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The Most Dangerous Hikes in the US

Hawaii Hiking
by JoAnna Haugen Jan 13, 2010
Do you prefer some risk when you hike? If so, here are a few that you might want to check out.

Backpacker Magazine published an article in 2008 with a list of the top 10 most dangerous hikes in the United States, which has resurfaced in recent days across the Twittersphere. Each hike was rated using a danger scale that considers predators on the trail, extreme weather, terrain hazards and unknown factors that can play into the success of a hike.

Based on these criteria, the magazine compiled a list of hikes that span across the country from Kauai, Hawaii, to the Great Smoky Mountains.

Here are some of the highlights:

Barr Trail, Pikes Peak, Colorado

The altitude alone is enough to take your breath away, but it’s the intensity and frequency of lightning strikes on Pikes Peak that make this trail particularly dangerous.

According to the Backpacker Magazine excerpt about this trail:

The Barr Trail, the most popular footpath, gains 7,400 vertical feet over 13 miles (one way), much of that through exposed meadows and boulder fields above treeline. Motorists can dodge lightning by ducking into their cars, but hikers often find themselves trapped with no escape from incineration.

Safety Tip: descend the mountain at the first sign of clouds thickening and be off the mountain by noon.

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon, Arizona

No need to pack warm clothing for this hike. In the summer, it is not uncommon for temperatures to hit 110 degrees Fahrenheit at the Grand Canyon, and temperatures are even more intense on the canyon floor. Add to that the intensity of climbing nearly 4,500 feet in nine-and-a-half miles, and it’s no wonder that so many people call for rescues.

In fact, Backpacker Magazine notes:

A spate of deaths 10 years ago prompted the creation of PSAR (Preventative Search and Rescue), a team of rangers that patrols the Bright Angel Trail, assessing individual hikers, dispensing water to the suffering, and urging the unprepared to seek safety.

Safety Tip: Start hiking before dawn to beat the heat of the day, and pace yourself on the ascent by resting for 15 minutes for every hour. Carry and drink lots of water.

Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii

Needless to say, this is not one for those who are scared of heights. Hikers inch along a trail that drops 300 feet straight into the rocky surf below. After a healthy rain, the path can be particularly slippery and treacherous.

Says Backpacker Magazine:

Despite such dangers, tons of locals and visitors continue to make the 11-mile (one way) pilgrimage to Kalalau, one of the world’s most paradisical beaches.

Safety Tip: Keep steady footing with hiking poles and a backpack that has been weighted so that you maintain a low center of gravity. Avoid crossing streams during rain.

I have to say that I’m surprised Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park didn’t make the list (and if the comments to the piece are worth anything, many other people are surprised too). After the tragedies in Zion National Park this past year, that hike might be considered one of the most dangerous as well.

Community Connection:

What do you think is the most dangerous hike in the United States? Tell us in the comments.

Curious to see what else made the list? Check out the rest of the top ten on the Backpacker Magazine website.

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