Gain rarely comes without pain, and higher rewards often imply higher risks. Hiking is no exception from these rules, as some of the most cherished views lie at the end of the most intimidating trails. Luckily for travelers who love to have their nerves tickled, the United States offers plenty of scary hikes.
From unexpected floods to extreme temperatures, avalanches, and wild animals, Mother Nature spares no effort to make explorers work for her most precious gems. Unhindered by her warnings, thousands of travelers depart on some of the most strenuous hikes in America in search of adventures and adrenaline. Sadly, not all of them come back.
Some 35 people a year die hiking, according to the National Park Service (NPS), and almost 1,000 get injured. While unfortunate incidents can happen almost anywhere, embarking on certain trips without proper knowledge and preparation is simply asking for trouble.
These are the most dangerous US hikes, which will take your breath away, thanks to both the stunning views and the hazards hidden along the way.
Washington’s Mount Rainier Is One of the Deadliest Hikes in the World
Rising 14,000 feet above sea level, the risks associated with this climb are as high as the peak. Not only is it an active volcano, it is also notorious for its unpredictable and unstable weather, with temperatures known to drop from balmy to freezing within an hour or two. Storms are frequent guests in this area, often accompanied by snow, fog, and 70-mph winds.
Avalanches, hypothermia, falling rocks, falling OFF the rocks, drowning… Mount Rainier offers all manner of possibilities for danger and death. Over the years, it has taken the lives of over 400 people, earning itself a reputation as one of the deadliest hiking spots on the planet.
If you attempt this trip, do not be deceived by the summer weather and make sure to check the forecast and bring along warm clothes. Two feet of snow in July might seem improbable to you, but the weather gods often disagree when it comes to Rainier.
The Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail or: “Some Like It Hot”
It seems to be common knowledge that Arizona is boiling in summer, but for many travelers it’s not until they are exposed to the 110+ degree heat that they realize what they got themselves into. The heat does not come alone. In addition to surviving scorching temperatures, Bright Angel Trail also requires its visitors to climb 4,500 feet over the course of 9.5 miles. If you wonder what this experience feels like, imagine doing cardio in a sauna.
Conquering this trail is no easy task, and not everyone can finish it. Some 250 hikers call for rescue every year, and death has not stayed away from the trail either. After a series of lethal incidents about a decade ago, the park even had to designate a special team of rangers to keep an eye on ambitious hikers.
Denali (Mount McKinley) in Alaska Is as Wild as It Gets
Conquering North America’s highest peak might sound like an ambitious project, and that’s because it certainly is. The road to Denali’s summit is full of challenges and dangers.
In order to get to the top, you need to hack through the bush, deal with ice, withstand the winds, and pray you don’t get altitude sickness. Also, be ready for a not-so-warm welcome from the local residents, like a moose or a grizzly bear, which by far outnumber humans in this area. If you were looking for a true wilderness experience, this is it.
On average, only half of those who set out on this journey actually make it to the top, and, sadly, over 100 hikers have perished on this trail within the last century.
Kalalau Trail in Kauai Will Keep You on Edge, Literally
If you are not particularly comfortable with heights, you should probably keep this one far from your itinerary. Kalalau Trail brings travelers to one of the world’s most pristine beaches, but makes them work harder for the rewarding view than any other hike on the island.
A 22-mile round-trip can be quite strenuous on its own, but the real challenge comes when you have to cross a narrow ledge, squeezing along a tiny path that drops 300 feet onto the not-so-welcoming rocks. The danger further increases after a decent rain (a not infrequent event in Hawaii), which makes the path perilously slippery.
Still more hazards lie hidden in the beach paradises on the way. Beautiful and tempting as they are, they also prove to be as dangerous as the trail itself. Almost 100 swimmers who jumped into the alluring ocean waters here ended up in an eternal paradise, falling victim to the location’s hazardous currents.
Mount Washington, in New Hampshire, Hosts the World’s Worst Weather
Mount Washington might not be the most strenuous hike out there, but don’t let that mislead you. The place holds the proud title Home to the World’s Worst Weather, along with the prestige of being the world’s most dangerous small mountain.
Throughout the years, the trail became the last destination for over 130 of climbers, who fell victim to hypothermia, avalanches, and wind. Many hikers are deceived by the welcoming warmth of the valley, only to be stunned by and unprepared for the freezing, 30-degree weather and snow up on the top.
It’s also worth noting that the mountain held the wind-speed record for 62 years, after the wind velocity hit a staggering 231 mph in 1934. Even on days when the speeds are far from record-breaking, a 60-mph “breeze” can easily steer travelers miles off course.
