Victoria Mine Trail, AZ
Although hiking in the desert has inherent dangers such as intense heat and scarce water resources, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument’s location on a popular illegal border crossing from Mexico makes it an especially dangerous place for hikers. Drug runners and other border criminals greatly outnumber recreational visitors to the monument. The National Park Service warns hikers not to veer off the path when using the Victoria Mine Trail, a main vein through the park, to avoid dangers including encounters with non-recreational users of the monument. In 2002, a park ranger was tragically killed in the line of duty, while attempting to stop a group of drug dealers in the monument.
Mount Rainier, WA
Constant threats of weather, rock falls, avalanches and hypothermia make Mount Rainer one of the most dangerous places to hike in America. Aside from the fact that the mountain is an active volcano, the greatest danger for hikers comes from weather. The mountain’s close proximity to the Pacific coast means that weather can change instantly, blowing eastward and bringing, rain, snow and temperature drops that often take hikers and climbers off guard. Rock slides, severe weather and avalanches have killed 384 hikers and climbers attempting to summit Mount Rainier or hiking in its surrounding wilderness areas. The majority of deaths occurred in the snowfields below the summit where there is little shelter.
The Maze, UT
The Maze, in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, is a labyrinthine experiment in preparedness. Though most visitors to the series of winding, occasionally interconnected canyons travel in jeeps, some hikers enter the trail and are met with excessive heat, constant sun exposure, few if any water sources, and a dizzying path of canyons, many of which are dead ends. Among the more than 400,000 visitors to Canyonlands each year, only 10,000 visit the Maze. This may account for the zero deaths that have occurred in the windy canyons since the park’s inception in 1964.
Bright Angel Trail, AZ (pictured top)
The Bright Angel Trail winds through the Grand Canyon from the North Rim to the South Rim. The National Park Service reports that 250 people are rescued from the canyon each year. Many of those rescued are either injured or have failed to bring enough water for the trip. Extreme heat during the summer months and slick ice in the winter add to the trail’s danger. The park service recommends hiking the trail in the spring or fall for the safest experience in the canyon.
In Alaska’s wild interior, Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley) rises up from an already mountainous landscape. The mountain is located in Denali National Park, where trails are not provided in the abundance they are in other National Parks. Here Hikers must bushwhack through wild terrain to reach their destination, taking caution to avoid bears, moose and other dangerous wildlife. Hikers attempting to summit Denali face a glacier clad landscape and unpredictable weather patterns that can change in moments. Since 1932, over 105 people have died on the mountain. On average, only 53 percent of those who attempt to reach the top succeed.