There are many different types of hikes available, ranging from easy walks around town to challenging treks through national parks. Some of these hikes can be done with children or even pets, while others require more advanced skills and equipment. If you’re planning to hike somewhere new, here’s a list of the 22 most dangerous hiking trails in America.
The 22 Most Dangerous Hiking Trails in America
Hiking can be an exciting activity and may involve camping out overnight. However, hikers should know what precautions they need to take before venturing into the great outdoors. Some locations are too risky for inexperienced hikers to visit safely. Others have natural dangers that may cause serious injury or death. Finally, some hikes do not allow dogs inside their boundaries. The following is your guide to the top 22 dangerous hiking trails in the United States.
1. Cades Cove Loop Trail-Blount County, Tennessee
This trail is located near the town of Sevierville, Tennessee. It has been named one of the best hiking trails in America by National Geographic Magazine. There are many different types of trees along this trail, including oak, hickory, maple, beech, birch, pine, cedar, fir, spruce, hemlock, and more. The elevation changes along the trail range from about 1,000 feet to 2,600 feet above sea level. This means that there will be plenty of scenery to see, whether it’s spring, summer, fall, or winter. In fact, the entire area becomes covered in snow during the winter months. Unfortunately, this beautiful trail is also very dangerous due to its steep hills, slippery rocks, dense undergrowth, and thin tree roots. Due to all of these factors, visitors must use extreme caution when walking on this trail.
2. Devil’s Courthouse Route-Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina
Devil’s Courthouse Route is one of the most dangerous hiking trails in America. The road begins at the Nantahala Visitor Center near Bryson City. It climbs through picturesque countryside, past several small communities, before reaching the highest point along the Blue Ridge Parkway, about 1 mile shy of Mount Mitchell. From there, the landscape changes dramatically. Below is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Above are towering peaks and craggy cliffs with views you can only find here. This is where the Appalachian Trail runs through the heart of the park. You can drive along the route as long as you like, but the true adventurer continues along the cliff tops, over mountain ridges, and through deep gorges until he reaches the end of the ridge line.
3. Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park
Located between the Kolob Terrace and Angels Landing Trail are several short switchbacks leading to the top of the East Rim Trail. This trail offers a fantastic view of the canyon below, taking about 30 minutes to complete. It also provides access to some interesting geologic features. But the trail does have its risks. When leaving the main trailhead, look both ways down the side path before stepping onto the narrow ledge. Both the rim and the trail below are extremely precarious, often causing visitors to slide off the edge onto boulders below. And if you decide to climb up to the top of the trail, make sure you don’t get any dirt on you: A large portion of the trail is made of smooth sandstone rock.
4. South Kaibab Trail-Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
This hike takes you through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Southwest. With stunning vistas around every corner, you’ll feel as though you’ve disappeared off the face of the earth. But despite the remote location, this trail is surprisingly accessible in terms of facilities. Food vendors, restrooms, drinking water fountains, trash containers, and even visitor centers are within easy reach of the trail. However, the trail itself remains free of any man-made distractions. Other than the occasional mule packer, you’re likely to encounter only a few other people on your journey.
5. Capitol Peak as seen from the Knife Edge, Colorado
This mountain hike leads to the stately summit of Capitol Peak, which stands 10,255 feet high and is nestled behind the Arapaho Glacier just outside Denver. At first glance, this may not seem like an especially challenging trek. That would be a mistake. This route requires a combination of steep inclines, exposed cliff edges, loose scree, and ice fields. The difficulty comes from the constant maintenance of balance on the knife-edge ridge line. Falling off the edge is fatal. To make matters worse, strong winds often blow across this peak, further adding to the challenge. In fact, the wind has been known to knock hikers unconscious.
6. Pacific Crest Trail, California
Hikers who embark upon this trail will be rewarded with spectacular views of snowcapped mountains, redwood forests, and rugged deserts. There are no roads that lead into these backcountry areas. Instead, you must begin hiking somewhere along the Pacific Crest Trail, which spans roughly 3,000 miles. From north to south, the trail travels through seven national parks. One person could see more than half of North America by hiking all 2,650 miles!While it isn’t necessary to walk or run the entire length of the trail, those looking for extreme physical challenges should be aware that sections of the trail can become very difficult to pass due to their elevation.
