Grand Canyon (credit: Randy Yagi)
Attempting to hike one of America’s most treacherous mountains can be as inspiring as it is hazardous. The prospects of spectacular views amid towering trees and majestic mountaintops, only afforded to those who are willing to test their physical strength and determination, is more than enough to lure visitors from all over the planet. But backcountry hiking isn’t for everyone and preparation is absolutely mandatory before taking on what could be the ultimate challenge. For a preview of what to expect, here is a look at five of the most treacherous, yet breathtaking, hikes in America.
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon, Arizona
The national park service describes Bright Angel Trail as the “premier hiking trail” in the Grand Canyon. But it’s also one of the most dangerous trails in America, averaging some 200 heat-related rescues annually. With in-sun temperatures sometimes soaring up to 130 degrees, hikers should start early in the morning and be aware of the potential for falling rocks, lightning and flash floods. Even in winter it’s no less dangerous as the pathway can be icy and slick, particularly on the top two miles of the trail.
Half Dome Day Hike Via The Mist Trail
Yosemite National Park
With more than double the distance and elevation gain of any other trail in the park, Yosemite’s signature day hike is not for those who are out of shape or unprepared. The 14-mile round trip hike begins along the picturesque Mist Trail, which follows the Merced River to the top of Vernal Falls before reaching the top of Nevada Falls, and then finally through Little Yosemite Valley. But the hike is most famous for its final 400-foot ascent to the top of Half Dome via the park’s cable route. Permits are required for the cables and hikers must not attempt the ascent when the ground is wet or if storm clouds are in the area.
Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park
Located on the north coast of Kauai, the Kalalau Trail traverses along the coast, providing hikers extraordinary ocean views. Spanning 11 miles, the historic foot trail provides the only land access along the Nāpali Coast. It is widely considered one of world’s most dangerous hikes and not just because of narrow pathways or sheer fluted cliffs (pali). According to Hawaii State Parks, hikers must also be wary of many other hazards, including falling rocks, rockslides, slippery terrain and the potential for flash floods. In response to continued damage to the natural resources created by illegal campers, camping permits are now required to hike beyond Hanakāpīʻai, two miles from the trailhead at the northern end of Highway 56.
White Mountain National Forest
Sargent’s Purchase, New Hampshire
With one of the strongest wind speeds ever recorded on Earth, Mount Washington is known as the “home of the world’s worst weather.” New England’s highest peak (elevation 6,288 feet) lives up to its notorious moniker with an average temperature of 27 degrees and unpredictable weather. Of the more than 135 fatalities recorded on the “most dangerous small mountain in the world,” the majority suffered from hypothermia. Therefore, hikers must take precautions to ensure their own safety through advanced planning and preparation, along with proper nutrition and hydration. The most popular trail to the summit is via the 4.1-mile Tuckerman Ravine Trail, beginning at Pinkham Notch.
Mount Rainier National Park
Named after naturalist, conservationist and author John Muir, Muir Snowfield is an extremely dangerous 2.2-mile unmarked route with an ascent of 2,900 feet to Camp Muir (elevation 10,100 feet). Beginning at Paradise near the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center on the southern slope of Mount Rainier, the challenging trek is unquestionably not intended for inexperienced hikers and climbers. Although a round-trip excursion is just nine miles, the total elevation gain is 4,680 feet and whiteout conditions are known to occur at any time throughout the year Additionally, visitors must also be wary of the glaciers where several dangerous crevasses may be hidden by snow, in addition to the fact that Mount Rainier is an active volcano. The payoff, of course, is the challenge of reaching the historic guide shelter with its panoramic views of the summit and the valley below.