Canyons are some of the most dramatic geological formations on earth and there are 70 stunning canyons in the US to explore. Carved by the elements over millions of years and eroding a little bit more every day, canyons are simultaneously ancient and ever-changing. From Hawaii to Alaska, these spectacular landscapes are some of the most iconic landmarks in the country.
So whether you are into hiking, photography, or just enjoy jaw-dropping landscapes, make sure to add a couple of canyons to your North American itinerary.
First, a few quick facts about canyons in the US
A canyon is a deep, narrow valley with steep sides. “Canyon” comes from the Spanish word el cañon, which means a tube or a pipe.
Canyons are typically formed by erosion from the plateau level. Over millions of years, wind, rain and ice erode the softer material forming a deep cleft between the more resistant granite and sandstone areas of the plateau. This process unfolds over millions of years. Essentially, canyons are deep valleys with very steep escarpments.
At 277 miles (446 km) long and up to 18 miles (29 km) wide, Arizona’s Grand Canyon is the largest canyon in the US.
Plunging 7,900 feet, Hells Canyon in Idaho and Oregon is the deepest canyon on the North American continent.
With 70 stunning canyons vying for your attention, it may be difficult to choose which ones to visit. So, here are the 24 most beautiful canyons in the US for you to consider. The canyons on this list cover multiple states and levels of fitness required for visiting them. So whatever your itinerary is, and whatever level of activity you wish to engage in, you’ll find a canyon that’s just right for you.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
One of the most beautiful canyons in the USA and arguably in the whole world is undoubtedly the Grand Canyon. Located in the state of Arizona, it’s easy to reach the Grand Canyon from Phoenix in about 4 hours or from nearby Flagstaff in 1.5 hours. It’s also popular to visit from Las Vegas, though it does take at least 4.5 hours to drive there.
The Grand Canyon is so named because of its sheer vastness. As one of the most spectacular sites the world over, there is no way to describe just how wondrous this incredible natural site is. The pride of Arizona, visiting the Grand Canyon is something that everyone should try to do in their lifetime and there is a reason this gorgeous geological treasure is so incredibly famous and highly visited.
There really is no bad time of year to head to the Grand Canyon, but some seasons have more benefits than others. For instance, if you visit between the months of October-May, you will find that the North Rim of the Canyon is closed to tourism.
Despite this being located in Arizona, the canyon experiences icy winter temperatures and you need to take that into consideration when planning a trip during these months. In the summer, temperatures can soar, as can visitor numbers, so be sure to keep plenty hydrated and try to get to the park early in the day to avoid both the heat of the afternoon and the crowds.
All in all, if you’re on the hunt for the best canyons to visit in the US, an obvious choice would be the Grand Canyon — you will never regret a visit here!”
Recommended by Maggie Turansky from The World Was Here First
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
One of the most famous and photographed canyons in the US, Antelope Canyon has become something of an internet sensation. Just typing the location onto Instagram brings up over 600 thousand results! And for a good reason. Antelope Canyon is easily one of the most beautiful canyons in the USA.
Located in Northern Arizona on Navajo land, just east of Page, Antelope Canyon is a magnificent slot canyon with tall, winding walls of tall winding walls of red sandstone. It’s a breath-taking structure and a photographer’s paradise (hence all the Instagram hits!), and the light shining through from above creates a surreal environment and almost supernatural appearance.
To explore the canyon properly, you’ll need to book a guided tour as all areas of the canyon are only accessible via a guide. This doesn’t really matter as it’s best to book a guided tour anyway because the guide will be able to tell you more about the fascinating history of the canyon and how it was formed. There are more than enough tours to choose from as visiting the canyon is understandably popular and you can find tours on popular sites like Get Your Guide or Viator.
Antelope Canyon is one of the best October travel destinations in the US because, during the autumn months, the light beams hit the canyon at the perfect angle for gorgeous photography. However, visiting during the Spring in March through April is also a great option.’
Recommended by Alice from Adventures of Alice
Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
Part of Grand Canyon East Rim, Horseshoe Bend is one of the most photographed canyons in the United States. This entire area that includes Antelope Canyon, Glen Canyon and Lake Powell is a photographer’s paradise.
The Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe-shaped bend in the Colorado River that you can view from the edge of the 1,000-foot cliff. Set off by the orange-colored rocks of the canyon, the Colorado River takes on a deep emerald hue as it travels around the bend, adding even more drama to an already spectacular landscape.