7. Teocalli Trail in New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park
The Chacoan people were early inhabitants of what is now northeastern New Mexico. They established villages near natural springs at the foot of the impressive cliffs that still dominate the region. These trails were built around 1000 AD, but they were abandoned later in the year 1000 AD. The best-preserved section of the original trail system sits within Chaco Culture National Historic Park and connects four major ruins. These ruins form part of one of the largest concentrations of prehistoric Puebloan sites in North America. The total distance of this trail network is approximately 1 mile, but because of its remote location, there are no facilities. You will need to bring plenty of water.
8. California’s Great Western Trail
This trail runs parallel to Highway 395 through the Mojave Desert. Some call this an adventure because they have found old mining shacks and ghost towns. It’s also called the “Grasslands National Recreation Area” since it offers incredible scenery. Although it starts out flat, expect to gain nearly two thousand feet of elevation by the time you reach your destination after about 40-50 miles. The heat here can become oppressive, so pack accordingly. Also, carry plenty of drinking water because there are few opportunities to buy supplies in the middle of the desert.
9. Florida’s Highline Canal Towpath
This path stretches from Fort Pierce to the Atlantic Ocean and features both boardwalk and crushed limestone pathways. It passes through maritime hammock habitat, pine flatwoods, open scrub, and sawgrass ponds, as well as a subtropical hardwood forest. People come here to enjoy wildlife such as gopher tortoises, white-tailed deer, and many birds. If you’re walking this trail during the winter months, you’ll notice some of the old towpaths turn into skating rinks because of the thin layer of ice that covers them.
10. Colorado’s Continental Divide Trail
This trail has been around since the 1970s and follows the highest point on the North American continent. Starting from Denver, Colorado, the CDT travels eastward over five mountain ranges, including the Sangre de Cristo, Continental, San Juan, Uncompahgre, and Sawatch Ranges. In total, the trail takes hikers across 10 peaks, three deserts, four wilderness regions and six different state lines.
11. Alaska’s Mount Katmai Trail
If you dream of seeing the northern lights or visiting a glacier, then the “Katmai Experience” may be just right for you. This hike up the side of Mount Katmai brings visitors close to the massive glaciers that cover the area. There are a couple of bridges along the way. One bridge crosses the edge of a steep cliff overlooking a deep valley. Another bridge crosses a creek that flows down from the mountain. Both bridges offer great views of the Katmai valley. The first one gets more attention because it’s closer to the parking lot. If you cross the second bridge, you’ve gone too far and should head back toward town instead of continuing on.
12. Mist Trail and Half Dome Cables, Yosemite National Park
The Mist Trail leads to the top of El Capitan—the third tallest peak in the contiguous US behind only Mt. Whitney and Denali—offering some of the most beautiful scenery in all of the national parks. The Mist Trail is composed of a series of granite stairs carved over the last century due to weathering and trampling by hikers. As you hike upwards, the view of El Capitan and Yosemite Valley opens up before you with sweeping vistas of the park’s central Sierra Nevada range. Don’t forget to bring your camera; the combination of snowy mountains and blue skies makes for breathtaking photos. Nearby Half Dome, however, will steal the show. Easily the world’s most recognizable rock formation, it rises like a Gothic cathedral above Yosemite Valley. Though the distance between the two trails is short (about 4 miles), if you want to combine hiking with climbing, take the cable route. At 550 ft., the Half Dome Cable Route affords climbers a unique perspective of the area. You’ll need to register at least 24 hours ahead of time, but even if you don’t climb, it’s still worthwhile to hike the trail.
