Pumping heart, sweaty palms, weak knees—they’re telling you that, no matter how strong you think you are, you will never win a fight against gravity. But even when your brain balks, hikers know that the seam between safety and danger is hallowed ground, the place where limits are found—and exceeded. In these 15 places, the trail narrows to the exact size of that seam, putting you face to face with your own fears and some of the country’s most mind-bending views. Here, the risk is worth the reward.
A Word of Caution
The trips here are grand, but they’re not the places to test unproven skills. Most of these hikes require class 3 scrambling, meaning the terrain is steep, but hand- and footholds are abundant. (If you can handle heights, you can handle class 3.) Be wary of class 4 terrain, which requires three points of contact (ropes recommended), and, of course, class 5 terrain, which requires straight-up climbing and full gear. Via ferratas are a class of their own: Literally “iron ways,” these routes travel vertical terrain by way of rungs, railings, and aids. They always require a harness, helmet, and some combination of slings, locking carabiners, and/or lobster claws to clip in.