Hiking is sometimes seen as the tame alternative to mountaineering, but it isn’t always just a leisurely walk through nature. In fact, there are some hikes that are downright terrifying—whether that be because of life-threatening physical danger, such as great heights with sheer drops, or because of their ability to instill psychological fear. No prior familiarity with specialist climbing equipment (beyond walking boots) is required to tackle these 10 scary hikes, but nerves of steel are a must.
1. Mount Ijen // East Java, Indonesia
A beautiful turquoise lake sits in the crater at the top of Mount Ijen, but you wouldn’t want to take a dip in it. Mount Jien contains the world’s largest acid lake. The high concentration of sulfur on the volcano is what makes the lake acidic, and its gaseous form burns a brilliant shade of blue when ignited. The lake and the possibility of seeing the blue flames are a draw for hikers, but the air within the crater is toxic, meaning people must wear a gas mask.
Although the actual hike isn’t that much of a challenge for anyone of moderate fitness, it’s recommended to hire a guide. Not only can they stop you from panicking when you’re engulfed in a sulfuric smoke cloud, but it also provides a far safer job for the people who would otherwise be working in the dangerous sulfur mines.
2. Trift Glacier Hike // Gadmen, Switzerland
If the rope bridge scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) scares you, then Trift Glacier Hike might be one to skip. People hiking to the rapidly shrinking Trift Glacier in the Swiss Alps must cross a 328-foot high and 558-foot long suspension bridge. The precarious-looking (but structurally sound) bridge spans Lake Triftsee, which was created by the melting glacier. Most visitors take the cable car part way up the mountain; from there, it’s a roughly two-hour hike to the bridge and glacier.
3. Mount Hua Plank Walk // Huayin, China
The plank walk on Mount Hua is often called the most dangerous hike in the world. It’s located on Hua’s highest peak, South Peak, which rises 7070 feet into the air. As the name suggests, wooden planks, only a little wider than the length of the average person’s foot, are nailed into the sheer cliff-face to create a walkway. No guardrails are in sight, but hikers are clipped into a safety harness and there’s an iron chain to hold—or fearfully grip—onto.
The planks were first nailed into the rock around 700 years ago by a Taoist priest called He Zhizhen. They’ve been updated in the years since, but the gravity-defying planks still look rickety. The path leads to a little Taoist temple built into the mountain. It’s a dead end, so the only way back is to traverse the planks again.
Although Mount Hua is most famous for the plank walk, the other trails on the mountain are also terror-inducing. Hikers have to contend with near-vertical stone staircases known as “sky ladders” and narrow paths on which one wrong step can lead to a deadly free fall off the side of the mountain.
4. Doll’s Head Trail // Atlanta, Georgia
If you go down to the woods today in Constitution Lakes Park you’re sure to find a big surprise. Lining this 2.5-mile trail are creepy disembodied doll’s heads and other discarded objects, fashioned into art displays. Atlanta-local Joel Slaton began to artistically assemble the junk he found in the park in 2011. Visitors can create their own macabre arrangements, but are asked to only use materials found within the park and to not touch existing displays. “The trail is now public art, built by the public,” Slaton said in 2019.
5. Aokigahara Forest // Narusawa, Japan
Aokigahara is known as the “suicide forest” and although exact numbers are hazy, it’s thought that around 30 to 100 people a year die by suicide in the Sea of Trees at the base of Mount Fuji. The forest holds the grim record for the location with the second-highest rate of suicides (San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is in first place). Suicide prevention signs have been posted and organized searches are conducted to find bodies.
Hikers can find themselves lost within the densely packed trees, and the magnetic iron rich soil means GPS systems and phone service can be patchy. But in addition to the fear of getting lost or stumbling across a body, Aokigahara is also supposedly haunted. Specifically, believers in the supernatural should watch out for yūrei, which in Japanese mythology are ghosts created by a violent death.
6. Angels Landing // Zion National Park, Utah
Angels Landing is one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park, but it’s also one of the most deadly: It has claimed the lives of 14 people since 2000. Hiking the impressive rock formation requires walking along a razor thin ridge with 1000-foot drops on each side, so it’s definitely not one for people who are scared of heights. There are chains to clutch onto in sections where the steep path is only a couple of feet wide, and stunning views across the park await anyone able to fight through the fear.
7. Mount Nyiragongo // Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo
There are a handful of active volcanos that can be hiked, but one of the most dangerous is Mount Nyiragongo. The crater of Nyiragongo is home to the world’s largest lava lake, clocking in at about 820 feet wide and a staggering 1970 feet deep (though this naturally fluctuates). Every few decades Nyiragongo erupts and causes death and destruction in the nearby city of Goma—the most recent eruption was in May 2021, and it happened without any warning.
Despite the danger, catching a glimpse of the bubbling lava lake still draws hikers up the volcano. Walking up all 11,385-feet of its height is no easy task and there’s no guarantee the lava will be glowing brightly. Park rangers have a word of warning for people who make it to the top: Do not lean over to get a better look, as doing so has resulted in people falling to their deaths.
8. The Darién Gap // Colombia–Panama border
Trekking into any rainforest is no walk in the park, but the Darién Gap, which covers the border between Colombia and Panama, may be the most dangerous rainforest hike of all. Even so, 250,000 migrants crossed in 2022 on their way to the United States in hopes of a better life. It’s called the gap because the area is a literal 66-mile gap in the Pan-American Highway; plans to build a road through the wilderness were deemed too expensive and environmentally damaging.
Hiking through the dense jungle involves fording rivers and swamps and climbing steep inclines, often in sauna-like temperatures. Then there’s the deadly wildlife to contend with, ranging from disease-carrying insects to venomous snakes. Various 16th- and 17th-century colonists failed to conquer the gap and countless explorers have lost their lives there over the years.
The easiest route through the rainforest is currently controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a guerrilla group. This route is also used by people smuggling weapons and drugs. To put it bluntly: Being murdered is a genuine risk for people traveling through the Darién Gap.
9. Abuna Yemata Guh // East Tigray, Ethiopia
Ethiopia has many rock-hewn churches, and one of the most spectacular is Abuna Yemata Guh, which is carved into the face of a cliff a few hundred feet above the ground. After a hike through the valley below, visitors to the church have to scale the cliff without any safety gear, though there are guides to advise which nooks make good hand and foot holds. What’s more, because the monolith is holy ground, people must do the climb barefoot.
Although falling would be fatal, apparently no one has died yet. “The route is blessed,” Father Assefa, who has made the climb every day for over 50 years, said in 2019. “Our patron saint saves those who fall with his wind. They are returned to the ledge from halfway down.” After navigating their way up the rock, people must then shimmy their way along a narrow ledge—with a massive drop to one side—to reach the opening of the small church.
10. Caminito del Rey Hike // Málaga, Spain
Anyone who wants the excitement of being suspended from a vertical cliff-face but with minimal actual danger should head to Caminito del Rey in Spain. This hike used to be possible thanks to narrow concrete walkways. But over the years, the concrete broke away, leaving treacherous stepping stones. In 2000 walking the path was made illegal because five people had died. Of course, a number of daring hikers risked their lives anyway.
The new wooden aerial walkway (with all-important guardrails) was opened in 2015. The 328-foot high path winds its way through nearly two miles of dramatic gorge scenery, offering thrills without the fear of spills.