13. Pacific Crest Trail, California
The PCT is often called “the most scenic foot trail in North America.” That’s not an exaggeration — especially when you hit the section near Big Sur. For starters, there are towering redwoods, wildflower-covered hillsides, and gorgeous coastal bluffs. Then there’s the stunning coastline itself: rocky coves, jagged cliffs, and sandy beach after sandy beach. It’s so full of beauty that the trail was named one of the New7Wonders of Nature by UNESCO. But this trail doesn’t end in Big Sur. After traversing Northern California and Southern Oregon, the trail continues through Washington State and Canada. So while you’re getting incredible glimpses of nature along the way, you’ve still got plenty left to see! And the best part? Once you finish, you can do whatever you want: go surfing, fishing, camping out under the stars, whatever feels right.
14. East Coast Appalachian Trail
There aren’t many places on Earth where you can say you hiked through 15 state lines and climbed across 14 states to reach the continental border. In fact, the Appalachian Trail goes through four different countries! From Maine to Georgia, you’ll pass through forests and farmland, mountains and deserts. Along the way, you‘ll get to witness wildlife such as bears, moose, wolves, black bears, deer, bald eagles, foxes, ospreys, bobcats, porcupines, turtles, snakes, frogs, butterflies, fish, cranes, eagles, falcons, hawks, you get the point. Sure, it may seem impossible to complete, but it’s also incredibly rewarding once you’re done. If you’re looking for a challenge, consider doing the entire trail in either a 50- or 100-mile race.
15. Lassen Peak Trail, California
There are more than 20 mountains in Lassen Volcanic National Park, including three of the highest peaks in CA (Mt. Lassen, Shasta, and Lassen). With 11 peaks exceeding 10,000 feet, it’s no wonder Lassen is considered “The Mountain.” Most people drive through Lassen Volcanics NP, but if you have half a day to spare, consider taking the 2.5-hour roundtrip from Chico to Paradise Geothermal Power Plant for access to the Lassen Peak Trail. This dirt road takes you past bubbling mud pools, fumaroles, and steaming vents alongside the Old River Road. Also note that mountain biking is allowed on this trail, and there are several spots to rent bikes nearby.
16. Angel Island-San Francisco Bay Bridge
Angel Island is a former military installation transformed into an eco-resort island located just off the coast of San Francisco. Located in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Angel Island offers views of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge (that’s the same bridge we mentioned in #12!). Be sure to bring your bike because riding around the island is permitted; it’s just illegal to stop here (people tend to camp in their cars). There are multiple trails available to hikers on Angel Island. Some of these include the Angel Island Coastal Trail, the Bayview Nature Trail, and the West Ridge Loop Trail. These trails will take you through beautiful landscapes, allow you to see wildlife, and give you great views of the surrounding areas.
17. Huckleberry Trail, Glacier National Park
There are few things more adventurous than hiking in Glacier National Park. One of the most popular hikes in Glacier is the 3.4-mile loop hike on the Huckleberry Trail. The trail begins behind Apgar Campground and leads visitors through open meadows and forest before ending at Apgar Lookout over St. Mary Lake. When you arrive at the lookout, be sure to check out the 360-degree views of the park! On a clear evening, when the sun sets, you may even see wild animals like elk grazing below. Don’t forget to bring water with you since there are no facilities along the trail.
18. New Hampshire’s Mount Washington
Mount Washington has five main summits rising above 4,000 feet. The north summit, however, is the true crown jewel, rising 5,289 feet—more than 500 feet higher than its nearest competitor. A good rule of thumb is that whenever you’re near the top of a peak in NH, you should go for a hike up it! So what makes this particular peak so special? Well, for starters, it’s the second tallest peak entirely within the boundaries of New England (only Mt. Monadnock near Peterborough surpasses it). And while it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Adirondack High Peaks or the White Mountains, those who do make the trek can enjoy one of the most scenic journeys in all of America.
19. Camp Muir, Mount Rainier National Park
Camp Muir is a small rustic cabin perched high upon a ridge in Mount Rainier National Park. It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s and once served as a basecamp for climbers attempting to scale the Nisqually Ice Caves. Today, it houses overnight guests looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the outside world. Many people visit this campground specifically to take part in the famous Sunrise to Sunset hike from Paradise to Sunrise. While this steep climb is certainly challenging, the breathtaking views provide plenty of motivation for adventurers willing to test themselves and conquer the mountain. Visitors also have the option of taking a short but steep hike down to the Wonderland Trail, where they will find themselves overlooking the spectacular crater lake.
