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13 Most Dangerous Hikes in the US You Need to Know

Hiking is a fantastic way to stay fit and enjoy the great outdoors. But it doesn’t come without its fair share of challenges. The most dangerous hikes in the US have been in the spotlight for years due to their intimidating terrains, extreme weather conditions, and limited access to help.

Despite those obvious difficulties, many hiking enthusiasts still arrive in droves to take on these treacherous trails. And it’s not like they have a death wish or anything– many of these dangerous treks end with spectacular views. Taking on one of these hikes gives you an opportunity to climb up some of the most beautiful mountains in the United States

So, if you’re a keen adventurer looking to conquer the riskiest hiking trails in America, you’ve hit the jackpot with this comprehensive guide.

13 Most Dangerous Hikes in the US

Without further delay, let’s unpack the most dangerous trails in the US, what makes them deadly and how you can stay safe by taking precautions.

1. Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii


Photo by malte on Unsplash

  • Distance: 31.9 kilometres out-and-back
  • Hiking time: 12 hours 30 minutes
  • Elevation gain: 1,985 metres 
  • Best time to hike: May to September

Hugging the dramatic coastline of the lush Nā Pali Coast, the Kalalau Trail has previously won the title of the most beautiful hike in the US, but it’s also one of the deadliest. The trail winds across five valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach, where it’s blocked by a sheer cliff. The trail has a one-way elevation gain of 5,000 vertical feet.

Some dangers you should look out for when trekking this trail include narrow paths, steep drop-offs, sheer cliffs and slippery conditions due to its water-adjacent location. Kalalau Trail is prone to flash floods, so be sure to check the weather predictions before heading out.

2. The Maze, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

The-Maze-Canyonlands-National-Park-Utah most dangerous hikes in the us

Photo by I Bautista on Pexels

  • Distance: 12.9 kilometres out-and-back
  • Hiking time: 3 hours 20 minutes
  • Elevation gain: 294 metres
  • Best time to hike: April or October

Located in the most remote part of Canyonlands National Park, the Maze Overlook Trail takes you on a challenging trek through Utah’s red-rock landscape. But it’s not only the hiking trail you’ll need to worry about–getting to the trailhead is another monster you’ll have to slay.

This remote district is laden with rugged terrain and complex maze-like canyons that often stop at dead ends. You’ll need a map to navigate the area. Otherwise, you might end up lost. Bringing self-rescue equipment is also a must, as the nearest ranger station is about 40 kilometres away.

Tip: Water and cell phone service are not available in the Maze District. Prepare to carry lots of water and make sure to inform your family or friends about your plans in case of emergency. It could take a rescue team some time to reach you.

3. Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park, Utah


Photo by Steve Adcock on Pixabay

  • Distance: 6.9 kilometres out-and-back 
  • Hiking time: 4 hours
  • Elevation gain: 557 metres
  • Best time to hike: September or October

Claiming at least two lives a year, the Angel’s Landing Trail is undeniably one of the most dangerous hikes in Zion National Park. The trail boasts exposed cliffs and narrow parts with steep drop-offs. Bolted chains are provided to serve as handholds for hikers — use them!

Scorching weather conditions are something to consider. So you should only go hiking in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat and crowds. At the peak, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views and a chance to dangle your feet over the cliffs.

4. Mount Washington, New Hampshire


Photo by Lopes TBM Thata on Pixabay

  • Distance: 12.9 kilometres out-and-back 
  • Hiking time: 10 hours
  • Elevation gain: 1,293 metres
  • Best time to hike: June through October

Standing at a whopping 1,916 metres tall, Mount Washington is the highest summit in the Northeastern United States, so naturally, a trek up this snowy peak is not for inexperienced hikers.

This Mount Washington hiking route is usually icy and slippery, so don’t attempt this climb unless you’re a seasoned winter hiker. Extreme weather conditions, like high-altitude winds and freezing temperatures, are among the top dangers of hiking up Mount Washington, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

The trail starts off broad and with a gentle incline. As it steepens, you’ll pass rocks blanketed with snow. From here on out, the trail is marked by cairns (stones). The wind intensifies as you get closer to the summit. Go up Tuckerman Ravine and down Lion Head for incredible views.

5. Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon, Arizona


Photo by Oleksii Yasinskyi on Unsplash

  • Distance: 24.6 kilometres out-and-back
  • Hiking time: 8 hours
  • Elevation gain: 1,365 metres
  • Best time to hike: April or October

Being located in one of the most popular national parks in the United States equally makes this hiking trail a hit among avid hikers. But it’s not for the faint of heart. Hundreds of emergency rescues have been conducted along the Bright Angel Trail, so it’s best that you know your limits. 

The trek boasts numerous steep descents, and although there are rest stops along the trail, you still need to carry sufficient water supply to offset the hellish heat. Animal encounters are also not uncommon along Bright Angel, so take precautions and familiarise yourself with the rules. 

6. Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Half Dome as seen from Glacier Point
  • Distance: 26.6 kilometres out-and-back
  • Hiking time: 12 hours
  • Elevation gain: 1,617 metres
  • Best time to hike: May through October

Well-marked and breathtaking scenery all the way — that sounds like the beginning of a great hike, right? Well, yes and no. The Half Dome trek is one of the most gruelling hikes located in one of the most visited national parks in the western United States — Yosemite.

What makes the Half Dome trail so strenuous? Consistent elevation, steep switchbacks, upward scrambling, dehydration, and potential altitude sickness first come to mind. To complete the hike, you’ll begin a dangerous ascent up the batholith (rock) using two metal steel cables.

7. The Incline, Manitou Springs, Colorado


Photo by csanchezmar8738 on Pixabay

  • Distance: 6.4 kilometres loop
  • Hiking time: 3 hours 15 minutes
  • Elevation gain: 603 metres
  • Best time to hike: April through October

While it looks like an easy hike, remember, looks can be deceiving. The Manitou Incline is considered one of the highest series of steps in the world. The hike boasts over 2,700 steps with an average ascension incline of 41% (68% at its highest point), making it a breathtaking walk.

The danger along this hiking trail lies in its steep inclines and the possibility of altitude sickness. To offset these challenges, you should try to acclimate to the altitude, take breaks, and stay hydrated. In winter, the path is covered in snow, making the trek even more gruesome.

8. Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California


Photo by Robert Schrader on Pexels

  • Distance: 10.3 kilometre loop
  • Hiking time: 4 hours 15 minutes
  • Elevation gain: 673 metres
  • Best time to hike: April through October

Another fascinating yet dangerous hike you’ll find in Yosemite National Park is the foggy Mist Trail. While it’s relatively short compared to other hikes in the park, its steepness firmly places it among the most challenging.  

The hike sees you trekking through rocky terrains flanked by craggy cliffs and tumbling waterfalls. So, despite being taxing, at least you’ll enjoy some beautiful natural scenery. The Mist Trail is often slippery and crowded, so it requires durable hiking boots and the use of guard rails.

9. Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana


Photo by David Wirzba on Unsplash

  • Distance: 16.1 kilometres out-and-back
  • Hiking time: 5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 624 metres
  • Best time to hike: June through October

The Grinnell Glacier Trail epitomises the phrase, “There is danger hidden in every beautiful object”. Why? This is one of the most scenic hikes you can take in the US, as snowy, rugged peaks, lush pine forests, and a turquoise glacial lake are on full display.

But this hiking trail doesn’t come with challenges. Along the way, you’ll have to tackle steep sections and slippery pathways, and sometimes, you may even have to face off with brown bears. Be sure to carry some bear spray and stay on the marked trails to avoid any dangerous encounters with grizzly bears or other wild animals.

10. Devil’s Path, Catskill Mountains, New York


Photo by brandtbolding on Canva

  • Distance: 35.2kilometres point-to-point
  • Hiking time: 15 hours
  • Elevation gain: 2,476 metres
  • Best time to hike: May to October

Aptly named the Devil’s Path Trail is one of the most difficult hikes in the New York Tri-state area. Legend has it that the path was named by early settlers who believed the craggy cliffs were built by the devil himself so that he alone could climb them.

