10 Brutally Challenging Hiking Trails That Are Worth the Effort

If you want to test your hiking skills, these tough but incredible trails may be a good place to start.
Last updated Aug. 29, 2022 | By Jenny Cohen | Edited By Michele Zipp
rear view of woman hiking on a mountain trek

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As the weather gets warmer, many hikers are pulling their gear together for adventures on trails across the United States. Whether you are walking though trails nearby for a one-day trek or you’re going on an excursion to camp under the stars — hiking is a great way to truly experience nature.

If you’re ready for an exciting hike with amazing views, there are trails that reach high into the clouds but take a little more skill to navigate. With knowledge and the proper gear, you can experience some of the best hiking in state and national parks. Here are some of the more daring hiking trails that are worth the effort.

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Appalachian Trail

mzglass96/Adobe McAfees Knob Catawba VA

One of the most famous hiking trails in the United States is the Appalachian Trail, which starts in Georgia and ends 2,100 miles north in Maine. Hikers can set a goal to trek the entire trail if they’re up for a challenge as it travels through states like Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

Highlights along the Appalachian Trail include the viewpoint from The Pinnacle along the Blue Mountains in Pennsylvania, Mount Killington in Vermont, or McAfee Knob in Virginia, which has a beautifully unique rock outcropping.

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John Muir Trail

MelissaMN/Adobe small creek in Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains in California

The John Muir Trail, named after the “Father of Our National Park System,” winds its way through parts of Yosemite and Sequoia National Park in California. Hikers can get spectacular views of the Nevada Falls, Half Dome, or Cathedral Peak. The 211-mile trail is part of the larger Pacific Coast Trail, which starts in California and ends more than 2,000 miles north in British Columbia.

Angel’s Landing

WITTE-ART.com/Adobe Trail to Angels landing Zion National Park

Zion National Park in Utah has several trails from easy to strenuous that hikers can try on their next visit, including Angel’s Landing. The 5.4-mile trail offers stunning views of the park from Scout Lookout as part of the 1,500 vertical feet spread along the trail. There’s also The Spine — also known as Hogsback — a steep incline with chains bolted to the rock to help hikers who are willing to challenge their fear of heights.

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Great Range Traverse

lightphoto2/Adobe high peaks sunset panorama from mount jo

This traverse through the Adirondacks is an endurance challenge for hikers. The trail, which weaves its way through the Keene Valley in upstate New York, covers eight peaks over more than a 20-mile hike. Check out the Gothics to get a gorgeous view of the sky for miles.

Pro tip: Trails like the Great Range Traverse may be best for multi-day hikes. If traveling by car, use the best credit cards for gas to potentially earn points while you spend.

Rim-to-Rim trails

Amineah/Adobe  south and north rim part in grand canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of the most spectacular natural wonders in the United States, and its trails can give hikers a unique perspective of this national park. The North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail is a 24-mile hike that’s considered strenuous, but the hard work will pay off. Along the hike, you would descend 14.3 miles and 6,000 feet to the canyon’s floor, then climb 4,500 feet and 9.6 miles to the next rim. These rocks represent two billion years of the Earth’s history.

Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail

Kevin/Adobe exploring the Pacific Northwest Washington State

The Cactus to Clouds Trail is located near Palm Springs, California, in Mount San Jacinto State Park. It’s one of the many amazing state parks across America. The trail consists of almost 24 miles of trail that ascends more than 10,000 feet up the side of the peak. You may enjoy the views from Wellman’s Divide or take a break at the end of the long hike with a tram ride down the mountain. Palm Springs is in the desert so consider the high temperatures and factor that in as you start your climb.

Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Canyon Loop

James/Adobe Grand Teton Peak

Nestled in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is this challenging hiking loop. The 19-mile loop offers some of the best views of the park, including the 200 foot Hidden Falls and Holly Lake, which is often surrounded by wildflowers when in season. Trails sometimes are snow-covered even in July, making it a perfect hike for those who appreciate the extra challenge.

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Presidential Traverse

Winston Tan/Adobe beautiful fall colors in Franconia Notch State Park

The White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire is home to a line of mountains named after presidents. The Presidential Traverse is a challenging hike, which would take you to peaks with spectacular views and over 9,000 feet of elevation change. One highlight is the summit of Mt. Washington, which includes food and a post office to send picturesque postcards.

Devil’s Path

brandtbolding/Adobe The Devils Path in the Catskill Mountains

This trail in the Catskill Mountains in New York might put your hiking skills to the test. Devil’s Path includes 9,000 feet of elevation change over a trail path that is 24 miles long, but it’s the rugged terrain that may surprise even the best hikers. There are some technical skills needed in certain areas, so be prepared to handle the rough, steep steps. The views from the mountains once you reach a peak could be quite rewarding.

Kalalau Trail

Fominayaphoto/Adobe  ocean view in Kalalau trail Kauai Island Hawaii

Kalalau Trail along the coast of the island Kauai in Hawaii has breathtaking views and beaches at each end. The trail crosses five valleys while also giving hikers access to Kalalau Beach at the end. Start the day at Ke’e Beach with its volcanic rock and palm trees before seeing spectacular views of the ocean or Ho’olulu Valley.

Bottom line

Duncan Andison/Adobe a hiker and their dog walking down from the summit of Hopegill Head

Regardless of whether you’re a technical hiker who wants to try challenging routes or a day hiker who enjoys some time outdoors, there are plenty of trails for all experience levels across the United States. Do some research to find the best hikes for you and make sure you prepare yourself with water, food, gear, and anything else you may need during your next trip into the wilderness.

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Author Details

Jenny Cohen Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.