20. Chinitna Bay, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska
Chinitna Bay sits inside Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Situated only 60 miles southwest of Anchorage, the bay is home to stunning scenery. Massive mountains rise straight up from the shoreline, creating cliffs that tower hundreds of feet. Nearby, ancient glaciers still linger in the area, providing unique opportunities for hiking and climbing. Popular places to visit near Chinitna Bay include Thimble Islands State Park, Lazy Daze Day Use Area, and Matanuska Glacier State Park.
21. El Capitan, Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley is known around the world for its jaw-dropping granite monoliths. You’ve likely seen photos online, maybe even watched clips on television, but seeing them in person changes everything. Granite domes line the valley floor, soaring skyward throughout the area. There are numerous trails leading hikers to the best spots to view these geological treasures. Some of the most popular hikes lead to Bridal Veil Falls and Half Dome, both well worth visiting if only to marvel at their beauty.
22. Barr Trail, Pikes Peak, Colorado
Pikes Peak may be the highest point in the 48 contiguous states, but there are definitely some higher ones out there. The Barr Trail offers an amazing experience with incredible scenery. Located within the Pike National Forest in Colorado, this trail stretches along the side of the mountain, offering hikers beautiful sights. These include massive red rock formations that create natural arches, waterfalls that thunder into large pools, and incredible vistas of Pikes Peak itself. Along this route, visitors can easily see several different ecosystems, from pine trees to grassy hills to rocky canyons, giving this hike a very diverse feel.
Hike Dangerous Trails with a Guide
If you want to explore more than just the dangerous hiking trails in America, consider booking a guide who specializes in trekking through offbeat locations. Guides typically cost more, but they often know interesting stories about the trails they walk, allowing you to get a deeper sense of adventure. Look at sites like Top 10 Adventure Guides or Explore Worldwide to find reputable guides in your country.
Tips for Hiking on Dangerous Trails
Try not to go alone on any of these trails. They are all extremely dangerous, so make sure you tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. Also, pay attention to weather conditions before setting out. Know what to do in the case of rainstorms, lightning strikes, snow storms, avalanches, etc. Finally, always carry extra food, water, and first aid supplies. Even though it might sound silly, these things save lives!
What to Take to Hike on Dangerous Trails?
If you are planning for hiking on dangerous trails in America, then make sure to carry some basic things with you. Some of these things include a water bottle, a flashlight, a first aid kit, a map, a compass, a headlamp, extra clothes, etc. It is also advisable to have a GPS device so that if anything goes wrong, you can easily find yourself out of the woods. Lastly, don’t forget to pack snacks and other essential items. This will ensure that you won’t have to worry about finding a place to buy food once you leave civilization behind.
How to prepare yourself for dangerous trails
It is important to practice hiking on easy trails prior to embarking on these treks. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothing, as well as bring plenty of water, snacks, and other essentials. If possible, try to visit these places during daylight hours so that you can get a better idea of how long each trip will take.
Remember that hiking on dangerous trails in America isn’t something to take lightly. Make sure you research as much information about the trail as possible. Once you set out, stay safe by following safety tips and using common sense. If you follow these guidelines, you should have no problem enjoying one of the most adventurous outdoor activities available today. The most dangerous trails are those that go up steep cliffs, over deep valleys, through dense forests, or across treacherous terrain. You’ll need to be prepared for all kinds of weather and hazards.
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Arthur Lewis is a hardcore hiker, traveler, and adventure seeker. He is a blogger and writer for “Hiking Mystery,” and he lives in New York City with his pet dog, Chipi.
He is very fond of the outdoors and has visited many countries, including Iceland, Portugal, Brazil, and Costa Rica. He also loves to explore nature by means of hiking, cycling, and kayaking. He is an expert on travel, and he helps other people find the best way to travel by providing information about their options.