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Favorite Extreme/Hardest Day Hikes in US?

What's your favorite, most extreme, hardest day hike you've done? (within the US)

- Hike, where is it at, elevation gain, length, etc.?


10 Replies

Cactus to Clouds, Palm Springs CA.  11,000ft EG, 22 miles.  (first 8K of EG is over 11 miles)

Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim, Grand Canyon, AZ: 14,000EG, 53 miles- total tail kicker, 20 - 24 hours of hiking

Mt Whitney, Lone Pine, CA: 6500EG, 22 miles - hard due to length and altitude of 14,500.

Cactus to Clouds is great with good weather. Don't do it in the summer since it starts on the desert floor (100°F +). Get an early AM start so you can catch the tram on the way down! If you're going solo or only have one car, there is wifi and half decent signal at the tram station to call an Uber.

@Chris-  Re: Cactus to Clouds comment and "Uber from the top" Agreed,  highly recommended as there is NO signal for most carriers at the bottom of the tram and it's a loooonng walk to Palm Canyon Drive.  (We hitched a ride down)


All good choices, Cactus to Clouds has my vote. You could also add in Half Dome. When you add on the miles from the trailhead, do the cables, then come back on the JMT, it's a decent butt-kicker.

@HikingGuy- Pretty funny, the list is probably familiar since I've been following your site!  Doing a trifecta this summer, Cactus to Clouds (thanks for the GPX files) in May, Whitney in July, and R-2-R-2-R in September. Added snow for both C-2-C and Whitney added to the fun this year.  I'll add 1/2 Dome for next spring.


Ha, nice, glad the guides have come in handy. I'm working on a guide for R2R (2R) this summer but probably won't be done until after Sept. Good luck with all the hikes and see you out there!


Kalalau Trail, along Kauai's Na Pali coast. Varying options but many are high consequence, especially given fast changes to the weather.

To add some new ones: 

-Iron Mountain (San Gabriel Mountains, CA): 14 miles, 7000' gain round trip, no water. The last 2.5 miles gain 3500' to the top, and the entire route is exposed. This one is a roller coaster for sure. 

-Villager and Rabbit Peaks (Anza Borrego Desert, CA): ~21 Miles, 8000' gain. This one is in the middle of the desert, so again no water, and full exposure.

-Great Range Traverse (Adirondacks, NY): 26 miles, 9000+' gain. Get the best that the 'Dacks have to offer in this hike over several of the ADK High 46. There are a few optional side peaks to add some distance and gain.

Glacier NP - start from the parkingtrailhead area at The Loop on Going-to-the-Sun Road (the longer option is to start from the Logan Pass Visitor Center trailhead) and head to the Granite Park Chalet, then up toward Swiftcurrent Pass and take the spur up to the fire lookout tower -- the view is pretty incredible.  I did a day-hike from The Loop to the lookout tower back in 1993 (on July 4th, no less), and it was both stunning and challenging.

Another summer option is in Grand Teton NP, and takes advantage of the aerial tram from the Jackson Hole Resort/Teton Village mostly used for winter skiing, but it runs in the summer to Rendevous Mountain.  Once there, take the trail down the west side of Rendevous Mountain and head to Marion Lake, then return down Granite Canyon to return to Teton Village.  If you're really into a longer-distance challenge, from Marion Lake you can take the Teton Crest Trail northward and return via Death Canyon (!).  However, if you happen to be there early in summer (June), there might still be some packed snow on parts of those trails.  One other bit of advice -- if you're wearing shorts, be sure to put sunscreen on the back of your legs, as descending on the Granite Canyon trail will put them in sunlight for hours and can result in very unpleasant sunburn (from personal experience in 1985).

Have fun!