The 15 Deadliest Hikes in the World
We're looking at these photos through covered eyes.
Make no mistake–hiking isn’t all family fun and picnics. Some routes are downright daring. Scaling rusty iron rungs, avoiding bears and stray landmines, battling your physiological need for oxygen at high altitude, and brazenly disregarding heights as you navigate narrow footpaths just one footstep from freefall can all be part of the experience. Your average adrenaline junkie typically gravitates to a more technically challenging outdoor sport, like white water rafting, climbing, or for the boldest adventurers, free-soloing. But thrill-seekers craving that rush needn’t spend years and thousands of dollars honing a new skill. Instead, just hike one of these vertigo-inducing, high-consequence “walks.” Ranging from a quick two-mile morning jaunt to a staggering eight-day minimum trek these exhilarating and bucket list-worthy hikes can be completed without any technical training whatsoever. Allowing you to tip your hat at danger, without putting life (and limb) at serious risk. Disclaimer: Although these 15 hikes are completely legal and their paths well-trodden, you should be in decent physical shape and without a fear of heights to take them on.
Everest Base Camp
This iconic Himalayan trek had to top this list of dangerous hikes. Many outdoor enthusiasts forget that just by putting one foot in front of the other for somewhere between 8-14 days you can reach the base of the highest mountain on earth. And the road to Everest isn’t all that difficult. But it is dangerous: between three and 15 people die each year on the frigid walk. Obviously, trekking to 16,800 feet above sea level is going to come with risks. For starters, that thin mountain air. You can begin feeling the effects of altitude at 6,000 feet above sea level. At 10,000 feet, you’ll feel nauseous, fatigued, and short of breath. But by the time you reach the Khumbu glacier, you risk a life-threatening case of HAPE or HACE (high-altitude pulmonary or cerebral edema) depending on your tolerance. That’s not even to mention the volatile weather or the risk of plummeting to your death after being shoved from the trail by a pack donkey.
The Precipice, Acadia National Park
Aptly named, this national park trail will leave you standing on a smooth rocky outcropping to marvel at the brilliant fiery foliage of a New England fall. But not without some cliff-hanging. The Precipice’s three-mile ascent begins with some mild bouldering as you scramble up the rockfall and evolves into a jungle-gym-like climb. Thick iron rungs secured to the flat granite faces provide hand and footholds where the mountain is lacking. While you scale the exposed manmade vertical ladders, in what can only be described as informal rock climbing, one misstep or slippery handrail can leave you plummeting hundreds of feet to your death. Many in Acadia National Park have met that fate. The Precipice requires constant vigilance and confidence as you shimmy your way to the top of Maine’s most dangerous hiking trail.
Angels Landing, Zion National Park
Considering the death toll from falls alone, Angel’s Landing is the most dangerous hike in the United States. Navigating the razor-thin edge, that arches like the back of a stegosaurus into the center of Zion National Park, is made incrementally easier with the assistance of heavy chain rails. But your head will spin with every step as you gaze down into the chasm, at times a sheer rock wall of 1,000 feet, on both sides of you. The hike to Scout’s Lookout, playfully known as “Wuss Out Point,” offers views of the land bridge and gives you one last opportunity to choose sanity before committing fully to the summit. Surprisingly, the real danger doesn’t come from your clumsiness but over-crowding. Zion is one of the most popular national parks in the USA and by mid-morning, the land bridge will be bursting at the seams with hikers. Shoulder-to-shoulder with inexperienced thrill-seekers, you’ll be required to not only keep your footing but orchestrate a dance across exposed sections of trail barely wide enough for one.
