The most challenging hiking trails in North America 11

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If hiking is your favored pastime then one of the factors likely to have drawn you to it in the first place is the challenge, and North America has no shortage of challenging hiking trails. Being in the great outdoors is one thing but embracing a sense of adventure is quite another – hiking offers the opportunity to experience both.

What are some of the best hiking trails in North America and what do they have to offer to an adventurous hiker?

Long trails in Canada

With views like this in Canada, how could you say no? Photo via FLIKR by James Wheeler

If you are not limited time wise consider a full-on trek such as the Canon Heritage Trail in Canada’s Northwest Territories/Yukon. With a length of more than 200 miles, it is long and is for experienced hikers only. The route follows an old industry road but is mostly tundra and mountains. At just over 100 miles, a shorter alternative is the North Boundary Trail in Alberta and British Columbia. Stunning vistas and wildlife characterize this trek across rugged, mountainous countryside. The Berg Lake section is arguably the most scenic trail of the entire Rockies.

Mount Whitney, California

Photo via FLIKR by Jake Gordon

If your time is limited then a shorter hike might be the better option but limited time does not have to mean a limited challenge, and Mount Whitney will test you. Mount Whitney is the highest point in the lower 48 states at 14,505 feet. Beginning at Whitney Portal – at 8,360 feet – there is a superbly maintained trail covering 11 miles with one way only to the top. The trail is easy to follow but the 22-mile round trek is no leisurely hike. The 97 switchbacks in a row tell you all you need to know about this particular endurance test.

The Mahoosuc Mile, Maine

So many hikes to enjoy in Maine! This is Jordan Pond. Photo via FLIKR by Wayne Boardman

This is a one mile section of the famous Appalachian Trail, which covers 2,179 miles in total, but do not assume this hike is a mere stroll. With narrow caves and a number of drops deep enough to do some serious damage were you unfortunate enough to fall down one, the Mahoosuc Trail is another day-trip that tests you as a hiker. Add to that the possibility of lingering ice and this is one trail for treading carefully. Do not let any of that put you off because the combination of crawling, scrambling, and clawing needed to complete the Mahoosuc Mile makes it an adventure not to be missed.

Upper Slickrock Creek Trail, Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, North Carolina

Photo via FLIKR by Jeff Moore

Not to be outdone in the challenge stakes, this day trek over three miles is known by locals as the “Nutbuster” and with good reason. Across a barely maintained landscape of briars, thorns, rocks and fallen trees, the trail ascends 2,000 feet to a peak of 4,800 feet where the air could well be a lot colder than it was when you started out. You might not even feel it, however, as you enjoy the wilderness.

What To Bring

It is understood that hikers need the right equipment if they are to fully enjoy and complete the challenge they have set themselves. You will want to keep your feet cool and dry on a hike and that is where Znergy socks have a key role to play. These compression socks use copper technology to provide comprehensive support to the arch, heel, and Achilles areas.
The list of equipment appropriate for a hike, especially a challenging one that will test you to the limits, can appear endless but some of the other essentials you will need to carry include:

Map and compass

Even if you are on a route you are familiar with something can happen that pushes you off trail, whether it is a change in weather conditions or a closed path or a wild animal that forces you into a diversion. Having a map of the area is essential, as is a compass, but be sure you know how to use both and use them together, not separately, to help you get back on track.


Choose a pack that is comfortable to wear and does not get in the way. If it is a backpack ensure the straps fit right and do not cause chafing. Make sure that essential items in your pack can be accessed easily.

Water and Food

Many hikers do not carry sufficient water with them. In one sense, that is understandable. A quart of water weighs two pounds. However, you are going to require at least three quarts of water on any one day. To remain sufficiently hydrated drink plenty of water before commencing your hike. For transporting water on your route, a system such as a hydration bladder, which carries the water on your back and has a mouthpiece, is one option. Another flexible option is bota bags, which are receptacles made of leather. Packing compact food with high energy is better than carrying bulky food items. Snack continuously thoughout the day to keep your energy levels up. Do not drink merely when you are thirsty but rather drink water at regular intervals to stay hydrated.

Raingear and clothing

For summer time hikes at low elevations a plastic poncho might be sufficient. Hiking in the mountains means a more likely chance of rain, however, so a good rain jacket and rain pants are essential. Extra layers of clothes for cooler temperatures are also a must-have. Pack extra socks and take long underpants and an undershirt in a Ziploc bag in case you need to change.

Other must-haves on a hike include a first-aid kit, including antiseptic wipes, tape, gauze, tweezers, and a knife. A penknife should be sufficient.
One other thing you cannot do without on a hike is intangible but no less important and that is common sense. If you feel a storm coming on head back to shelter. If your body starts to ache too much stop your hike. If there are signs and guidelines posted on your route then follow them.
Embrace your sense of adventure with a challenging hike on one of the many trails found in North America, but remember that no hike is complete without making it to the end so come prepared and hike with care.


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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

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