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Make no mistake–hiking isn’t all family fun and picnics. Some routes are downright daring. Scaling rusty iron rungs, avoiding hungry wildlife and political instability, battling your physiological need for oxygen at high altitudes, and brazenly disregarding heights as you navigate narrow footpaths just one footstep from freefall can all be part of the experience. If you attempt one of the most dangerous hikes in the world it’s practically guaranteed.
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. Allow yourself to tip your hat at danger without putting life (and limb) at serious risk.
Disclaimer: Although these 16 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.
Top Picks for You
Everest Base Camp
This iconic Himalayan trek had to top this list of the most dangerous hikes in the world. 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 body’s natural tolerance to the low oxygen levels. Everest Base Camp is easily one of the hardest non-technical hikes in the world solely due to the duration you’ll spend at altitude. 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.
Drakensberg Grand Traverse
WHERE: South Africa
A quick google search of this isolated South African multi-day mountain trek reveals a checkered history of hypothermic hikers and falls from rickety chain ladders hanging off the country’s highest peaks. From Sentinel Car Park to Buckman’s Neck Border Post you’ll experience lots of off-trail segments and over 30,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain as you ascend six separate summits. The Drakensberg Grand Traverse is extreme hiking by anyone’s definition. Before 1985, the Drakensburg death toll had topped 55 hikers on the roughly 130-mile trail crossing stunning alpine meadows and rugged mountain terrain. Since then, the government simply stopped counting the number of fatalities on the popular trekking path. While both picturesque and popular among the backpacking crowd, it’s also without a doubt one of the deadliest hikes in the world.
WHERE: Kauai, Hawaii
By recorded death count, this is the deadliest hike in the United States in recent years. But the vast majority of the statistic doesn’t come from the muddy slippery footing on the exposed spine of the Na Pali coastline that the trail traverses. Surprisingly, the official signpost marking the start of the trail suggests more than 85 people have been swept away by the namesake beach’s unpredictable riptide. Falls from the aptly named “Crawler’s Ledge” at milepost 7 aren’t uncommon either. In an effort to curb the rescues of unprepared hikers, Kauai recently implemented a permit system to hike the 25-mile trail.
Hawaii has a slew of deadly trails for thrill-seekers; the Olomana trail in Oahu where six people plummeted to their death since 2004, the infamous Stairway to Heaven that has resulted in more than 100 rescues since 2010, and the now-closed Kalepa Ridge Trail on Kauai claimed a handful of fatalities as well. It’s important to always abide by trail closures and local regulations.
Corcovado National Park
WHERE: Costa Rica
Most of the world’s hiking deaths occur from severe weather conditions and falls from precarious high-mountain trails. But this Central American national park is so deadly, the government of Costa Rica requires you to have a trained guide escort. Corcovado National Park sits on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica near the popular whale-watching town of Drake Bay. It gets predictable humid warm weather year-round and there are no trails that ascend more than a couple of dozen feet above sea level. But the dense jungle vegetation confuses mapless hikers, the wild windstorms knock trees down crashing through the thick foliage onto unsuspecting campers, and the wildlife is downright lethal. Pumas, crocodiles, bull sharks, jaguars, and no less than four types of highly-venomous snakes live within the confines of the park. The Fer-de-Lance Viper, also known as the “Costa Rican Landmine,” is one of the most deadly snakes in the world and lives unseen in the park’s many riverbeds. Sadly, the draw for most hikers is the incredible wildlife–which can also lead to their demise.
You’re at 11,500 feet elevation. The 10-mile journey through the untouched Colorado landscape has been grueling thus far. Expecting around 2,000 feet of elevation gain in total, you traverse a dirt trail through verdant valleys and narrow paths snaking their way along sheer drops that would surely be deadly with a single misplaced step. Then you reach the Devil’s Causeway itself. A pencil-thin landbridge dotted with rocks and just sinister-looking enough to make most hikers abandon their well-laid plans to cross it. This is perhaps why the Devil’s Causeway doesn’t have that many recorded fatalities.