Despite its popularity, Horseshoe Bend retains a wild feeling – there are almost no fences on the exposed cliff top. To see this landscape at its best and without the crowds, spend the night in Page and drive to the bend for sunrise. From Page, head south on Highway 89 to between mileposts 544 and 545. Then take a dirt road on the west side of the Hwy and follow it to the horseshoe bend car park.
Recommended by me
Glen Canyon, Utah & Arizona
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is filled with some of the most beautiful hidden gems in the U.S. southwest. The Recreation Area encompasses over 1.25 million acres in southern Utah and northern Arizona. Did you know that Horsebend and Rainbow Bridge National Monument are technically both within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area? It also includes Lake Powell!
In addition to some of the more well-known features, Glen Canyon also offers a variety of other outdoor activities like camping, fishing, hiking, and even off-road driving. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is open throughout the year and tends to be busier during peak spring and summer months.
One of the most unique hikes within the Lees Ferry area of Glen Canyon is the Cathedral Wash hike which is a 3 mile out and back hike through a slot canyon. The hike leads through the slot canyon to the Colorado River and back to the trailhead and includes moderate rock scrambling. The hike isn’t for the faint of heart and you should definitely ensure that you check the weather before entering the slot canyon as well as pack enough water.
If you are looking for an exciting hike or day trip to add to your trip throughout Utah and Arizona, consider exploring Glen Canyon National Recreation!
Recommended by Sarah from Roadmaps and Restaurants
Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona
Oak Creek Canyon is one of the hidden gems of Arizona. When people think of Arizona they typically immediately remember Grand Canyon but Oak Creek Canyon remain an undiscovered beauty for many. Oak Creek Canyon runs from Flagstaff to Sedona in Coconino National Forest so it makes for a great day trip from Flagstaff or Sedona. It is approximately 12 miles long and the depth of the canyon ranges from 800 to 2000 ft. Even with Arizona’s dry climate, the creek is running the whole year round and therefore along the banks of it there is a lot of greenery and birds.
The tall rocks are reflected in the pristine beauty of the water and closer to Sedona the surrounding rocks become even more majestic and turn bright red in color. In this area you will find Sliding Rock State Park, which becomes a summer playground for young and old – here the creek acts as a fun natural water slide.
Many people just do the scenic drive along the canyon on HW 89A but there are several hiking trails in the Oak Creek Canyon that are very scenic and never crowded. You can visit Oak Creek Canyon any time of the year and admire its unparalleled beauty.
Recommended by Tatiana – Family Road Trip Guru
Bryce Canyon, Utah
Bryce is a unique National Park with natural wonders, located in the state of Utah. It is reachable through Interstate Highway 15 while taking a Southwest US Road trip. Las Vegas and Salt Lake City are the nearest airports to the national park.
As you gaze around, all you see is tall, red and pink color stone formations called the Hoodoos. This is the only place on Earth with the highest concentration of these geological structures, which makes Bryce Canyon one of the most unique canyons in the USA.
The best way to explore this is by driving the 38-mile Scenic drive that passes through major attractions giving a view into the vast expanse. Bryce Amphitheatre, a naturally created round area, is the most iconic attraction with a large concentration of these hoodoos of all sizes.
Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point are viewpoints providing amazing views of the amphitheatre. There are many trails to hike- Rim Trail taking through the rim of the amphitheatre, Queen’s Garden Trail, Fairyland Loop trail to name a few.
If you are looking for some amazing pictures, then sunrise and sunset are the best times to visit the park. Bryce is also one of the best places in the country to go stargazing because of the dark night sky and Virtually no light pollution.
It is advisable to use the free park Shuttle service that takes through the major attractions in the park. The shuttle runs from April to October and the time varies during seasons. Even though April – October is the popular time, Bryce is also beautiful to visit during winters. With patches of snow covering the pink hoodoos is stunning.
Recommended by Neha from Travel Melodies
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park is a stunning canyon situated on the west coast near the town of Moab.
You can get to Canyonlands National Park by landing at Grand Junction Regional Airport and driving 2 hours to the canyon or landing at Salt Lake City International Airport for a 4h drive. You can take a 7h drive from Las Vegas and you can stop by and visit some other canyons on the way.
Canyonlands National Park lies on 337,598 acres in the heart of Utah’s high desert. It is split by Colorado and Green rivers into 4 districts: Island in the Sky (the most accessible), The Needles (requires more hiking and/or four-wheel driving), The Maze (perfect for experienced backpackers and explorers, off-roading and hiking), Horseshoe Canyon Unit and the two rivers.
Each district should be visited on individual days as it can take a full day to properly explore each. A 7-days pass will cost you $30 for a private vehicle, $25 for a motorcycle and $15 for a bicycle and foot. Under 15 years old is free of charge.
