4 of the Most Challenging Day Hikes in the U.S.

With winter winding down, now’s the perfect time to start making plans for your next outdoor adventure. Perhaps you are looking to push the envelope this season and get outside of your comfort zone by hitting one of the toughest day hikes in the United States. To assist in your planning efforts, we’ve selected four of the hardest treks in the lower forty-eight to get your adrenaline flowing.

These trails are not for the faint of heart. However, if you possess the necessary skills and are in above-average shape, they can be knocked out in one day. However, you can always break it down into a slower, multi-day trip.

Slickrock Creek Trail (North Carolina)

This 13.2-mile slog is the longest single trail in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness (located near the North Carolina-Tennessee border). What begins at a starting elevation of 1,160 feet ascends over 3,700 feet before reaching the Naked Ground, a popular backpacking spot. The barely visible trail seemingly disappears amongs the dense foliage of rhododendrons and old growth forest. The dozen or so creek crossings can range from moderate to challenging depending on precipitation.

South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail (Arizona)

South Kaibab Trail Grand Canyon National Park
M. Quinn/National Park Service
M. Quinn/National Park Service

Located in the Grand Canyon, this may be of the hardest trail on this list due to the combination of temperature extremes, geography, and lack of water. Descending the South Kaibab Trail from the rim to the river covers just over six miles; the river is visible from the rim, but the rim isn’t visible from the river. Once to the bottom, follow along the Colorado River before connecting to the Bright Angel Trail to ascend the nearly eight-mile trail. Since temperatures rise well above 100-degrees daily and a point-to-point trek can seem daunting for a day hike, you can always stay at Phantom Ranch overnight. However, plan ahead as reservations are hard to acquire.

Longs Peak (Colorado)

longs peak rocky mountain national park
Photo courtesy of National Park Service
Photo courtesy of National Park Service

No extreme hiking roundup would  complete without a mention of the state containing the most fourteeners in the country. Despite its difficulty, reaching the summit of the 14,259-foot Longs Peak doesn’t deter those seeking to bag this monarch located within Rocky Mountain National Park. Allow plenty of time in your schedule (and pack accordingly) as weather can delay summit attempts. The Keyhole Route is less of a hike and more of a non-technical climb. The roughly 15-mile round trip journey has over 5,000 vertical feet of elevation gain, and the bulk of that gain comes in the final push to the summit. Less than 50 percent of those seeking to reach the summit will be successful, and the descent from the top can be more challenging than trip.

The Maze (Utah)

chocolate drops canyonlands national park maze utah
Neal Herbert/National Park Service
Neal Herbert/National Park Service

What may be the least accessible area within the Canyonlands National Park requires several hours of off-road travel just to reach the trailhead — and that’s the easy part. Make sure to carry plenty of water, familiarize yourself with map and compass, bring the right equipment (and know how to use said equipment), and travel with a partner. Daytime temperatures can exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit. It is highly recommended that everyone file a detailed plan with a ranger and carry a GPS unit. While a day hike is certainly possible, consider spending multiple days to allow yourself time to enjoy the slot canyons, dry washes, and desert landscape of Utah.


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