Want to challenge yourself to one of the hardest hikes in USA? Well, the country has lots of expert-level hiking trails that are definitely not for the faint-hearted. Maybe you want a gush of the intense adrenaline rush, an intense outdoor workout, or the loveliest views on the remote trails of the country. In any case, we’ve got you covered here!
This article features the top 7 hardest hiking trails in the United States. A word of warning: These hikes are extreme and need careful preparation and self-sufficiency skills. You’ll need to be physically and mentally prepared to take on these challenging trails. These trails are only meant for hardcore expert hikers.
Challenge yourself (with caution!) to these amazingly beautiful but extreme USA hiking trails:
Dangerously difficult – that’s the best description of The Maze hiking trail. Watch the movie 127 Hours and you’ll instantly understand why!
The Maze is located in Canyonland, Utah, and spans approximately 14 miles. It is Canyonland National Park’s least accessible and remotest part. Its name is a fitting description of the trail – a complex labyrinth of interwoven dead-end canyons interspersed with dry washes and endless sandstone features. It’s an enormous sandstone puzzle, so to speak. And that is why many people consider The Maze as the hardest hike trail in the United States.
Navigation is extremely difficult in The Maze’s trail. You’ll need a 4×4 vehicle to get to the trailhead from the ranger station, and the dirt road is unforgiving yet undeniably beautiful. You’ll be hiking on dry washes surrounded by tall cliffs and weaving up and over different canyons. It’s challenging to get a great vantage point during the hike.
While the hike is ultimately grueling, experienced hikers journey to The Maze for its mesmerizing beauty. The sandstone fins and connected canyons are enough to fill you with awe. Prehistoric petroglyphs are also an interesting find along The Maze, a true testament to how ancient people survived in the area.
The Maze is touted as a killer trail, yet there were no fatalities on record until now. Probably that’s because only around 1,000 people attempt hiking on The Maze each year. So, don’t be discouraged in exploring this tricky yet picturesque trail – just come well-prepared and allow 3-5 days for your entire visit.
Bright Angel Trail
Next in our roundup of the hardest hikes in USA is Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. The trail consists of descending into a deep hole in the ground and coming right back up. However, doing that isn’t as easy as it sounds.
The Bright Angel Trail starts on the Grand Canyon’s south rim and descends into the Colorado River, around 4,380 feet from the canyon rim. Three things make this trail difficult:
- Soaring temperatures of up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) at daytime
- Lack of water and shade
- Trail length (9.5 miles)
The hike truly isn’t for the faint-hearted. Most hikers find the trail easy when descending. However, it’s going back up that’s challenging and a bit tortuous.
There is an area called “The Death Zone” situated between the Colorado River and the Indian Gardens. This spot can get scorching hot up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Hikers can quickly become overheated in this area, that’s why many succumbed to their deaths while ascending the Bright Angel Trail.
So, what can you do to successfully finish The Bright Angel Trail? Bring your own water and shade, start your hike early, and rest for around 15 minutes every hour that you hike. Don’t attempt to finish your hike in a day to prevent dehydration and overexerting yourself.
Devil’s Path in Catskills, New York is gorgeous albeit moderately challenging. It traverses seven peaks with a combined elevation of around 14,000 feet. Devil’s Path also offers 25 miles filled with breathtaking views, wildlife, waterfalls, and secluded woodlands.
Getting to the trailhead requires a two-hour drive from Manhattan. The typical Devil’s Path day hike follows the Eastern section trail, touted as the classic trail that encompasses four major summits. You’ll pass by these trail spots when going through the Eastern section:
- Schoharie Creek
- Indian Head
- Twin Mountains
You may also traverse the more remote yet less challenging Western section trail. It only goes over one mountain summit and has fewer views than the popular Eastern section trail.
What makes Devil’s Path utterly strenuous are the steep and near-vertical trails with slabs of slippery rocky walls and dense undergrowth. It’ll have you holding onto tree roots to pass through. With this degree of difficulty, the trail can quickly escalate from hard to fatal.
The best approach to safely and successfully conquering Devil’s Path is to complete your hike in two to three days. Ardent backpackers and experienced hikers may find the trail moderately challenging, and some can even finish it in one day. However, you’ll be on the safer side when you extend your visit to around three days at most.
Muir Snowfield Trail
If you’re up for some serious alpine climbing, try visiting the Muir Snowfield Trail in Mount Rainier, Washington. This trail features a 9-mile round trip filled with picturesque views of the Tatoosh Mountain Range, Mount St. Helen’s, Mount Adams, and Mount Rainier itself.
Muir Snowfield Trail is dangerous due to the extremely cold arctic environment you’ll encounter during the climb up to Camp Muir. The trail is unsuitable for hikers without prior experience in alpine climbing and mountaineering.
The Paradise trailhead starts with a breezy atmosphere, its wildflower meadows an easy walk on a mid-summer day. It then transforms into either a dirt path with stone steps or a snow-covered continuous slope, depending on the snow level for the day.
The ascent to Muir Snowfield starts when you get to Panorama Point and Pebble Creek. Prepare yourself for a grueling and strenuous alpine climb, albeit manageable with the weather conditions in your favor.
Hypothermia, sudden winter storms, and avalanches are your worst enemies in the Muir Snowfield Trail. Thick fog and snow obscure the views, transform the area into a vast snowfield, and almost erases the trail you’re following through.
