienced. That said, the trail is dangerously difficult. The most obvious difficulty is threefold: the lack of water combined with the length of the trail and boiling temperatures. More than 250 hikers have to be rescued each year due to dehydration and exhaustion!
- Location: Grand Canyon, Arizona
- Length: 17 miles
3. Kalalau Trail
Easily one of the coolest hikes in the US, the Kalalau Trail also happens to be one of the most difficult (hiking poles are essential). From start to finish, this hike is filled with treacherous conditions, from crumbling trail beds, plummeting cliffs, and slippery inclines that seem impossible to tackle. After even just a little bit of rain, the trail turns into a disastrous slip n’ slide, which isn’t as fun when you’re on the edge of a 295 foot cliff that falls right into a rocky surf. Regardless of the risks, it’s still a popular hike that leads locals and visitors alike to Kalalau, one of the world’s top beaches and a perennial favorite among surfers.
- Location: Kauai, Hawaii
- Length: 11 miles (one way)
4. Mist Trail—Half Dome
Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is easily one of the most beautiful chunks of granite in the entire world. The rock was made to be climbed, which is why the Mist Trail to Half Dome sees between 2,500 and 3,000 people every day during summer weekends. But just because it’s one of the most popular in the US, doesn’t mean it’s easy.
This 14-mile hike will push you to your physical limits; from fatigue, altitude sickness, and dehydration—the possibilities seem endless. Hikers climb up steel cables bolted into the rock all the way to the top. On crowded weekends, hikers clog up the cables, making it impossible to make a quick escape should a storm roll in.
- Location: Yosemite, California
- Length: 14 miles
5. Presidential Traverse
Some of the most difficult hikes in the US are not just about sliprock or steep declines. Weather plays an integral part in challenging even the most experienced hikers.
If you’ve ever wanted to conquer more than 9,000 feet and 11 mountains in one go, head to Presidential Traverse, part of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. While the hike doesn’t seem as daunting as the others on this list, freakish weather conditions—think snow and ice in summer—can throw inexperienced hikers for a loop.
If you’re game enough to hike these mountains named after some beloved and lesser-known presidents—Adams, Eisenhower, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Pierce and Washington—you’re in for some of the most spectacular views in the US. Just be mindful of the sign at the entrance that reads: “Stop. The area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in the summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad.”
- Location: New Hampshire
- Length: 23.5 miles
6. Huckleberry Mountain
In Glacier National Park, the odds of having an encounter with a bear are higher than anywhere else in the Lower 48 states. The park boasts the highest bear density in the lower US, making it a beautiful but risky hiking area for anyone a bear might find lip-smackingly good. One recent study suggests there are more than 550 bears in the park, leading to a ratio of 35 bears every mile. It becomes a difficult hike to manage, due to the planning and preparation it takes to confidently say you could survive a bear attack. The trails are beautiful and the mountain air is soothing, but it’s hard to remain confident in your hike when a grizzly could be around any corner. Be sure to pack that bear spray!
- Location: Montana
- Length: 14 miles
See Also: Long Distance Hiking Trails in Canada
7. Barr Trail
The Barr Trail isn’t the hardest hike, but it offers its own unique challenge: lighting strikes. As the state with the highest elevation, Colorado’s mountains see an outstanding amount of electrical activity, the biggest hot spot being Pikes Peak. While there is a road that could take you to the summit, most hikers agree that’s the easy way out. The Barr Trail works its way through stunning meadows and boulder fields to the stop of the mountain where the views are like no other. That said, some people argue the risk of lighting strikes on the way up isn’t worth the struggle to conquer one of the hardest hikes in the US.
- Location: Colorado
- Length: 13 miles