Hardest Hike in Each State of the US - Part 1Published on 06/22/2023 · 9 min readCamping & Hiking expert Hannah K. pulls together a list of hikes in each state with a reputation for pushing you to your limit.
Photo by Emma Dau
If you are looking for some new challenges, head over to these trails. These hikes have a reputation for pushing you to your limit, leaving you with an accomplished feeling and great memories. And the best part is that no matter what state you live in, there's a great hike out there waiting for you.
Alabama: The Walls of Jericho Trail
This trail is placed in Jackson County, Alabama, and has over 12,000 acres to explore. The Walls of Jericho Trail is 3.5 miles one way. Despite its short length, this trail will make you feel like a hero. As you continue on, it only gets more strenuous. The way down is gorgeous, but hiking back toward the trailhead will surely leave you out of breath.
Alaska: Mount Marathon
Alaska is known for dangerous backcountry, difficult hikes, and epic views. Finding the “most” difficult trail for Alaska is quite tricky because well, many are difficult. Mount Marathon Trail in Seward, Alaska, offers more than 3,000 feet of vertical gain over three miles and is home to the toughest 5K race in the world. The view is worth the climb.
Arizona: Humphre’s Summit Trail
Starting in the town of Flagstaff, Arizona, this nine-mile round-trip trail will take you up to the summit where on a clear day you will get great views of the Sea of Cortez. Humphre’s Summit Trail definitely is a tougher trail to follow, so make sure to prep. Also, check out the Rim-to-Rim hike in the Grand Canyon. It has 21 miles, 5,700 feet of gain, and 4,700 feet of loss for a good time.
Arkansas: Athens-Big Fork
The Athens-Big Fork Trail located near Mena, Arkansas, is a 10.5-mile trek (one way) that will take you over eight mountains. That math leads to slightly more than a mountain per mile. There aren’t many switchbacks either, so make sure you tie your boots on tight!
California: Half Dome in Yosemite
California is filled to the brim with intense hikes, so picking just one was difficult. Half Dome is a popular and extreme 17-mile hike in Yosemite National Park, California, that will take you on a climb of 5,000 feet. You will get a crazy view of the valley—obviously, the most beautiful place on Earth (I am very biased but I stand by that statement)!
Colorado: La Plata Peak
La Plata Peak in Chaffee County, Colorado, is the fifth highest peak in the Rockies, around ten miles, and just about 4,500 feet of elevation. You’ll hike up through a forest, trek up many switchbacks, and finally scramble up to the top. Make sure to listen to your body—especially when the altitude is in play.
Connecticut: Bear Mountain to Lion’s Head
This 8.2-mile section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) connects the highest peak, Bear Mountain, to a stony knob that offers great views of the neighboring farmlands near Salisbury, Connecticut. Might as well finish the AT after you do this hike!
Delaware: Naylor Mill Forest MTB Trail
The Naylor Mill Forest MTB Trail is a five-mile winding trail in Delmar, Delaware, that is confusing to say the least. Bring a map or GPS to make sure you follow the right path. If you’re heading up on the switchbacks, you’re probably headed the right way.
Florida: Big Cypress National Preserve Thru-Hike
The Big Cypress National Preserve Thru-Hike in Florida, although maybe unheard of, is not for beginners by any means. This 38.3 mile hike will take you across swamp water where dangerous animals (read: alligators) live, cross floodlands, and endure intense temperatures.
Georgia: James Edmund Trail
Located in Black Rock State Park, Georgia, the James Edmund Trail is a 6.25-mile loop that has some of the harshest elevation in Northern Georgia. Make sure to fill up your water early on when you cross some streams. After that, you head straight up!
Hawaii: Koko Crater Trail
Head to Oahu to do this 1.8-mile out and back, difficult-rated trail. With an elevation gain of over 800 feet and a steep climb of over 1,000 stairs up, the Koko Crater Trail will leave you breathless. It was originally created around World War II as a railway, which is now used for athletes to train and test their endurance. It is very steep, so be careful and look down.
Idaho: Sawtooth Lake
The Sawtooth Lake Trail is a ten-mile round-trip hike that captures a little bit of everything in Idaho. The first few miles are easy, but once the switchbacks begin, you’ll realize why this is one of the toughest hikes in Idaho. You will pass creeks and old trees until you reach the large lake at the peak.
Illinois: Bullfrog Loop Trail
The Bullfrog Loop Trail in Willow Springs, Illinois, is a 7.4-mile loop that is rated as intermediate/difficult, so tie those boots on tight! You’ll pass through windy and narrow tree-lined paths and over crushed limestone and will have plenty of opportunities to see deer, raccoons, and coyotes. Keep your dogs on leash so they don’t wander off. Go in the fall to see some beautiful fall foliage.