The best time to visit the Canyonlands National Park is April and May. The low temperature falls between 30 (-1°C) to 50 (10°C) and can go up to 80 (26°C).
Among the best hikes in the park are Grand View Overlook, Mesa Arch, Peekaboo Trail and the Needles District. Some other things to do in the park: backpacking, ATV’s, Mountain Biking, River Rafting and rock climbing.
Recommended by Catalin Geangos from TravelTrained
Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyon, Utah
Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons are located in deep canyon country, in some of the remotest parts of the country, in Utah’s protected lands. To hike these slot canyons, it’s best to base yourself in the Escalante and explore Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
To get to the slot canyons trailhead, one must drive on a dirt road for 27 miles off of highway 12. Once you’ve parked by the well-marked parking lot, you’ll see other hikers. There’s a restroom at the parking lot and a sign towards the hike.
From the parking lot, you’ll walk about a mile on the plateau before descending into the canyon. The walk up to the entrance is about a couple of miles from the parking lot.
In the canyons, you’ll find an entirely different world. The slot canyons are narrow and very narrow in certain spots, especially in Spooky canyon. Travel light so you can squeeze through the canyon.
The hike also has some sharp drops and climbs on the sheer rock so you must be prepared with great hiking shoes. Between the two canyons, you’ll be walking on a flat surface where it’s easy to lose track of the cairns(small rock piles to mark the trail). Be sure to have offline trail guidance unless you’re ok getting lost in a million acres of rock.
Once you’re into the canyon, you’ll get to see some of the most beautiful sights in narrow canyons filled with color and surprising texture. Be sure to have company on this hike because it’s very exciting and dangerous. It’s definitely a hike you’ll remember for life.
Recommended by Jyoti from StoryAtEveryCorner
Dead Horse Park, Utah
Dead Horse Park is a Utah state park overlooking the outskirts of Canyonlands National Park. The views here are just spectacular and the canyon is one of the most photographed canyons in the world. The overlook has vistas of beautifully sculpted rock with the Colorado River 2000 feet below. If you look really closely you may be able to see the faint jeep trail below as well. Sunset at Dead Horse Park is a sublime experience.
The park gets its somewhat morbid name from an incident in the 1800s when the area was used as a corral for wild horses. The cowboys would gather the horses on the point and block the area. For some reason at one time horses were left without food or water and they died overlooking the Colorado River.
Dead Horse Park is used to represent the Grand Canyon in some films because it can be much more photogenic. Some films that use Dead Horse Park include: Thelma and Louise, Westworld, Mission Impossible, Lone Ranger, Joe Dirt and many others. The iconic Thelma and Louise scene where they drive off the canyon is Dead Horse Park.
The park not only has amazing views but there are also other fun activities as well. The park has miles of hiking and wonderful biking trails. The trails can be both family-friendly and also a great experience for more advanced bikers. The trails can be a little disorienting because you feel like you are on relatively flat ground but there is always a very steep cliff nearby.
Recommended by Lori from Fitz5 On The Go
Zion Canyon, Utah
Zion Canyon is one of the most photographed canyons in the United States, and with good reason. Located in Southern Utah, this crimson red rock canyon makes up the bulk of Zion National Park.
This canyon is huge – and is best explored on foot! To see the canyon stretched out before you, hike the one-mile round-trip Canyon Overlook trail. This easy hike is a great spot to see Zion Canyon from above in its full splendor. The red rocks are dotted with greenery, and you’ll be able to see the road twisting and curving as it makes its way through the canyon.
To see the narrowest part of the canyon, head over to The Narrows. This strenuous hike will have you hiking through the river that has shaped Zion, while the canyon walls tower over one thousand feet above you.
For a more mellow experience, take the Pa’rus trail. This three-mile hike is more of an easy stroll (and a great place to ride your bike!). Along the way, you’ll be surrounded by yellow meadows and beautiful views of the canyon walls everywhere you look. This is a great spot to watch the canyon walls light up in gorgeous warm colors as the sun begins to set.
To make the most of your visit, plan to spend at least two days in Zion – you won’t be disappointed.
Recommended by Ale Leon from Sea Salt & Fog
Letchworth – The Grand Canyon of the East, New York
Dubbed ‘the Grand Canyon of the East’, Letchworth State Park canyon is one of the biggest canyons in the US. It is located on the Western side of New York’s popular Finger Lakes region is a bona fide hidden gem.
Letchworth is home to three impressive waterfalls, endless miles of forest hiking trails and an extraordinary 600 ft deep U-shaped canyon forged by the powerful Genesee River.
