The word “epic” is uttered a bit too lightly these days. Once reserved to describe the fantastic voyages of brave explorers, it’s now readily used to describe a really good burrito. In order to set an accurate benchmark for the word, this collection of America’s toughest day hikes aims to define some of the most truly epic ways to spend 24 hours. To fit our criteria, theses treks had to be non-technical hikes that are regularly completed in a single day and are packed with thrilling elements such as airy exposure, difficult navigation, gutsy traverses, and long distances. Those who challenge themselves on these hikes will earn bragging rights even more glorious than the epic cup of coffee that got them out of bed in the morning.
1. Longs Peaks, Keyhole Route – Colorado
Despite being one of the most difficult 14,000’ peaks in Colorado, summer days see the pre-dawn parking lot aglow with hundreds of headlamps of aspiring summiters embarking on the Keyhole Route, the most popular way to the top of Longs Peak . Slightly less than 50% of the hikers who attempt Longs actually reach the 14,255’ summit. The 15-mile round trip has over 5,000 vertical feet of elevation gain and the lion’s share of the work is done in the last two miles, where a series of tremendously exposed ledges traverse into a steep, loose, gully, that tops out around 14,000’. From there, the last 250’ are on steep rock, leading to the strangely benign, flat summit block. More challenging may be the descent, where views of the sheer drops and dizzying heights will be unavoidable. Add to that the fearsome winds and regular afternoon thunderstorms that have trapped many hikers on open terrain. All this equates to a hike that requires great endurance, guts, route-finding skills, and a little bit of luck.