Always take note of the weather before hiking and keep a tracking device in your stash. Watch out for lenticular clouds – the kind that looks like stacked discs or UFOs – these clouds signal bad weather coming up. And should you meet a storm on the trail, hunker down and don’t attempt to get through it.
Slickrock Creek Trail
Slickrock Creek Trail is part of the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, a remote woodland stretch near the Mississippi River’s eastern side. It is among the most challenging trails in the Tennessee – North Carolina border. The trail is recommended only for experienced hikers.
The trail covers around 13.2 miles of a dense terrain resembling a rainforest. Your journey commences at Ike Branch Trail where the path stays relatively flat until it branches off to the left. You’ll journey uphill afterward, alternating between flat and ascending footpaths. The trail becomes steeply uphill once again towards the end after the Big Fat Trail at mile 8.0.
Rough and rugged paths abound in the Slickrock Creek Trail. The trail mainly features several creek crossings and paths laden with rhododendrons, moss-drenched streams, and slippery rocks. There are also plenty of fallen trees and logs that you must go over or under to continue with the trail.
Temperatures in Slickrock Creek Trail are generally cooler than those of the valleys during fall and winter. Always check the weather before heading out first; rainfall can considerably make your hike harder due to the abundance of creeks on the trail itself.
Adventurous hikers can complete the trail in a single day. However, it’s recommended to bring at least one night’s complete survival supply for camping out in the woods (more is definitely better). Allow two to three days for a more comfortable and safe hike.
Huckleberry Mountain Trail
Glacier National Park in Montana offers a trail with a spectacular view – and a unique danger. Huckleberry Mountain has a lush view and refreshing mountain air, but the area is also home to several grizzly bears. The park has the highest bear density among all the Lower 48 States.
Grizzly bears make the Huckleberry Mountain Trail uniquely risky, placing it among the ranks of the hardest hikes in USA. Most bears come to the mountains every summer and fall, congregating there to find some huckleberries to eat. They especially frequent the Apgar/Huckleberry Loop Trail. Park rangers even close off day hiking to the mountain during peak huckleberry seasons.
Meanwhile, the spring season brings with it another danger – snow melts and uncovers the carcasses of animals killed during winter. Carcasses serve as grizzly bears’ food as well, prompting them to rush to the mountains once more during these times.
You might catch a grizzly bear by surprise if it hasn’t caught your scent in the air and you suddenly came face-to-face with it. Should you encounter a bear during your 14-mile hike in the Huckleberry Mountain Trail, avoid eye contact with the bear and slowly back away. If the bear starts to charge:
- Drop yourself to the ground.
- Assume a fetal position; this will help keep your vital organs intact.
- Clasp your hands across your neck’s back.
You need to absolutely be equipped to handle a bear attack before heading out into Huckleberry Mountain Trail. The area is certainly not the place for first-time hikers, given the fatal danger that grizzly bears present.
Last on our hardest hikes in USA list is Kalalau Trail in Kauai Island, Hawaii. This is among the most lovely and paradise-like trails that draw adventurers’ curiosity in. However, the dangers lying on this trail include abundant rainfall, narrow and crumbly trail beds, slippery inclines, and plunging cliffs.
Even the lightest rainfall can turn your hike into a dangerously fatal one with the risk of slippery inclines that could send you plunging down the edge of a 300-foot cliff, falling into a rocky surf. Rainfall also contributes to flash floods that could turn an otherwise serene stream into a raging body of water with rumbling torrents.
Safely complete your Kalalau Trail journey by bringing along some walking poles. They’ll help you regain footing and prevent you from slipping into the rocks. Also, pack your heaviest things at the bottom of your backpack – this allows you to lower your center of gravity.
Preparing for the Hardest Hikes in USA
Your survival plan for getting through the hardest hikes in USA may differ depending on what kind of trail you’ll be hiking on. However, there are a few general guidelines to keep you safe and alive on these trails:
- Carry a map, GPS, and a tracking device at all times.
- Inform your family, friends, and your park ranger about your itinerary and how long you expect to be in the outdoors.
- Check the weather consistently, especially right before you start your hike.
- Bring walking poles especially for slippery areas where you’ll easily lose your footing.
- Pack enough supplies to last you in the wilderness overnight for at least three days.
- Hunker down when you meet a storm or flood; never try to get past through it. Wait for the storm or flood to pass before being rescued by park rangers or continuing with your trail.
- Dress appropriately. For instance, you’ll need to dress in non-cotton, warm clothes for an alpine hike such as the Muir Snowfield trail. For Slickrock Creek Trail or Kalalau Trail, wear deep-lugged shoes to aid you with better footing.
That’s our list of the seven hardest hikes in USA. Take your pick, adequately prepare yourself for the adventure, and head off into the exciting and challenging trails we’ve compiled here.
If you’re planning to go on one of these hikes, you’ll need to lodge on a nearby property to help make your entire adventure hassle-free. Rental Trader allows you to find the perfect nearby vacation property to settle in before your hiking adventure starts. Call us now or fill out the form below so we can get back to you in no time.
If you happen to have vacation rental properties anywhere near the hike trails we’ve featured, you can also make them available to renters by creating an account on our website. Simply click the link in the upper right-hand corner to get started! Rental Trader will help spread the word about your property in our listings, so you can get interested people to book your vacation home to jumpstart their exhilarating hiking adventures.
Always remember to keep yourself safe during these challenging yet rewarding hikes. Happy extreme hiking!