The Most Challenging Hikes In America: Top 7 Trails

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The Seven Most Challenging Hikes in America: Can You Cut It?

As with most activities, we all start as beginners. For outdoors enthusiasts, however, simple, “easy” trails will only cut it for so long. As we get more experienced, we want to naturally take on more challenging hikes.

One positive is that in most parts of the country, you aren’t terribly far from high-level, renowned, even world-class hiking. The United States has some incredibly difficult hikes that will push even seasoned hikers to another level.

For those who have spent enough time on the trails, you know how that “thirst for more” grows…

For casual outdoorsy types, hiking can be a great way to get in shape and enjoy nature at the same time because there are tons of different hikes that you can take all over the place. As you begin to progress, you’ll notice that you start desiring going further and higher than you had when you first started.

Another thing that many experienced hikers long for is solitude amongst nature. On easy and intermediate trails, you often run into many other people. Not that being around people is a bad thing, but part of what makes hiking so amazing is the time you can spend “detaching” from distractions.

This means cell phones, work obligations, and yes, even brief encounters with strangers.

If you are the type who wants challenge yourself both physically and mentally while celebrating some much-deserved “me-time,” then where do you go? The answer is exploring some of America’s most challenging hikes!

The list of the most challenging hikes in America features long distances, high elevation gains, and sometimes a combination of both. We want to emphasize that these trails are not for beginners, nor should are they suitable for folks with certain health conditions. Make sure to practice due diligence before attempts to hit these or any other intense hike.

That said, if you are looking to step up your hiking game in a big way, be sure to check out one of these excellent hikes!

Grays and Torreys Peak

Grays and Torrey Peak Hiking
Photo via Michael Mangin/Flickr

Location: Idaho Springs, CO

Dogs: Yes, must be leashed

Best Feature: Climbing a pair of 14,000-foot peaks

For the adrenaline seeking hikers, Grays and Torreys Peak Trail offers the opportunity to climb not one, but two mountains that tower over 14,000 feet tall!

This difficult hike begins at 11,254 feet and will take you up over 3,600 feet, so be sure to get acclimated to the high altitude before going. Altitude sickness can really mess up your day (and can be dangerous at high elevations), so try to spend a day or two near Idaho Springs to get accustom to the lack of oxygen in the air.

Those who decide to brave this hike will be rewarded with spectacular views atop Grays and Torreys Peaks. Plus, you’ll be able to claim that you’ve hiked two “14ers.” Knock this trail out and you’ll be well on your way to bagging all 58 “14ers” that call Colorado home!

Sawtooth Mountain’s Tin Cup Hiker Trail

Location: Stanley, ID

Dogs: Yes, must be leashed

Best Feature: Views of Alice, Twin, and Toxaway Lakes

If you’re looking for a multi-day trip in a fairly remote, rustic, and gorgeous pocket of the country, this trail is an excellent option!

Located in the Sawtooth Range of Idaho, the Tin Cup Hiker trail will reward hikers with stunning views of the jagged peaks that serve as the namesake for the mountains. Hikers will ascend over 3,100 feet in 17.7 miles to complete this hike!

Fast hikers can accomplish this hike in a day if they leave early enough in the morning. That said, if you’re wanting to extend your stay and get the most out of the beauty in this area, plan on setting up camp on your way in (and out back) and staying a couple of nights!

There are also plenty of water sources to resupply your water, so the only limiting factor for how long you can stay is your food supply!

Devil’s Garden

Devils Garden Utah Hiking
Photo via Bureau of Land Management Utah/Flickr

Location: Arches National Park, UT

Dogs: No

Best Feature: A series of unique and breathtaking arches

Located just outside of Moab, Utah, Arches National Park is home to some of the most unique geology in the world. Sandstone arches formed over millions of years dominate the landscape and cast a red hue over everything. It is also home to the renowned Devil’s Garden.

Now, the Devil’s Garden trail is a fairly easy trail compared to the other trails mentioned on this list. With a length of just under 8 miles and an elevation gain of about 1,080 feet, this is not an “easy” hike, per se, but there are far most challenging hikes in America.

What Devil’s Garden lacks in physical challenge, however, it absolutely makes up for in spectacular views. Hikers will be rewarded with amazing views of red sandstone arches, including the Landscape Arch – one of the largest natural arches in the entire world!

When you get close to the red sandstone, be sure to also keep an eye out for petroglyphs! The ancient Fremont people that occupied the land hundreds of years ago left clues to what life was like for them and give hikers a window into ancient time. In that sense, consider this both a physically and mentally challenging hike!

Grand Tetons Table Mountain Trail

Location: Alta, WY

Dogs: Yes, must be leashed

Best Feature: Majestic views of the Grand Tetons

One of the most absolutely brutal and stunning hikes in the United States can be found near Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming. Whether it’s the elevation gain or the views, the Table Mountain Trail is sure to leave you breathless!

You’ll start your hike near Alta, WY. The trail is deceptively easy to begin with, but quickly turns into a challenging climb to the top of Table Mountain. You’ll cross through gorgeous forests that are teaming with wildlife.

You’ll know you’re getting close to the top once you hit the switchbacks – you’ll feel that burn in your quads! But keep pushing through to reap your reward at the top: a view of the west side of the Grand Tetons.

The Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls

Hiking Vernal Falls
Photo via Peter Szekely/Flickr

Location: Yosemite National Park, CA

Dogs: No

Best Feature: Experiencing Vernal and Nevada Falls

Yosemite National Park is home to some of the most incredible and spectacular views in the United States. For many, the most challenging part about visiting Yosemite isn’t the actual hikes themselves, but narrowing down the list of places to hike!

If you have time for just one, however, here’s a helpful tip. The most beautiful and challenging hike in the park involves taking the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls.

You’ll begin your hike at the valley floor and quickly ascend over 2,200 feet through beautiful dense pine forests. The granite walls that tower over the valley can offer shade, especially if you hike early enough in the day!

At the top of the hike, you’ll be rewarded by stunning views of Vernal and Nevada Falls. Take a moment at the top to soak in the mist from cascading water dropping hundreds of feet below to the valley floor before making your way back down!

Weaver’s Needle Loop Trail

Location: Gold Canyon, AZ

Dogs: Yes

Best Feature: Large expanses of cactus and the unique geological feature of the Weaver’s Needle

Arizona is home to many spectacular hikes, but the Weaver’s Needle Loop is very special. It takes you through a beautiful desert landscape that is covered with cactus and ocotillo, both of which have gorgeous wildflowers that bloom from them after a recent rainfall.

On the Weaver’s Needle Loop, you’ll climb over 2,800 feet as you hike this 12.4-mile loop. The most prominent feature of this trail is the trail’s namesake itself.

The Weaver’s Needle towers over the canyon and is almost always in view!

Be advised, though, that this trail isn’t just challenging: it can be dangerous. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for rattlesnakes, though, especially in the early evening hours.  

Maple Pass Trail

Maple Pass Trail Hiking
Photo via Jeff Hollett/Flickr

Location: Stehekin, WA

Dogs: Yes, must be leashed

Best Feature: Amazing views of the North Cascade Mountains

For a great, challenging hike (especially in the fall) make sure to hit up Maple Pass Trail.

You’ll ascend over 2,100 feet after starting from the Rainy Lake Trailhead through meadows and dense forests. The entire range that you end up hiking through will fill you with awe and wonder due to the unique geology of the area.

Formed by volcanoes and glaciers, the North Cascades truly were forged from fire and ice!

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