Imagine Horseshoe Bend in Arizona but replace dusty orange sandstone rocks with grey shale and thousands of vibrantly colored trees. In Autumn, the Letchworth canyon glows with radiant oranges, reds and yellows during the peak Fall foliage season.
Summer and Fall are the two best times of year to visit Letchworth, when all hiking trails are open, leaves turn and the park is at its most spectacular.
Avid photographers can’t miss one of the most awe-inspiring sunrises in the US from Great Bend Overlook. Looking East, the sun rises directly over a 600 ft abyss, the Genesee River and an ‘island’ formed by a 270 curve in the topography of Letchworth canyon.
Letchworth can be visited as part of a week-long New York Finger Lakes road trip, combined with Watkins Glen and the three Ithaca State Parks. Alternatively, fly into nearby Rochester or Buffalo NY and combine with Niagara Falls.
As far as beautiful canyons in USA go, Letchworth State Park may be relatively unknown, but it is most certainly one of the most unique and strikingly attractive.
Recommended by Mark and Kristen from Where Are Those Morgans
Cascade Canyon, Wyoming
Cascade Canyon is an incredibly beautiful canyon in Grand Teton National Park that you need to hike into. The canyon is created by a long valley between two of Tetons peaks, so it is not a conventional canyon that you look down on from the rim. Instead, you hike up from Jenny Lake, then walk through the canyon alongside Cascade Creek.
To get to the trailhead, you can hike around Jenny Lake or take a shuttle boat across the lake. The first section of the hike is fairly steep as you climb up into the canyon. The main part of the trail walking through Cascade Canyon, however, is flat. Along the way, you are surrounded by craggy, glacier-topped peaks. In some parts you walk through woods, while other sections are open, providing clear views of the mountains around you.
The canyon is named after waterfalls that cascade down from melting glaciers at the top of the peaks, which adds even more beauty to the picture.
This is also a prime spot for seeing wildlife, and it is common to see moose drinking and eating in the creek, black bears in the woods and even river otters playing in the water.
Cascade Canyon is one of the most beautiful places in all of Grand Teton National Park and, as long as you are able to hike into it, is not to be missed.
Recommended by James Ian from Parks Collecting
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Wyoming
There are many gorgeous canyons in the United States, but none is as spectacular as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The canyon is approximately 24 miles long, between 800 and 1,200 ft deep and from .25 to .75 miles wide. Unlike most canyons around the world that are fairly arid, Grand Canyon is home to a river and two waterfalls – the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, measuring 109 ft high and 308 ft high respectively.
The unique features of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone are the result of its complex history. To keep it simple, hydrothermal activities underneath weakened the rock surface, allowing the Yellowstone River to erode away the bedrock. After years of erosion, the canyon deepened and eventually became the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone that you see today. Matter of fact, the Yellowstone River continues to erode the canyon every day.
Because of its massive span, there are plenty of viewpoints to observe the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The most popular viewpoints are the Artist Point and Inspiration Point. Both of these overlook the Lower Falls and the Yellowstone River as it carves down the canyon. Just make sure to check the official Yellowstone National Park site as the viewpoints are not always open.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is most conveniently reached via the north entrance of the park. From the entrance, it is around a 1.5-hour drive to the canyon. Travelers can also check out other attractions in Yellowstone National Park on the way, such as the intricate Mammoth Hot Springs.
Recommended by Sean from Living Out Lau
Bighorn Canyon, Montana & Wyoming
Devil’s Canyon in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is located on the Montana/Wyoming border and a spectacular place to visit. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area actually consists of two separate districts: the North District in Fort Smith and the South District in Lovell. Please note that these areas are three hours apart by car, so if you plan to visit both, give yourself a full day for this trip.
Devil’s Canyon Overlook is found in the South District. Coming from Wyoming, drive north on Highway 37 HWY 37, then turn right onto the Canyon Overlook Road and you’ll quickly arrive at the overlook parking lot. The canyon is a spectacular winding river canyon, with steep walls and splendid views. For those who love boating, the river that slowly carved its way through the stone is the perfect place for a beautiful boating trip.
Besides marvelling at the Devil’s Canyon, there are plenty of other things to do in the South District of Bighorn Canyon. There are no less than 12 hiking trails, you can go fishing and even spend the night at one of the campgrounds. If you are very lucky, you may even spot some wild mustangs while driving to or from the canyon. Other animals roaming around in the vicinity of the Canyon are bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
Recommended by Lotte of Gezond Weekmenu
Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado
Home to a deep, steep canyon, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is the least visited national park in Colorado. Here, you will see only a small fraction of tourists compared to Rocky Mountain National Park that averages about 4 million visitors a year. This means you can have plenty of space to take in scenic views from many overlooks within this national park.
