10 Difficult Hikes Totally Worth the Pain

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” John Muir

There is nothing  like reaching the summit after a long, strenuous hike that tests your strength and confidence. Standing there, on top of the mountain that you clawed your way up, it restores your faith in yourself. It is a metaphor for life, and it returns us to the most basic, primal instincts, the instincts that get muffled in our day to day lives when our focus is pulled in so many directions. A good hike is a challenge that reminds us that we possess so much more resilience than we realize. It is time to get back to the basics. Let these hikes inspire you to get back on the trail.  

Credit: Mimi Slawoff
Credit: Mimi Slawoff

Cerro Chato (Costa Rica)

This dormant volcano sits along the southeast side of the still active, Arenal Volcano. Cerro Chato rises to 3,740 feet with two peaks as well as a water-filled crater. Its last eruption occurred some 3,500 years ago, and today it sits in all of its former glory surrounded by the fertile green foliage of the jungle. Breathtaking turquoise pools can be seen along the five hour hike that will take you to the top of the volcano, where you will be treated to a beautiful view. The terrain is difficult, harrowing at times, but the experience is well worth it. Stand atop of a once active volcano that spewed hot lava and soak in the wildness.

TIP: Pack lots of water! Depending on skill and conditions, this “five hour” hike and easily turn into a 7-8 hour one. A great way to get the most of your journey is to split your hike in half by planning a picnic lunch at the summit to enjoy the views. You can also optionally climb down into the crater, but be forewarned that climbing back out is difficult and requires proper equipment.

Credit: Kyle May
Credit: Kyle May

An extra bonus at the end of this hike is the beautiful La Fortuna waterfall. After paying a small entrance fee, walk down the 400ish steps for an awesome view of the 75 meter (246 feet) tall beauty. While you can enter the water immediately at the waterfall, I would not recommend it. Water is an incredibly powerful thing and this waterfall is no exception. Take your pictures from here and move on down the stream a few feet to swim in a safer area.

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Credit: Dennis Barnes
Credit: Dennis Barnes

Killarney Park (Ontario, Canada)

The formation of this park is owed to a group of artists that were captivated by its beauty. The artists formed The Group of Seven and motivated the Ontario Government to turn the land into a park. Jack Pines and the looming La Cloche Mountains create an immense backdrop, and there are numerous hiking trails for exploration. However, it is the all day hike to “The Crack” that attracts many hikers. It is a journey that will lead you to lakes and lush forest until the white quartzite begins to jut from the earth and carry you skyward. Starting off of HWY 637, the trail eventually meets up with the La Cloche Silhouette Trail, and you must climb boulders that lead up to the top of the ridge. Before you meet the peak of the hike, you will come upon a divide that has rock walls almost fifty feet high! Once you pass through you will be greeted with a panoramic view of the park.


grand canyon 3

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona, United States)

Both the South and North Rim of the Grand Canyon offer many hiking opportunities. A successful hike depends upon the necessary precautions including enough food and water. A hike from the rim to the river requires an overnight stay which means you must be prepared for extreme cold as well. The views are unbelievable, but the barren, almost ghostly atmosphere can be almost overwhelming. The extreme heat and the possibility of flash floods must also be addressed before venturing into the vast canyon. Something to keep in mind, according to the National Parks Service, there are over 250 people rescued from the Grand Canyon each year. While it may be a brutal hike, the solitude and endless sights will make you feel like the only person on the earth. 


Credit – Kristin Tennessen and Danny Milks BackpackingLight

Santa Cruz Trek (Cordillera Blanca, Peru)

Off the beaten path, this intense hike has over 33 summits that reach 18,000 feet and 16 that reach 19,500. It is a less traveled mountain hike compared to other tourist areas like Machu Picchu. Much of the mountains along the hike fall within the range of the Huascarán National Park and the journey begins in Huaraz where you can find hiking guides. The 13 mile range offers hikes from 3 days to 13, but the Santa Cruz delivers a compact tour of the major highlights. The high altitude does cause for a strenuous climb that will take your breath away if the views haven’t already.

