America is filled with countless varieties of natural beauty. From towering Redwood forests, majestic mountains, and the sparkling beauty of the coasts, this country is definitely not lacking in Mother Nature’s bounty. Some of our most impressive assets, however, must be our dramatic canyons and gorges. Check out these jaw-dropping canyons across the U.S. that will absolutely take your breath away.
1. Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon in the American Southwest. It is divided into two main upper and lower photogenic sections: The Crack and The Corkscrew. This stunning rock formation was formed by erosion of Navajo Sandstone due to flash flooding and erosion caused by airborne sand. The canyon is on Navajo Tribe land and has only been accessible to the public since 1997. You must be part of a guided tour to see this breathtaking canyon, and prices ranged from $28 to $128 per person, depending on the time of year. The entrance to the canyon is also a bit tricky to navigate (see picture above), so definitely be prepared to do a bit of scrambling. Do yourself a huge favor and make reservations – this spot is one of the most popular sights in the area.
2. Royal Gorge Canyon, Colorado
Royal Gorge is one of the deepest and narrowest canyons in Colorado. This regal ravine is divided by the Arkansas River and is a hotspot for rock climbing, base-jumping, and bungee-jumping. The Royal Gorge Bridge is actually the highest official jump platform in the world, if that sort of thing tickles your fancy. The best way to see the canyon? Definitely the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, where visitors can enjoy incredible views of the gorge from open-air train carriages.
3. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
The Columbia River Gorge is more than just a pretty face. The U.S. Forest Service has designated it as a protected botanical area, due to the unique aquatic and woodland plants that grow throughout the canyon. The gorge reaches a depth of 4,000 feet and stretches for over 80 miles. Featuring a stunning array of waterfalls and lush mossy area, this canyon is a true departure from the red rock ravines of the Southwest.
4. The Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is by far the most globally recognized and beloved American canyon. A steep-sided, 277-mile long canyon carved by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is by far the most visually staggering canyon on this list. Nearly two billion years of Earth's geological history have been exposed as layer after layer of rock has been eroded and carried away by the river, and estimates put the age of the canyon at least 5 million years. Native peoples have inhabited the canyon area for thousands of years, and the Pueblo people consider the area to be a holy pilgrimage site. Today, one of the best spots from which to view the canyon is Lipan Point, a promontory located on the South Rim.
5. King Canyon, California
Situated in Kings Canyon National Park, this canyon actually features the deepest gorge in the country. The park is rich in unspoiled backcountry hiking, climbing, and scenic lookout points. Spring is one of the most beautiful times to visit this stunning area, as the warmer weather encourages the mountainside to sprout blankets of wildflowers and tender green grass. The best way to see this canyon is by car – drive along the meandering roads of the park to take in Kings Canyon’s beauty from every angle.
6. Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas
Like many of the canyons on this list, Palo Duro is actually an entire park complex. The canyon itself is the second-largest in America (the Grand Canyon has it beat in that arena) and the gorge plummets over 700 feet to a rocky floor. This is a great canyon for horseback riding and biking, which may be two of the best ways to soak in the drama of this amazing natural beauty. Hike along the Lighthouse trail for a glimpse of some truly dramatic natural rock towers.
7. Paria River Canyon, Utah & Arizona
This canyon features vibrant ribbons of color running through its rosy stone walls, which makes it a mecca for nature photographers and nature lovers alike. Situated right in the heart of the the Colorado Plateau region, Paria Canyon offers some of the best hiking in both states. During your explorations, you’ll catch a glimpse of ancient petroglyphs and monolithping black rock formations. Whatever you do, don’t miss the striking waves of color and natural texture in Coyote Buttes.
8. Hells Canyon, Oregon & Idaho
There’s nothing hellish about this magnificent canyon. Besides the stunning vista, there’s plenty of fish for the taking you’re an enthusiastic angler – bass, steelhead, salmon and sturgeon are all in good supply. The best ways to see the park are by helicopter (there are plenty of local tour companies that will give you a lift), and with ROW Adventures. They’ll guide you and your group along the river on a five day trip that will lead to lifelong memories. If you don’t want to splurge on park pass, there is a day-use parking lot that will only run you $5 a day
9. Black Canyon, Colorado
The National Park Service describes this canyon pretty simply: “Deep, Steep and Narrow”. That’s a very apt summary. This place is a bit more claustrophobic than the larger canyons on the list, but its the perfect place for the climbing adventure of a lifetime. Interestingly, this might be the canyon for you if creepy crawly creatures aren’t your cup of tea: the nighttime temperatures in the park drop too low for any snakes or amphibians to survive. Sidetone: pack a sweater. Or three.
10. Island in the Sky Mesa, Utah
Looking more like a Martian landscape than a scene from planet Earth, the Island in the Sky Mesa is riddled with elegantly curving canyons and a stunning array of rich red and orange tones. This area is part of the Canyonlands National Park, and is definitely one of the jewels in the crown of the preserve. Feel free to camp out at the Willow Flat Campground, which offers year-round sites for only $15 a night. One of the best places to view this series of canyons is from the Green River Overlook.
11. Bryce Canyon, Utah
This place is known for its crimson-colored hoodoos, or spire-shaped rock formations. The Bryce Canyon area was settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1850s and was named after Ebenezer Bryce, who built his home in the area in 1874. One of the most scenic overlooks is Inspiration Point, where you’ll be able to take in all the incredible texture and rich color of the Bryce Amphitheater from a lofty aerial perch. Prime viewing times are around sunup and sundown, when the sunlight makes the canyon’s rocks glow.
12. Death Valley, California
I know what you’re thinking: “This place is way too flat to qualify as a canyon.” In fact, this is the lowest, driest, and hottest area in North America. Death Valley is located in the Great Basin and runs from north to south between the Amargosa range on the east and the Panamint Range on the west. Despite the insanely high temperatures, Death Valley is no stranger to greenery. The annual springtime bloom causes wildflowers, watered by snowmelt, to carpet the desert floor. If you’re planning a visit, you can’t afford to miss places of interest such as Badwater Basin and the famous Sailing Stones.
13. Cathedral Wash, Arizona
This is another one of the best slot canyons in Arizona. The canyon’s winding passages slice through many layers and produce interesting, eroded formations including steps, benches, small pools and dry-falls. Though this area may look like a playground for only the most experienced of hikers, many of the canyon’s bumps and ledges are actually quite easy to bypass. This gorge is not the most colorful you’ll find, but for inexperienced hikers looking to try their hand at a classic Arizona canyon, its absolutely perfect.
14. Thor's Hammer, Utah
This canyon is actually part of Bryce Canyon National Park, but Thor’s Hammer is just too beautiful not earn its own place on this list. The stunning contrast between the ruddy stone and the soft white blankets of snow that often powder this rock formation give the area an otherworldly majesty.
15. Franconia Ridge, New Hampshire
Think all the impressive canyons are in the western half of the country? Think again. Get a taste of the Alps in New Hampshire with a challenging but rewarding hike across the rim of a dramatic gorge between Little Haystack Mountain, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Lafayette. Climb over granite outcroppings and peer into the wooded depths of this gorgeous canyon.
16. Pine Creek Gorge, Pennsylvannia
This majestic canyon is almost fifty miles long, and forms part of the Tioga State Forest. The old-growth woods of this area cover Pine Creek Gorge in their rich verdure, and panoramic views of the canyon can be seen from 800 feet above the treetops. This canyon is a wonderful spot for outdoor enthusiasts, as it offers so much in the way of hiking trails, mountain biking, and horseback riding.