Yosemite’s Mist Trail or: Beware of Fellow Humans
Rising over Yosemite, Half Dome is a destination as coveted as it is tricky. Electrical storms and slippery rocks are just a few of the challenges a traveler might face trying to conquer the famous granite peak. Altitude sickness and dehydration are also on the list of typical problems climbers encounter. Yet the most outstanding of all dangers seems to be this: other people.
Attracting up to 3,000 visitors on an average summer weekend day, Mist Trail is packed with tourists, often to the point that it becomes unsafe. The hazard grows especially intense throughout the last 400 feet, where climbers have to rely on steel cables bolted into the granite to complete the final stretch. On a busy day, the cables become so clogged with people that a quick exit becomes impossible.
Half Dome has seen over 60 deaths, six of those within the past 20 years. Sadly, a lot of these tragedies happen due to the hikers’ disregard of safety regulations or recklessness (one traveler slid off the cliff into the granite abyss when trying to surpass the climbers ahead of him).
Colorado’s Barr Trail on Pikes Peak Is (Lightning) Striking
Gaining 7,400 vertical feet over the course of 13 miles, the Barr Trail is some of the best exercise in nature. But it wasn’t just the vertical gain that earned this trail an intimidating reputation. Not only does Barr Trail strike hikers with magnificent views, it also tends to strike them with lightning. Since 2000, there have been about 50 lightning strikes in Colorado, and almost half of those involved hikers. Few survive such an electrifying encounter with the nature.
Survival tip? Once you see those rain clouds getting ready for a party, swallow your pride and turn back. And make sure you’re off the mountain by noon, as the probability of becoming a target for an electrical discharge becomes especially high after 11 am.
Zion’s Angel’s Landing Will Have You Hanging on a Chain Over a 1,000-Foot Drop
Ever wondered what it feels like to walk on the side of a nearly vertical cliff 1,000 feet above the ground with barely anything to hold on to? Hike Angel’s Landing trail and see for yourself!
The summit offers a truly spectacular view of the breathtaking red rock formations, yet reaching this rewarding sight takes nerves of steel. While most of the trail is quite safe and welcoming, the final stretch can make even an experienced hiker cringe.
To get to the top, you have to stay on a path barely wide enough for one person, clinging to the chains mounted into the rock. These metal constructions are not just there for the show. Without them, maintaining your balance on a slanted sandy surface is nearly impossible. To add to this adrenaline rush, you will also have to cross a three-foot-wide saddle with a 1,000-foot drop on both sides – and no chains to assist you.
While there have been no deaths on Angel’s Landing within the last six years, at least five people have fallen from the trail and perished.
The Maze, in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, Is a Real Labyrinth
If you are not particularly map-savvy, you might want to steer clear of this trip. Even well-prepared visitors easily get lost among the Maze’s interconnected canyons and numerous dead ends. Asking Siri for directions is not an option, as even satellite phone connection is not stable in the area.
Of course, park rangers are always ready to come to your rescue, but it might take them three days to find you. Think you can handle three days without any water, save for what you are carrying and 110-degree heat with no shade in sight?
Surprisingly, no hikers have perished on this trail so far, likely due to the fact that very few actually dare to venture out. Only 2,000 visitors come to the Maze every year (in comparison, the park’s popular Island in the Sky sees over 100 times more guests), and most of the guests travel by car, rather than on foot.
Colorado’s Maroon Bells Trail, AKA “The Deadly Bells”
The twin peaks of Maroon Bells are officially recognized as the most photographed mountains on the continent. Yet to get that cherished shot, you have to earn it. Once you get to above 11,000 feet, you’ll find yourself dealing with steep slopes, snowfields, and unstable terrain, often in weather that is far from pleasant.
Though thousands of climbers survive the hike every year, the twins’ nickname, “The Deadly Bells,” is not unearned. In the 1960s, a number of climbers met their fate on the peaks.
Abrams Falls, in the Great Smoky Mountains, Will Show You a REAL Rainy Day
A 2.5-mile hike might seem a piece of cake to an experienced hiker, but don’t get cocky. Some 29 people have lost their lives on this trail since 1971, most of them due to drowning.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a real rainy spot. Some peaks see over 85 inches of rainfall, and the storms often lead to dangerous unexpected floods. Another hazard lies at the bottom of the park’s swimming holes, where swift currents have ended the lives of even experienced swimmers.
Glacier National Park’s Huckleberry Mountain Brings All the Bears to the Yard
Boasting the highest bear density in the contiguous US, Glacier National Park offers hikers numerous possibilities to encounter a grizzly, if you’re into that sort of thing.
During huckleberry season (summer and fall), the mountain, which owes its name to the berry, attracts tons of bears, which are not particularly known for their friendliness. These animals have ended the lives of 10 people within the last half a century, and there is at least one attack each year.