The hiking trail throws many obstacles your way. Steep ascents and descents, as well as challenging rock scrambles, are unavoidable. Bring proper hiking equipment, plan for wet or slippery conditions, and carry ample water, food, and shelter, like tents, in case of need.

11. The Notch Trail, Badlands National Park


Photo by Eun Kim on Canva

  • Distance: 2.4 kilometres out-and-back
  • Hiking time: 2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 39 metres
  • Best time to hike: March through October

Although it’s one of the most exhilarating hikes in Badlands National Park, the Notch Trial is a classic example of “dynamite comes in small packages”. You won’t gain much elevation, but you will feel like you’re climbing a mountain, thanks to the 15-metre wooden ladder.

But that’s only one part of the struggle. The Notch Trail is one hundred percent exposed. There are no trees or artificial shade along the way. Extremely hot days only exacerbate the possibility of dehydration or heat stroke. 

During winter, the trail is slippery and hard to navigate, making it more dangerous.

12. Barr Trail, Pikes Peak, Colorado


Photo by Different_Brian on Canva

  • Distance: 37.3 kilometres out-and-back
  • Hiking time: 10 hours
  • Elevation gain: 2,274 metres
  • Best time to hike: May through October

The hike to Pikes Peak can be as rewarding as it is fatal. Colorado’s mountains are famed for their high elevations and panoramic views. But these peaks are also highly susceptible to lightning strikes, many of which have unfortunately claimed lives.

The Barr Trail is among the toughest hikes in Colorado. This trek involves walking up steep and rocky sections of the trail along the way, and the high elevation gain poses a big threat of altitude sickness.

You should take safety precautions like checking weather conditions and possible road closures before you take off. Remember to carry essentials like water, food, and an emergency kit.

13. Buckskin Gulch, Utah


Photo by igormattio on Pixabay

  • Distance: 19.2 kilometres out-and-back
  • Hiking time: 3 hours
  • Elevation gain: 125 metres
  • Best time to hike: March through October

Comfortably taking its place as the largest slot canyon in the world, Buckskin Gulch offers an unforgettable trek through the red-rock state of Utah. The trail is located near the Utah border with Arizona, making it a worthy addition to an itinerary through America’s Southwest.

The Buckskin Gulch Trail takes you through the underbelly of Utah. Towering, swirly canyon walls dominate the trek as you walk along sandy (sometimes rocky) terrains. Flash floods are a common threat along this path, and they have claimed lives. 

Stock up on food, water, and medical supplies. And finally, do not attempt to take this hike before checking weather conditions and alerts.

Hiking Tips for the Most Dangerous Hikes in the US

Before attempting to take on any one of these hikes in North America, here are a few tips and tricks even the most experienced hikers should follow to ensure a safe trekking adventure:

  • Always check weather conditions and road closures before going. For hikes within national parks, you can check the National Park Service website for regular updates.
  • Pack sufficient supplies — water bottles, food, medical kits, and maps are essential.
  • Longer hikes tend to be more strenuous and unpredictable, plan longer durations for these, some you should do in two or more days.
  • Do not attempt to trek these hiking trails if you’re still a novice hiker. Rather, stick to the easy or moderate hikes and work your way up to an expert hiker level.
  • Always inform family or friends about your plans before taking on any hiking trail.

Wrapping Up the Most Dangerous Hikes in the US

Scattered across the most beautiful states in the US, these insanely dangerous hikes offer thrilling adventures to the country’s prettiest landscapes. 

But — beware — there is a heavy price to pay.

From charting through rugged terrains and strong currents to scrambling over boulders in high winds to climbing up steep slopes, the most dangerous hikes in the United States will surely take you to hell and back. That said, they are worth the effort and sweat, thanks to their gorgeous scenery and breathtaking vistas.

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