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Reader Participation Day: What Are The Most Unnerving Trails In A National Park?

The Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park has some sections that can be unnerving to some hikers. NPS photo.

Hiking is a popular activity in our parks, and trails'”long and short, easy to arduous'”provide almost unlimited opportunities for us to stretch our legs or challenge our abilities. Whether a hike on a particular trail seems "scary" is a pretty subjective question, since our tolerance for steep drop-offs, uncertain footing or other factors varies widely from person to person.

Over the years, articles in the Traveler have discussed the question of risks and reported on occasional incidents on some popular trails, such as Angel's Landing in Zion National Park and the Half Dome Cables at Yosemite National Park. 

Trails for the "What am I doing here?" list

So,if you were asked by a friend which trails in any national park he might want to avoid if he wasn't fond of routes which rank highest on the "seriously sweaty palms" or "What in the world am doing here?" scale, which ones would you put on the list?

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Photo by ianz via flicker and Creative Commons.

We'll open this question up to park hiking routes anywhere in the world.


For the sake of this discussion, let's limit suggestions to designated trails in parks, and exclude off-trail travel and technical climbing.

 The World's "Most Dangerous Hiking Trail"?

I'll make one exception to the above criteria, just for the sake of perspective. I don't know that it's located in a national park, but parts of the Huashan Trail in China are so outlandish this route would probably fail to pass muster as an official hiking route in many other countries in the world!

If you think the trip up the cable route at Half Dome is scary, take a peek at some images from what's sometimes called "The World's Most Dangerous Hiking Trail."

A section of that trail, known as the Cliffside Plank Walk, is shown in the photo to the right. You'll find some video footage of that trail here and at this link.  

By the way, there's absolutely no disgrace in deciding any  trail is outside your comfort zone. It's a wise hiker who knows his or her limits when it comes to the white-knuckle test.



It's probably not quite in the same class as Angel's Landing or Half Dome, but the Blue Basin Overlook Trail in John Day Fossil Beds NM. In a few places, the trail is hugging the side of some pretty steep slopes. From my personal experience it also got a little hairy when some ominous weather rolled in while I was mid-hike! Thankfully, the downpour mercifully held off until I got back to my car in the parking lot!

For inexperienced hikers, or those not used to being near livestock, meeting a mule train on some parts of the Bright Angel Trail at Grand Canyon can be a bit unsettling.

Early in the season, when there's still snow on the trail, parts of the Highline Trail at Glacier can also be a bit of a nail-biter.

At the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, I could not get my wife and son to walk out to Bright Angel Point. So my daughter and I did it without them. Bright Angel Point is not on my list but it is definitely on my wife's list.

In my humble experience, Half Dome and Angel's Landing are about equal.

And, once upon a time, interpreters used to lead guided walks up Angel's Landing! But there were surprisingly almost no problems. Probably because before we started, we were able to check our participants' footgear and other preparations. We also tried to paint a realistic picture of what they were going to be getting into. On a couple of occasions, I advised hikers to skip the trip that day and come back another time properly prepared. They seemed to be grateful for the advice. My oldest daughter was nine when she made her first hike up AL, and I can tell you that it's a great experience by the light of a full moon.

The two National Park hikes that gave me the most trouble were Half Dome and Angel's Landing. I'm very scared of heights, but I made it to the top of Half Dome (mostly because I felt I had come so far already). Angel's Landing, on the other hand, forced me to turn back shortly before the top.

In the eastern U.S. one of the most unnerving trails is Bearfence Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.

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