Moon Temple at Machu Picchu can be reached by 600-foot slippery granite steps
The journey to Yosemite's Half Dome requires a long cable ladder
A misstep on any of these staircases can be lethal
Watch your step as you climb these stairs, whether spiraling up mountains, narrow passageways or sky-scraping attractions.
All is right with the world when you’re gazing down from the rooftop of Milan’s Duomo. That is, until you remember the steep marble stairs that got you there—and are your only way down.
Stairways can leave just as much of an impact on your memory as the places they lead you. Some are so eye-catching they look like they belong in an M.C. Escher painting, while other stairs are downright intimidating, especially when they stand between you and a site you flew halfway across the world to experience.
In Peru, for instance, travelers need to tackle about 600 feet of slippery granite rocks carved into the mountainside to reach the Moon Temple at Machu Picchu. And at Yosemite National Park, you can’t take a selfie at the top of Half Dome without climbing a cable ladder up the rock face for more than 400 feet.
All it takes is a misstep for any old staircase to become treacherous (just ask Jennifer Lawrence), yet some standout for being especially scary.
A set of stairs in Hawaii is so precariously perched that climbing is now illegal. In China, there’s a stairway with an age requirement.
Other stairs are intimidating for more psychological reasons, such as the creaking noises made by the world’s longest wooden stairway in Norway or the eerie atmosphere at “The Stairway to Hell,” part of an abandoned industrial complex in Japan.
Travelers with nerves of steel – and eager for bragging rights – follow these 13 sets of stairs because of what they find at the end, whether a sacred Hindu temple or the top of a spectacular waterfall. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of accomplishment that comes once you’ve taken that last step. Safely, that is.
1. Angkor Wat Temple Stairs, Cambodia
In this super-humid hotbox of Buddhist history, there’s no shame in bowing down on your hands and knees or pulling yourself up with the provided ropes to scale the nearly 70 percent inclined stairs of Angkor Wat’s uppermost temples.
Guides claim the steps were made to be so steep to remind people that heaven was hard to reach—though you might make the same argument about Earth as you try not to tumble on the way down.
2. The Verrückt, Kansas City, Kansas
It takes guts just to reach the starting point of the world’s tallest and fastest water slide, opened July 2014. To get to the top, you’ve got to climb the 264 steps that snake up the slide’s tower in 25 turns.
When you’ve summited at 168 feet—that’s one foot taller than Niagara Falls—pat yourself on the back and take a selfie. Then brace yourself for the water slide’s initial 50-foot linear drop, which can reach 65 mph. The only alternative is to turn around and suffer the 17-story walk back down those nauseating steps.
3. Pailon del Diablo Waterfall, Ecuador
At first it’s lovely to notice that the staircase adjacent to these waterfalls was designed to blend in with the tropical landscape. But consider the name—in English, the Devil’s Cauldron—and the evil tricks the steep steps can play.
They are made of smooth, oversize pebbles that provide little traction, and when you’re looking down, they blend together, creating an optical illusion of a stone slide. They’re also slippery from the constant mist from the falls and even though there’s a metal railing to save you from any spills—but don’t count on that too much—it too is drenched with water droplets.
4. Half Dome, Cable Route, California
What’s between you and the most iconic peak in Yosemite Valley? A seven-mile (one-way) all-incline hike through the wilderness that culminates with climbing up the rock face along a cable ladder for more than 400 vertical feet.
If you’re up for the challenge, snag one of the 300 hard-to-get daily permits available for Half Dome between Memorial Day and mid-October. (Check your footwear and the forecast; rainy conditions have proven fatal.) From the summit, you’ll take in panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra.
5. Inca Stairs, Peru
At Machu Picchu, 600 feet or so of steep, sl