Highline Trail, Glacier National Park
Grab your bear mace and trekking poles, because thrill-seekers looking to get an up-close view of Montana’s wildlife need look no further. The Highline Trail in Glacier National Park undulates across 12 miles of exposed cliffside and offers a chance at spotting the park’s resident shaggy Mountain Goats, Big Horn Sheep, and Black Bears. But the proximity to wildlife is exactly what makes this trail so dangerous. In fact, Glacier National Park holds the record for most park visitors killed in a bear attack. But it’s not just the bears that pose a risk to hikers. Aggressive or startled sheep and goats charging down the thin cliffside paths can inadvertently (or intentionally) knock hikers off the precarious ledge. To add to the already dangerous atmosphere, this lengthy Montana trail is also prone to wild weather changes sometimes bringing snow or sleeting rain unexpectedly.
The Lost City Trek
Cuidad Perdida also known as the Lost City, contains ruins deep in the jungles of Colombia that are 650 years older than Machu Picchu. And far more rugged, remote, and adrenaline-inducing. Much like Machu Picchu, you’re required to hire a local guide to ensure you don’t get hopelessly lost in the dense Colombian jungles. This forest is so thick even the ruins themselves weren’t rediscovered until the 1970s. But unlike the world wonder, the Lost City is well off-the-beaten-path. No tour buses here. Back in the early 2000s, these remote regions were overrun with militant guerrillas who were by far the biggest threat to your safety in the jungle. Today, that is much less of a concern but not to be completely ruled out. Instead, you’ll flirt with danger contending with slippery river crossings and 28 miles of steep rocky jungle terrain.
Ralph Dirkse Photography/Shutterstock
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Most visitors to Great Sand Dunes National Park choose to time their visit for a mild spring or fall afternoon and don’t care to venture far from the cooling shores of Medano Creek. But intrepid hikers who want to push their limits can climb to the highest dune in the park, Star Dune. Sitting at 755 feet of pure sand, reaching this behemoth requires hours traversing the hostile sea of sand and blazing your own path over the always shifting sandscape. In the summer months, the surface temperature of the sand can reach upwards of 150 degrees, searing any exposed skin. Even the slightest breeze whips razor-sharp sand particles into your eyes, mouth, and nose. Hiking here is perilous because thrill-seekers often underestimate distances between the dunes and the amount of energy required to hike in the thick sand.
Vernal Falls to Half-Dome, Yosemite National Park
Any trail requiring permits and clip-in cables to semi-safely complete deserves a spot on the most dangerous hikes list. Over the past 15 years on this particular Yosemite National Park route, 13 adventurers fell to their death and an additional 290 accidents were reported. First, you’ll face the slippery task of battling the full force of Vernal Falls as you ascend the “Mist Trail.” Which depending on the time of year can resemble a firehose more than a mist. Then you’ll embark on the grueling hike past Nevada Falls to the Half Dome Summit. Nearly 5,000 feet of elevation over 18 miles is enough to make even experienced hikers weak in the knees; adding an extra level of danger to the already terrifying half dome cables. To reach the smooth half-moon summit, you’ll have to steel your shaky legs and carefully climb the ladder-like cables. This is where tragedy is most likely to strike. One wrong move and you’ll find yourself tumbling to the valley floor.
Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Trail
The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular tourist sites in the United States. Standing at the North Kaibab Trailhead, you would be forgiven for thinking that the wide sandy path ahead into the canyon, a path so well-traveled, would be a piece of cake for an experienced hiker. But over 800 people have died attempting to hike this rim-to-rim trail. Steep drops, soaring temperatures, dehydration, and sheer exhaustion take their toll. The reason behind this hike’s high body count is clear, you start your day by hiking into the canyon. You expend valuable energy during the cool hours of the morning hiking downhill for over 14 miles. Then you’ll have to ascend the steep canyon switchbacks for another 10 miles to get back out. It’s during this climb that many realize their fatal mistake. Hikers who attempt this route in a single day risk serious injury or death. And deep in the remote recesses of the canyon itself, it can be nearly impossible to reach anyone for help.
