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9 Most Difficult Hikes in the US That’s Not For the Fainthearted




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Today we’re looking at some of the most challenging and dangerous hikes in the US! While length can be a factor, elevation, terrain and environmental factors all play a big part in making these hikes such a major accomplishment! The thrill, adrenaline, sense of satisfaction, and spectacular views only a few souls see is what keep expert hikers embarking on these dangerous journeys. Read on for some of the most thrilling, dangerous and difficult hikes in America!

1. Barr Trail, Colorado

most difficult hikes in the us - barr trail
Photo credit: visitcos.com

At first glance, Barr Trail doesn’t seem like one for the record books. At only 13 miles long, it’s one of the shorter journeys on our list of most difficult hikes in the US! This hike can be done in six to ten hours, dog-friendly, and there are even camping options for those who want to split the hike over a few days. That being said, Barr Trail will still have you climb 7,800 feet in altitude! As such, it’s considered to be among the Pikes Peak region’s most challenging hikes. As a general rule, only advanced and expert hikers should attempt the excursion. What really earns Barr Trail a spot on our list however, is the lightning. In case you didn’t know, Pikes Peak is something of a local lightning rod, adding a very real sense of danger to the experience.

2. Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Canyon Loop, Wyoming

most difficult hikes in the us - paintbrush canyon cascade canyon
Photo credit: dirtinmyshoes.com

Don’t let the pretty name fool you! While an undeniably picturesque hike, the pairing of Paintbrush Canyon and Cascade Canyon is one that requires you to have your wits about you. You’ll need to be in prime physical shape and come prepared for any number of unique challenges. Located in Grand Teton National Park, this 19-mile hike is almost completely devoid of shade, so you’ll need to be loaded down with plenty of water to stay hydrated. As such, this is one hike where you’ll want to get a very early start. The views at the Paintbrush Divide will make the challenge worth your while, but it’s crucial that you keep track of the time!

3. Great Range Traverse, New York

most difficult hikes in the us - great range traverse
Photo credit: backwaterchic.com
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The Adirondacks are a great place to go hiking regardless of skill level. There are a wide range of trails to suit just about everyone, from families and beginners to the most seasoned of hikers. If you fit into the latter category however, the ultimate test is the Great Range Traverse. Living up to its name, this hike is 25 miles long and has a total elevation change of 17,600 feet. And over the course of this arduous trail, you’ll be scaling a total of nine peaks! The whole thing feels almost like a video game in that it saves the hardest challenge for the later stages. The final peak you’ll be scaling, Mount Marcy, is the tallest in the entire state. After the seemingly endless ups and downs, not to mention a number of unique terrain challenges, you’ll be going into it quite tired. But there’s really no greater satisfaction than overcoming this boss battle!

4. South Kaibab Trail & Bright Angel Trail, Arizona 

most difficult hikes in the us - south kaibab and bright angel trail
Photo credit: justroughinit.com

When embarking on one of the country’s most difficult hikes, proper planning and research is essential. And that’s a big factor in what makes this hike so notorious! At a glance, the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails seem deceptively accessible to beginner and intermediate hikers. After attempting this pair of trails however ,unprepared hikers come back singing a very different tune. Each and every year, hundreds of hikers need to be rescued after underestimating this journey into the heart of the Grand Canyon. The issue? What goes down must come back up! Facing scorching hot temperatures and limited to the water you bring with you, that 17-mile trip can feel insurmountable. As such, it’s recommended to split the journey with a stay at the Phantom Ranch or Bright Angel Campground.  

5. Kalalau Trail, Hawaii

most difficult hikes in the us - kalalau trail
Photo credit: frugalfrolicker.com

The Kalalau Trail in Hawaii is undeniably one of the most stunning hikes in the United States and arguably  the world. But that’s where the issue lies – because it’s such a beautiful environment, the Kalalau Trail often creates a false sense of security. Not to mention, many distracted hikers. The trail itself gets quite precarious at times from crumbling terrain and narrow cliffs, to wet surfaces and steep inclines. Hawaii’s Napali Coast is sure to leave a lasting impression on you, just make sure you’re up for the challenge. That impression should be an incredible travel memory, not a scar or story about needing to be rescued! For those who’ve trained appropriately however, the pristine beaches and unparalleled views are worth the 22-mile round trip.

6. Timberline Trail, Oregon

most difficult hikes in the us - timberline trail
Photo credit: thetrek.co
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Think you have what it takes to conquer the famous Mount Hood? Well it’s worth triple checking before setting out on this trail, because a 41-mile hike is not for the fainthearted or the inexperienced. Circling the base of the iconic mountain in Oregon, this trail consists of seemingly endless ups and downs that are quick to sap your strength. Over the course of the hike, you’ll be pushing yourself to the limits of over 12,000 feet of elevation change, sometimes scaling 1,500 feet over as little as three miles! Adding to the challenge is the fact that the weather is so temperamental. Many a hike has gotten off to a great start, only to be undone by heavy rain or even a freak snowstorm. The sights and scenery are worth the challenge, but only for hikers who can confidently brave ice-cold river crossings and everything else the Timberline Trail has to throw at them.

7. Presidential Traverse, New Hampshire 

Presidential Traverse
Photo credit: newengland.com

Nothing says “I’m conquering hiking in America!” like going up against the gauntlet that is the Presidential Traverse. At 23.5 miles it might not be the longest hike on our list of most difficult hikes in the US, but the 11 peaks (!) that you’ll be tackling more than makes up for it. One of the biggest challenges when attempting the Presidential Traverse is the confusion that comes above the tree break. Without a clear path, hikers tend to lose their way at these altitudes. The weather is also very unpredictable, but for those who are ready, the major undertaking is worth it. 

8. The Maze, Utah

The Maze
Photo credit: theactivetimes.com

With a name like that, you know you’re in for a serious challenge. What makes this such a uniquely difficult outdoor experience is that the challenge goes beyond physical fitness or knowledge. You will need to keep your wits about you as you navigate this natural labyrinth. And considering the astounding otherworldly beauty of the Canyonlands, it’s easy to wander and lose your way when you’re in the thick of it. The towering sandstone walls mean that you have no vantage points from which to reorient yourself, then you have the heat and tricky terrain to take into account. Water is scarce and the dead ends are numerous. As such, it’s strongly recommended that anyone, no matter how experienced, bring both a GPS and a topographical map with them!

9. Muir Snowfield Trail, Washington 

Muir Snowfield Trail
Photo credit: backpacker.com
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What comes to mind when you think of hiking? Chances are, you imagine yourself on a narrow  trail, surrounded by trees on all sides, or maybe navigating rocky canyon walls. Perhaps trekking across a vast field of rolling green hills? Well, the Muir Snowfield Trail is in a category  of its own. Because here, harsh conditions aren’t just bad luck. They’re inherently part of the  experience! The trail starts innocently enough, amidst a valley of wildflowers and greenery. But true to its name, the Muir Snowfield quickly becomes a world of unforgiving ice and frigid temperatures as you ascend Mount Rainier. At under 10 miles, it’s the shortest hike on our list. But it requires mountaineering experience, specialized equipment, and a specific type of  resolve to conquer this incredible trail!

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