You make your way up the steep incline of a mountainside. There are broken and uneven steps and the trail is exposed. You look back to your hiking partner that is following behind you, and then the vertigo takes over your body. You lean forward to and take a drink from your water bottle and think to yourself:
What the heck am I doing here?
The trails listed here are wrought with peril; some with very visible hazards, and some with hidden dangers. These are the hikes that turn into heart-pounding tales, dicey recollections, and shouts from friends of “No Way, You did THAT?!”. These are scariest hiking trails that are not for the faint at heart.
Winchester Mountain, North Cascades National Park, Washington
The hike to the fire-lookout at the summit of Winchester Mountain appears to be an easy hike, save for one very sketchy 30-yard portion. As hikers ascend the moderate-grade trail, they are suddenly confronted with a blasted out section, and a 100-foot drop off to one side. The section is narrow, sharp, and uneven, requiring careful footwork and balanced movement while traversing the perch. In the winter, lingering snow makes the trail especially perilous, requiring the use of an ice axe on steep snowfields. The reward is a night at the lookout tower on the summit and the spectacular vista of the North Cascades.
The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah
The Narrows is one of the most famous and unusual trails in the United States. The entire length brings hikers into the depths of the cross-state canyon. While the canyon is deep and wide, it is also a giant drainage system that is prone to sudden flash flooding. When preparing to hike the Narrows, be aware of weather not only above the canyon, but also from several miles away, since the precipitation rapidly fills the gully. Hikers have been suddenly washed away in swiftly rising waters, with little hope of escape. The best time to traverse the Narrows is in late spring and mid-summer after the snowmelt, however summer is prone to sudden afternoon storms.
Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California
Traversing two of Yosemite’s iconic waterfalls, the Mist Trail is one of the parks most popular, strenuous, and perilous hikes, making up over half of Yosemite’s rescues every year. The trail is at its most spectacular after the snowmelt, as Vernal and Nevada Falls roar at full power. While the trails are well-marked and protected by a barrier, the mist from the waterfalls wets the path, making it treacherously slippery. Over-confident hikers frequently step over the barriers for a better photograph of the falls, either falling into the gorge or slipping into the pavement. Enjoy the trail responsibly by wearing hiking boots with good traction and carrying trekking poles for extra stability.
Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah
A spiral, twisting path meanders through Zion canyon. The trail is bordered only by a few chains for protection and the dizzying exposure of the rock fins that lead to Angels Landing. With sheer cliffs that drop off on both sides, the trail has seen its share of falls, rescues, and stranded hikers who aren’t prepared for the scary trek leading to breathtaking panoramas. While the path is well trodden, it’s unstable, rocky, and dangerously slippery after storms. Despite the danger, it’s one of Utah’s best trails and most spectacular vistas.
Mt. Washington, New Hampshire
Converging pressure systems over the Presidential Range douses Mt. Washington in arctic blasts. The trail to the summit of the Northeast’s highest peak is made perilous with avalanches, rock fall, poor physical conditions, and suddenly changing weather patterns. There are multiple trails to the summit, all requiring proper navigation with a map and compass. Hikers should be prepared to start early, traverse technical sections with uncertain route finding, and have a plan for when the weather turns sour. While the trail is milder in the summer, windblasts at the summit are intense and afternoon storms form over exposed fields.
Longs Peak, Keyhole Route, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The Keyhole Route on Longs Peak is a serious climb on one of the toughest 14ers in Colorado. Sheer rock walls, snow, steep faces, and unpredictable weather, makes that the Keyhole Route one of the most dangerous trails in the world. Climbing Longs Peak takes experience and skill in snow travel, technical climbing up to 5.5, using an ice axe and trekking poles, and the ability to scramble steep boulder fields at high altitude. While Longs Peak is Colorado’s 15th highest peak, climbers undoubtedly celebrate it and summiting Longs Peak is a major achievement.