Around the country, hikers both novice and expert have a wealth of choices for trails. But ultimately, everyone wants to come home at the end of the trip.
While hiking may be the less adrenaline-pumping little sibling to activities like trail running or mountain biking, you can't underestimate the thrill of hugging a foot-wide trail above 2,000-foot cliffs.
Here we give you a few of the most challenging and potentially deadly hikes in the U.S. While most people make it back just fine from these places, that worst-case scenario is only a step away.
Muir Snowfield, Mt. Rainier, WA
Let's just get this out of the way: more than 90 mountaineers have died, either slipping or freezing, on their way up to 14,410 feet - and some 300 others died elsewhere on the mountain. A gentle meander through wildflower meadows on the Skyline Trail belies the 2.2 mile, 2,800 vertical feet up the Muir Snowfield. If that wasn't enough danger for you, storms can turn a pleasant spring day into a raging, blinding fog and snow. People have been known to walk right off cliffs in a whiteout.
Mist Trail to Half Dome, Yosemite, CA
Here you have Yosemite's most iconic hike - you can't die without doing it, and you can die while doing it. The Mist Trail takes about two hours and it's a burner combo of staircases and slippery rocks that lead to the top of Vernal Falls and a wading area. Beware, the current here can be so strong, people have been known to be swept away in an instant. If your legs aren't wobbly enough at this point, please enjoy the steel cable and wood "ladder" that will test every bit of your mettle to get to the top of Half Dome.
The Maze, Canyonlands, UT
We hope you can read a map with the best of them. On this hike you'll want to at least bring along a GPS to navigate the fairly trail-less terrain. After a while it blends into itself to foil the most savvy wilderness travelers. You'll need plenty of water to handle 110-degree temps that turn the canyon's labyrinths into a sandstone toaster. Hot tip: watch the true movie 127 Hours, in which a stuck hiker amputated his own arm, before attempting this hike.
Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon, AZ
There's a reason Park Service rangers recommend against trying this rim-to-floor hike in one day. Temperatures reach well into the 100s, there's hardly any shade, and it's a fast and steep 4,350 foot descent to the bottom. Despite warnings, some 250 people a year are rescued on this hike by a specially trained team dedicated to saving the unfortunate.
Mt. Washington, White Mountains, NH
The most prominent mountain east of the Mississippi, Mt. Washington is famous for its terrifyingly erratic weather; freak winds can hit a record-setting 231 mph and it's not unusual for a balmy 70-degree day to deteriorate to a snowy 30-degree day in mere hours. A sign along the way tells you the place has the worst weather in the world and warns to turn back if a storm is coming - and it's not lying.
Angel's Landing, Zion, UT
Angel's Landing is one of those hikes that starts out all "Ah, this is lovely" to "Aw, what the h*** was I thinking?!" The first 2.5 miles are fine for all hikers. It's when you ascend to the narrow, switchback-heavy trail requiring a bolted chain fence to guide you that you'll be thinking about your loved ones at home. One missed grab of the links as you reach the top, and you might become food for the vultures flying below you. On average, two hikers a year do just that.
Abrams Falls, Great Smoky Mountains, TN
Sure, you say, a 2.5 mile hike along some streams and waterfalls in a forest... No big deal! Towering heights and narrow passages aren't this hike's biggest dangers, it's the hazards presented by streams and waterfalls in the area, which gets more rainfall than anywhere in the Lower 48 besides the Pacific Northwest. Out-of-nowhere floods happen, capable swimmers can suddenly be swept away by an unseen current, and slippery rocks can trip the most experienced hiker into the abyss. Sixty people have died here since the 1930s.
Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii
Wrapping 11 miles around the stunning Na Pali coast, Kalalau Trail is deceptively pleasant, but make no mistake... it's on the island's northwest, meaning unpredictable weather can cause flash floods in mere minutes. At mile 7 is Crawler's Ledge, where you'll literally crawl partway up an 18-inch-wide dirt ledge. The next part is even worse: a steep, pebble-covered slope with sheer drops into the ocean. Did we also mention it's absolutely remote? Your destination is the incredible Kalalau Beach, accessible only by this hike or boat.
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