Nicknamed “The Machu Picchu Stairs of Death,” this short steep trail summits the iconic peak sitting behind Machu Picchu. Most hikers assume that the four-day grueling hike along the Inca Trail would be the deadliest in Peru, and while it too sees its fair share of accidents and fatalities, it’s actually the 2.5-mile slippery summit of Huayna Picchu that holds the title for most extreme hiking in the Sacred Valley. With about 30 reported fatalities and countless injuries, this deceptively short hike, one of the most dangerous hikes in the world, lives up to its ominous nickname.
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 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. This hike earns its place on this list as one of the most dangerous hikes on the East Coast.
Angels Landing, Zion National Park
Considering the death toll from falls alone, Angel’s Landing is the most dangerous hike in America. Navigating the razor-thin edge, which 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. This is where Angel’s Landing gets dangerous. Surprisingly, the real threat doesn’t come from your clumsiness alone but from the overcrowding. 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 keep your footing and orchestrate a dance across exposed sections of trail barely wide enough for one.
Tucked in the Himachal Pradesh highlands, this valley holds a plethora of trails connecting small mountain villages to one another with long winding routes beautiful enough to attract holy men and hikers alike. The Parvati Valley has also come to be known as one of the most dangerous hiking regions in the world. The treks have all the usual pitfalls: unstable footing, sheer dropoffs, temperamental weather, and high elevation. But the real reasons behind its many monikers including “Valley of Death” and “India’s Bermuda Triangle” are more mysterious. In the past several decades, more than 30 international visitors to this Himalayan valley have vanished without a trace or died mysterious deaths.
The Mist Trail 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. It’s notorious as one of the hardest hikes in the U.S. that you complete in a single day. First, you’ll face the slippery task of battling the full force of Vernal Falls as you ascend the “Mist Trail.” Depending on the time of year, it 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, on one of the most dangerous hikes in the world, tragedy is most likely to strike. One wrong move and you’ll find yourself tumbling to the valley floor.
More than 700 years ago a Taoist priest in China nailed some thin boards to the side of a cliff to reach the summit of a holy mountain. From here, a deadly hike was born. The exact death toll of its 700-year history is unknown, but we can say for sure that at least 100 hikers have plummeted to their deaths. Today, the extreme hiking trail remains a dangerous hike even with its new and improved wooden platforms and clip-in harnesses. Although admittedly, reaching the temple perched at the peak is now more of a thrill-seeking adventure than a death wish.
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.
WHERE: Java, Indonesia
Mount Ijen just might be the most inhospitable landscape on planet earth and it’s definitely one of the most extreme hikes in the world. 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 cerulean flames and sunrise over the crater. Once you’ve reached the peak, following a path layered in thick gray 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 that 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.
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. 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. These bites require timely medical attention and in the largest national park in the contiguous U.S., where you’re almost always without cell service, that is far from ideal.
El Caminito del Rey
Originally crafted out of necessity, this short wooden plank trail was built so workers could reach their new hydroelectric project at the turn of the 20th century. Clinging to the sheer cliffsides high above a river this small trail garnered its deadly reputation after falling into disrepair in the 1980s. Thrill-seekers hopped the half-hearted barriers put in place by the government and subsequently, all too often plummeted from the rotten boards and cracking concrete onto the rocks far below. Following a massive restoration project in 2015, the trail officially reopened to the public. Now fitted with tennis shoes and a helmet, almost anyone can complete what was once deemed the most dangerous hiking trail in the world.
Mount Washington Summit
WHERE: New Hampshire
At only just above 6,000 feet elevation, Mount Washington can lull unsuspecting hikers into its grasp. This arguably tiny mountain is actually one of the hardest mountains to climb in the U.S. Unpredictable and often volatile weather here can trap hikers in hypothermic conditions quickly. For many of the fatalities recorded on this mountaintop, the unsuspecting hikers set out while it was sunny and 75, only to reach the halfway point and find temperatures plummeting 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 and the most dangerous hike in New England.