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Iztaccihuatl Volcano
Credit – Buenos Dias Mexico

Iztaccihuatl Volcano (Mexico)

Known as the “Sleeping Lady” this extinct volcano is the third highest mountain in Mexico and the seventh highest in North America. When looked upon from the Valley of Mexico, its shape looks like that of a woman sleeping, and its name, in fact, means “Woman in White.”  While the climb itself is not very technical, the high altitude does in fact exhaust many hikers, and it is recommended that the summit is approached with a slow and steady climb as to properly acclimatize.


Credit: pauljess999
Credit: pauljess999

Ruckel Ridge Loop (Oregon, United States)

This almost 10 mile hike is pretty strenuous and dangerous, especially in certain areas where the trail narrows to only about a foot wide (this part is referred to as the Catwalk) with steep drop offs on either side. It is best to tackle this hike in dry weather and with a companion. The basalt pillars require you to be able to do some minor rock climbing up the mossy and often slippery rocks. Along this climb you can catch views of Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens, and the Columbia River Gorge.


Credit: David Money Harris
Credit: David Money Harris

Cactus to Clouds Trail (California, United States)

This grueling hike from Palm Springs to San Jacinto Peak will take you over 10,800 feet up where you will be able to see the major peaks of California. It is crucial to come prepared with water (you won’t find any after 8,500 feet) and be ready for anything. The temperature is over 99 degrees about 30% of the year, but higher up you may be met with rainfall, snow, and even hail. If you take the aerial tram down the mountain your hike will only be about 20 miles, but if you decide to descend by foot it is about 35 miles in excruciating heat…Bring $12 for the tram.

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Credit: Steve Corey
Credit: Steve Corey

The Narrows at Zion National Park (Utah, United States)

This trek is a little different than others because it requires hikers to plod through the Virgin River. There is no “true trail” which means you will be walking upstream through the massive rock walls that seem to close in on you. The water levels fluctuate greatly and you will wade through areas mid-thigh to waist deep. If there has been heavy rainfall or snowmelt the river may flow up to 70 cubic feet per second and some crossings may be chest deep. Anything over 150 CFS will force the Park to close the river. The area is also susceptible to flash flooding. If a flash flood warning is issued the route will be closed to all travelers. The slippery rock bottom also makes it difficult to navigate, but the views within the narrows offer a different type of hiking experience.


Credit: Bill Couch
Credit: Bill Couch

Mist Trail at Half Dome (California, United States)

Located in Yosemite National Park, this is a death defying climb. The park promotes this hike as “the one you can’t die without doing, and the one you are mostly likely to die while doing.” People have in fact died while doing the climb. The waterfalls and scenes are out of this world, and people come from all over to make the ascent. Much of the climb is done with cable assist and a permit is needed to make the hike. The Mist Trail is about 14.2 miles round trip, and the views might make you forget about the deadly climb…maybe.


Credit: ontogo Tours
Credit: ontogo Tours

Everest Base Camp (Nepal) 

You may never climb and summit Mount Everest, but you can hike at the Everest Base camp! Get a good look at the world’s highest peak from the summit of Kala Patar at 18,100 feet. You’ll be following in the footsteps of those that dared to take on Everest…without actually taking on Everest. View the spectacular Khumbu Icefall and take a guided hike to Kala Patar. You might not be the type of person to climb Everest, but you can get awfully close at Everest Base Camp. 

16 thoughts on “10 Difficult Hikes Totally Worth the Pain”

  1. Pinned! Babushka’s been to the sites mentioned in Costa Rica and the Grand Canyon. Matter of fact, BB’s told The Trio that if they hadn’t visited the GC by the time Babushka dies, then she wants them to spread her ashes there- just so they’d get a chance to see it. Gracias for this post, just the pics bring serenity. BB2U


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