Indiana: 8-3 Dunes Challenge
Indiana Dunes State Park offers some gorgeous and vast scenery. The Three-Dune Challenge is 1.5 miles and takes you over the three highest dunes in the state park (552 vertical feet). While sliding down may be fun, trekking up is a great challenge and calf strengthener. I remember when I hiked a dune in Death Valley. I thought it would take me fifteen minutes… It did not.
Iowa: Brent’s Trail
Brent’s Trail is an eight-mile hike that ties together Harrison County Conservation’s Murray Hill Scenic Overlook and Gleason-Hubel Wildlife Area through the Loess Hills State Forest in Iowa. It is a fairly new trail that is arduous but beautiful, so head here for your next challenge any time from March to December. You will see wildlife galore if the trail isn’t too crowded.
Kansas: Perry Lake Hiking Trail
The Perry Lake Hiking Trail near Ozawkie, Kansas, has 29 miles of scenic beauty with shorter day hike options, ranging from easier terrain in the South to harder sections of the trail in the North. This area in the summertime is abundant with ticks, so keep an eye out. Nicknamed the “little Ozarks,” this land is sure to wow you.
Kentucky: Sheltowee Trail
The Sheltowee Trail spans across Kentucky and Tennessee and takes you through wild terrain. This 290-mile trail is used for day hikes and some biking is allowed in designated portions. Remember that cell service is spotty, water definitely needs to be treated, and to keep your food in a canister so the bears don’t smell it.
Louisiana: Tunica Hills-North Tract
Almost a 13-mile loop with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain—the Tunica Hills-North Tract near Angola, Louisiana, is no joke. Head here from April to September and keep an eye out for fox, deer, and other wildlife. Don’t let the flat sections fool you, this trail is rated moderate for a reason. But I’ll let you hike it to find out why!
Maine: Katahdin’s Knife Edge
The tallest mountain in Maine, Mount Katahdin, rises almost a mile above sea level. The Katahdin’s Knife Edge Trail near Northeast Piscataquis, Maine, is 1.1 miles and has great views of Baxter State Park’s forests and ponds, so be sure to look down when you get to the peak. The granite is beautiful to see and is a worthy addition to anyone’s bucket list.
Maryland: Catoctin Trail
The Catoctin Trail in Thurmont, Maryland, boasts over 10.6 miles and 2,500 feet of elevation gain, among breathtaking views. You will hike over bridges, past roads, ruins, and streams and see gorgeous wildflowers on the way. The blue trail up to Bob’s Hill is very challenging but worth the effort.
Massachusetts: Mount Greylock
At 3,491 feet, Mount Greylock in the Berkshires is known as the highest peak in the state. With 360-degree views of surrounding forest lands and many trails to choose from, this location will not disappoint. Best to hike this peak from April to early November. This is a challenging hike up, so come with a smile and leave with an empty beer can.
Michigan: Porcupine Mountain Wilderness Loop
Located in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan, this loop is a 21.2-mile trek and rated intermediate/difficult. Bring your dogs—but keep them on leash—and get ready to witness the stunning views this state park has to offer. This park is home to 60,000 acres of land, with sections running near Lake Superior.
Minnesota: Powwow Trail
The Powwow Trail in Superior National Forest, Minnesota, is 27 miles of pure beauty. Unfortunately, a fire in 2011 wiped out a lot of the natural scenery and made it almost impossible to find the trail. Today, only the first six miles are recommended to hike on, though the entire trail is still open. Regeneration and growth, as well as a low amount of hikers, means that you may encounter more wildlife than normal. Hikers should be skilled in backcountry navigation.
Mississippi: Witch Dance Horse Trail
First off, I did not choose this trail for the name—although it is pretty badass. The Witch Dance Horse Trail near Houston, Mississippi, is a nine-mile loop trail that has almost 1,000 feet of elevation and is rated as moderate. This trail is not only used for hiking—keep an eye out for trail runners, horseback riders, bikers, and furry doggo friends. This trail does get muddy, so go on a sunny day when it hasn’t recently rained. Unless, of course, you like hiking in mud!
Missouri: Whispering Pines Trail
Meander through forests, cross over streams, and enjoy the view on this 12-mile loop trail. With over 1300 feet of elevation, the Whispering Pines Trail near New Offenburg, Missouri, will give you a workout. It is arguably the hardest and most scenic trail in the state—and for good reason. You will see interesting rock formations and crags, wildlife, creeks, scenic views, and, of course, the whispering pines of the forest.
Want to read on? Check out Part 2 of some of the toughest trails in every state.