THE MOST INSANE (AND SCENIC) HIKES IN THE UNITED STATES
From hiking on the ledge of thousand-foot cliffs, slippery granite slopes, and white deserts, here are seven of the most insane and scenic hikes in the United States.
The first major hike I completed. It was hell; I’m not going to lie. Picture nineteen-year-old Shalee and her dad attempting a sixteen-mile mountainous hike when the most elevation gain experience prior to this was a 500ft sand dune climb. #RIPus
I think we were the last ones down from the trail at dusk, I slept with my face down at the pizza place we went for dinner, and I couldn’t walk for three days. But we made it and it remains one of my favorite hikes. However, I would like to return and see if I could chop my previous time in half.
The Half Dome trail is 8.6 miles one-way and gains 4800ft in elevation. In order to hike past the sub-dome a permit is required (yes, a ranger is there to check) and anyone who is caught attempting the summit without a permit gets a hefty thousand dollar fine. The last 400ft of the trail is a near-vertical cable climb. The hike is known as one of the most deadly in the United States because of this section.
Even with permits in place, the trail remains one of the most popular within Yosemite National Park. If you fail to get a permit, don't worry, there are hundreds of equally amazing and less crowded hikes around the valley and within the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
Unlike the rest on the list, this trail does not include high elevation gain. The Alkali Flat Trail, a five mile loop, is in White Sands National Monument. The sand dunes here are unlike any other place on earth, and a hike through the white desert is a must.
In the summer the temperatures can reach far above 100 degrees, making the trail much more dangerous. In the winter, it is a relatively easy and simple hike that offers stunning views.
Red poles stuck into the sand pave the way for the path. It’s quite easy to follow, but be sure not to stray too far off the path. Each year people get lost in the dunes, which has no water supply or cell phone reception.
Mount Washington stands as the highest peak in the Northeast and one of the most deadly hikes due to its extreme fluctuating weather. The highest wind speed on earth was recorded on the summit at 231 mph.
There are many people who begin the hike in beautiful weather not expecting to need much more than a light wind jacket and then soon discover Mount Washington is not kind to visitors, even in the summer months.
The most popular summit route is via the Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail on the east side of the mountain. From trailhead to summit is roughly 4500 feet in elevation gain and 8.5 miles round trip. The hike up is serene, but don’t expect the summit to mirror the vast wilderness. Mount Washington’s summit is accessible by a road, which attracts many tourists throughout the year.
I recommend taking a slight detour to a hiker’s hut about a mile from the summit along the Appalachian Trail. It’s located on a small mountain lake and offers an incredible (and non-tourist filled) view of the area.
The longest, highest, and most scenic hike in Zion National Park. Most people venture to Zion with hopes of hiking Angel’s Landing, as it is known to be dangerous and daring. I’ve completed Angel’s Landing twice and Observation Point once, here’s my take on both:
- 1,200ft elevation gain
- 5.3 miles round trip
- Ridiculously crowded
- Not as scary as it’s made out to be
- 2,100ft elevation gain
- 8 miles round trip
- Hikes through slot canyons
- Less crowded
- Large plateau summit
- Also hikes on the side of 1,000 foot cliffs
Observation point offers some incredible views from various angles of the park. Personally I prefer this hike because it is much more versatile. Angel’s Landing is incredibly crowded and congested. Many attempting the AL summit are ill equipped, making the narrow passageways a pedestrian traffic jam and selfiestick haven.
Mount Wheeler is the highest point in New Mexico at 13,110ft. I don’t recommend doing it in late November, like we did, because then you’ll be trudging straight up the side of the mountain because the trail is near-impossible to follow in two feet of fresh snow.
During warmer months, it is much more simplistic and achievable. The hike up brings you past Williams Lake, and beautiful and serene spot in the middle of the mountains. The total elevation gain is just over 3000ft. Near the top expect to see mountain goats trotting over the open landscapes.
The peak gives a 360 view of northern New Mexico. Although New Mexico is known mostly as a dry and hot southwestern state, the top of Mount Wheeler will make you feel as if you’re in Colorado or Montana.
To hike from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River is roughly 16 miles round trip with 4500ft in elevation gain. The main route is descending via the South Kaibab Trail and ascending up the Bright Angel Trail (or visa versa).
The best season for hiking this trail is winter, and it is not recommended to hike the trail in one day during summer, spring, or fall due to high temperatures. There are only a couple water sources along the entire hike, which means you’ll need to be prepared. At the bottom of the canyon is a small lodge and campground. Many people choose to split the hike into two days and spend a day in the canyon.
If you plan to hike it in one day, get an early start. We began our hike on Christmas Eve at 6am. The temperature was 17 degrees. By the time we reached the canyon floor mid-morning it was 50 degrees. We finished 18 miles and almost 10,000 total feet in elevation change by 2:00pm, two hours before our proposed time. Upon returning to the rim we were welcomed by hundreds of tourists crowding every lookout. Even if you hike just a mile down the trail, you’ll escape crowds and get an authentic Grand Canyon experience.
Not so much a hike compared to a challenge. Warning signs on top of the dune warn visitors that those who run the 450ft down to the water must then climb all the way back up--which can take up to two hours.
Running down the dunes is the fun part. Once at the bottom take a cold plunge into Lake Michigan before beginning the excruciating hike back up. Even on a cold day you’re bound to be sweating.
The top of the dune offers incredible views of Lake Michigan’s vast open waters with South Manitou Island on the horizon. The Caribbean blue waters are guaranteed to take your breath away. After the climb take a drive along Michigan’s most scenic highway, M22.
Soulful adventurer. Probably lost. Definitely eating ice cream.
In her late-teens, Shalee drove out of her small hometown watching the sunset behind her along the two-lane highway. Her ventures began in Michigan, where she taught herself to travel on a budget. Today, Shalee shares her tips and stories to thousands of readers interested in adventure, budget, and outdoor travel. Learn more about her here.