Hiking is one of the best ways to connect with nature and see new areas of the natural world while getting a fantastic workout. Many hikers enjoy the simple act of getting out in nature, even if that means that they walk the same trails in their local forest or park on a daily basis.
However, many hikers are drawn by the promise of seeing new parts of the country or world by traveling to different hiking destinations and exploring new hiking trails. These hikers might be excited to tackle some of the longest hiking trails in the world, or the most popular and notable hiking spots, such as hiking trails that lead up major mountains or beautiful hikes in Hawaii with magic that even the best guidebooks and video footage just can’t encapsulate.
Still, other hikers can be classified as thrill seekers. These daredevils are interested in tackling the most dangerous hikes in the world, testing their physical and mental strength, problem-solving abilities, and gutsiness to push the balance of what is safe versus what is potentially fatal.
But what are the most dangerous hikes in the USA? What are the most dangerous hikes in America that only the most intrepid hikers willing to risk their lives (or at least their sense of inner calm!) should take on?
In this article, we will take a look at some of the most dangerous hikes in the US, but just don’t blame us if things go awry!
We will cover:
- The 7 Most Dangerous Hikes In The USA
- 6 Honorable Mentions for the Most Dangerous Hikes in the USA
Let’s get started!
The 7 Most Dangerous Hikes In The USA
#1: Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park
Angel’s Landing is not only one of the most dangerous hikes in the US but also one of the most popular hikes, particularly because it is found in Zion National Park, one of the country’s most beloved, beautiful national parks.
In fact, some of the most reputable hiking and backpacking websites say that it is because of the popularity, and hence high foot traffic, that Angel’s Landing can be one of the most dangerous hikes in America.
There are certain sections of the trail that have extremely steep switchbacks, and if there are traffic jams or pushy and aggressive hikers, it can spell disaster. The summit also has a completely exposed ridge and a particularly steep climb to reach it.
Another reason why this is one of the most dangerous hikes in the US is that it often draws eager hikers who overestimate their ability.
Because it is in one of the most popular national parks, many people have the opportunity to hike the trail. Furthermore, the beginning of the trail is deceptively easy, with the first 2.5 miles being almost completely flat and accessible to even novice hikers.
However, the difficulty of the trail rapidly progresses, with notable sections such as Walter’s Wiggles, a challenging array of 21 steep switchbacks.
The final half-mile of the trail leading up to the summit has really narrow passes to squeeze through and exposed drop-offs down to the canyon below. Fortunately, the Park Service has put in guide chains along this steep section, but it can still certainly be a hairy trek.
At least 13 people have died hiking this trail since 2000. As such, hikers must obtain a permit to hike to the top of Angel’s Landing.
#2: Denali In Denali National Park
Formerly known as Mount McKinley, Denali is the tallest mountain in North America, reaching 2194 feet in height, and is also the third-most remote summit in the world. Trekking up requires braving icy conditions, grizzly bears, steep passes, altitude sickness, and high winds.
Reports suggest that only about 50% of hikers successfully make it to the top, and well over 100 hikers have lost their lives on the mountain.
#3: The Knife Edge on Capitol Peak
Many hikers are drawn to the challenge of summoning all of Colorado’s 14,000+ foot mountains, and Capitol Peak, which is part of the Elk Range near Aspen, is just one of the many particularly popular peaks.
As much as it is stunningly gorgeous, it is also one of the most challenging of Colorado’s 14’ers, requiring a total of 17 miles round trip and 5300 feet of elevation.
The trail up Capitol Peak lands itself on the list of the most dangerous hikes in the USA due to the exposed summit and “Knife Ridge,” an infamous section of the trail that includes a 150-foot long blade of granite rock that’s not only sharp and narrow but has a drop-off of more than 1,000 feet on both sides.
You either have to straddle the sharp ridge and scoot your way up to the top, or experienced hikers and rock scramblers may try scaling the inner side that faces the mountain, but it is certainly not easy, nor is it for the faint of heart.
In 2017, five hikers died on the trail in a span of just six weeks.
#4: Camp Muir in Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier is certainly one of the most majestic peaks in the Pacific Northwest, but the National Park that’s home to the iconic peak is also home to one of the most dangerous hikes in the US—Camp Muir.
Although only a modest 9-mile round-trip hike, and one that starts out fairly easily on the wildflower-lined Skyline Trail, the trek up Camp Muir quickly becomes a tricky beast when you hit Muir Snowfield, a snowy, unmarked expanse that you must navigate for 2.2 miles and up 2,900 vertical feet.
Because you have to navigate the snow field without trail markings, it can be difficult to stay the course. Furthermore, if you veer too far off center to one side or the other, you will be met with dramatic crevasses and edges of surrounding glaciers.
Adding to the challenge is that there are often storms that come in seemingly out of the blue from the Pacific Ocean, blanketing the snow field in an impenetrable dense fog.
Perhaps not surprisingly, all of this risk weighs into making this one of the most dangerous hikes in America, taking the lives of nearly 300 hikers thus far.
If you are going to tackle this strenuous climb, you absolutely need an ice ax, crampons, and experience hiking and navigating in the snow.
#5: Huckleberry Trail In Glacier National Park
Not all of the most dangerous hikes in the US are dangerous because of steep drop-offs and the risk of falling; sometimes, there is dangerous wildlife that can put your life at stake.
The beauty and splendor of the wilderness that is Glacier National Park conceal the highest grizzly bear population density in the country outside of Alaska.
This national park is said to be home to more than 560 grizzly bears, for a population density of these carnivorous predators of about one grizzly bear per 3 mi.² of the park— and this is the low end of the estimates.
Since grizzly bears love huckleberries, the Huckleberry Trail up Huckleberry Mountain is a magnet for grizzly bears.
Bear spray is an absolute must for hikers on this trail, and the National Park Service frequently closes the Huckleberry Trail to hikers during peak berry season to prevent dangerous encounters.
#6: Chinitna Bay in Lake Clark National Park
Much like the Huckleberry Trail in Glacier National Park, Chinitna Bay in Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park is one of the most densely populated grizzly bear hikes in America.
In fact, according to the National Park Service, there have been instances where more than 20 grizzly bears were located in a single area on the trail at once.
#7: Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire
Although most of the most dangerous hikes in the USA fall in the western part of the country or Alaska, where the mountains are much higher, New Hampshire is also home to one of the country’s most dangerous hikes: Presidential Traverse, a 20.4-mile trail that scales many of the state’s highest mountains including Mount Washington.
Mount Washington can have extreme weather, often changing conditions seemingly out of nowhere. In fact, wind speeds as high as 231 mph have been recorded, which is the highest wind speed on land. The mountain is also known to experience sudden and significant snowfall, even when the day starts out completely beautiful and clear.
6 Honorable Mentions for the Most Dangerous Hikes in the USA
- Kalalau Trail in Na Pali Coast Wilderness Park in Hawaii
- Jack Mountain in North Cascades National Park in Washington
- Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park in California
- Bright Angel Trail through the Grand Canyon in Arizona
- The Maze in Canyonlands National Park in Utah
- Maroon Bells Trail in White River National Forest in Colorado
Hike these most dangerous trails in the US if you dare!
If you are planning to take on some of these tough trails, check out our guide to scrambling to help you make it up those climbs!