Mount Ijen, Java
Mount Ijen just might be the most inhospitable landscape on planet earth. The active volcano holds an electric blue acid lake in its caldera, capable of melting metal and searing skin. Clouds of putrid gas belch out of the sulfur mine and blue flames rip from the earth to lick the night sky. Adventurous souls set out under the cover of darkness with hopes of seeing these elusive blue flames and sunrise over the crater. Once you’ve reached the peak, following a path layered in thick grey ash, the real danger begins. As you descend into the mouth of the volcano, carefully picking your way through boulders and twisting exposed trails, you’ll need a gas mask to breathe comfortably. The air filled with sulfuric gas is so toxic at times, little oxygen can be pulled from it. But that’s not the only hazard travelers will face. Often, the wind rips the volcanic ash and rock into the air temporarily blinding hikers as they pick their path. Completely spent from a night of carefully navigating your way around the volcanic rim in the dark, you’ll still need to find the energy to hike back out.
Red Cathedral, Death Valley National Park
Any lengthy trail in the hottest recorded place on earth comes with its fair share of danger. Even the Red Cathedral Trail clocking in at only three miles is long enough to induce heatstroke in the scorching 120+ degree landscape of Death Valley. Most day hikers in the area are also relying on GPS, a service that is notoriously poor in this barren landscape. While most of the Red Cathedral trail is fairly straightforward, it’s possible to get lost in the maze if you’re relying on GPS alone. Losing the trail for even a few hours in the intense desert heat can be a death sentence. But wildlife plays a killer role here as well. As you climb through the ravines carved by wind and water, you might find one of Death Valley’s three venomous snakes curled into a handhold. Requiring timely medical attention in the largest National Park in the contiguous US where you’re almost always without cell service, is far from ideal.
Mount Storm King
This moderately high mountaintop in Olympic National Park seems innocent enough to most park visitors. But embark on the thigh-burning ascent, 2,300 feet in 1.5 miles, slogging your way through loose powdery dirt on a poorly maintained trail, and you’ll understand how Mount Storm King makes this list. Past the “end of maintained trail” signage near the summit, you’ll finish the hike by scaling a series of ragged knotted ropes and climbing the ridge of gray rock with nothing but air on both sides of you. On a rare crystal clear day in the Olympics, this hike is dangerous. One wrong step at the summit or a snapped rope at the wrong moment, and you could find yourself careening down the sheer rock face. But throw in the Washington peninsula’s propensity for damp misty weather and the trail becomes nearly impassable. The loose dirt becomes a thick mudslide and the moss-covered rock slick to the touch.
Mount Washington Summit
WHERE: New Hampshire
At only just above 6,000 feet elevation, Mount Washington is able to lull unsuspecting hikers into its grasp. Unpredictable and often volatile weather here can trap hikers in hypothermic conditions quickly. Many of the fatalities recorded on this mountain top first began their hike while it was sunny and 75, only to reach halfway as temperatures plummeted below freezing. Add recorded wind speeds of up to 230 mph and over 180 recorded fatalities, and Mount Washington has more than earned its title of “most dangerous small mountain” in the world.
Pha Daeng Peak
Offering spectacular panoramic views of the small riverside village of Nong Khiaw, this short but steep staircase jaunt is dangerous for one reason only. Unexploded ordinance. Hiking in the remote Northern Laotian wilderness comes with some unexpected risks. During the Vietnam War, the United States carpet-bombed the country of Laos. Today more than 80 million undetonated cluster bombs remain buried and lethal. Stick to the well-trodden path and you should be able to make it.
Chesler Park Loop, Canyonlands National Park
Scrambling up red rock platforms following carefully stacked cairns in the unrelenting desert heat for over 10 miles isn’t for the faint of heart. This loop cuts through the heart of the Needles region of Canyonlands National Park, a lesser-visited and more remote swath of desert. You’ll risk heat exhaustion as you follow the exposed sand-covered trail, expend every last ounce of energy clambering up and down through picturesque ridges, and require a ridiculous amount of water. But it’s not just lack of water that makes this long barren hike dangerous. It’s excess. Squeezing through the 20-foot high slot canyons that make this trail famous, you risk being caught in a deadly flash flood. Within minutes the thin canyons can fill with a rush of water trapping you and any other debris in the long tunnels and caverns.