While Black Canyon of the Gunnison doesn’t offer a ton of hiking trails, the incredible vistas well compensate for it. Just like the famous Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison has the north and south rim. And while the South Rim is more popular because it’s open year-round, the North Rim is home to some of the most breathtaking views of the steep canyon walls that drop down below.
Aside from grand scenery, Black Canyon of the Gunnison has been designated as an official International Dark Sky Park which means you will be treated to amazing clear dark skies because the area has virtually no light pollution.
The best time to visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is in summer when the weather is warm enough to spend time outside and enjoy this scenic place. Make sure to check the weather ahead of your trip, as this place is better to visit on a clear sunny day.
The best way to access this national park is from Grand Junction, the largest city on Colorado’s Western Slope, however, you can also stay in Montrose, a smaller town near the entrance of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
Recommended by Daria from The Discovery Nut
Glenwood Canyon, Colorado
Chiselled by the powerful Colorado River over hundreds of years, Glenwood Canyon is a striking 16-mile canyon in western Colorado whose walls soar up to 1,300 feet above the river bed.
Glenwood Canyon also offers abundant outdoor recreation like hiking, biking, river rafting, natural hot springs and more. Plus, it’s only an hour’s drive from Aspen or Vail.
The Glenwood Canyon Recreation Trail is great for biking or walking and provides access for all ages to Glenwood Canyon and the Colorado River. (Check for closures before you go. The Grizzly Fire of 2020 has affected this recreation trail for 2021.)
The rewarding hiking trail to Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon is a spectacular must-see. Witness this unique travertine geological formation, then climb a few steps further to a fabulous waterfall called Spouting Rock. You are wise to plan ahead for this challenging hike that requires permits and reservations to delve into this part of the White River National Forest.
Whitewater rafting trips along the Colorado River are available for beginners to experienced thrill seekers. Take a full day or overnight rafting trip with excellent views of Glenwood Canyon.
The perfect way to top off your outdoorsy adventures is to stay at Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge. Families have been visiting these iconic mineral-rich waters for over one hundred years. A sweet pedestrian bridge ferries you downtown for restaurants and shopping.
A completely different way to experience Glenwood Canyon is via an authentic railway ride upon Amtrak’s California Zephyr — which goes all the way from Chicago to San Francisco — but you can hop on in Denver to ride through Glenwood Canyon, with a stop at Glenwood Springs’s historic train depot.
Recommended by Tanya Raedeke of Rad Family Travel
Hells Canyon, Oregon & Idaho
Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America. Carved by the mighty Snake River, its winding course delineates the Oregon-Idaho border. North America’s largest canyon, Hells Canyon is remote, desolate, and hundreds of miles from the trodden tourist trails. But if you’re not afraid to put in a little extra effort, it is an unforgettable place to visit.
Hells Canyon’s immensity can be deceiving. At its widest, the canyon extends 10 miles. Its walls tally 7,913 vertical feet —nearly 2,000 feet more than those of Arizona’s Grand Canyon.
Early pioneers named the canyon for its inhospitable terrain. Due to its rattlesnakes, rugged topography and oppressive heat, Hells Canyon was once an obstacle on the path of westward migration across the US. Even today, Hells Canyon can be a challenging place to visit. Its access roads are largely unpaved and indirect. Getting from one viewpoint to another can be a time-consuming ordeal.
Hat Point Overlook provides the most spectacular views of Hells Canyon. It lies at the end of a narrow unpaved road, in the far reaches of northeast Oregon. As the road to Hat Point winds along a soaring ridgeline, it boasts epic views of nearby Imnaha Canyon.
At the Hat Point Overlook, a fire tower showcases panoramas of Hells Canyon and Idaho’s Seven Devils Wilderness. Other points from which to view the canyon include Buckhorn Overlook and Hells Canyon Overlook.
Recommended by Erika from Erika’s Travels
Keystone Canyon, Alaska
Alaska’s dramatic Keystone Canyon does not fall within any of the state’s 8 National Parks. It is located 12 miles east of Valdez, 299 miles from Anchorage.
Keystone Canyon is a dramatically narrow canyon with almost vertical walls over 600ft tall. It is just wide enough for Lowe River and Richardson Highway to pass through its entire length which is 3 miles from beginning to end.
There are different ways to explore the canyon. You can drive through it, admiring roadside attractions like the Bridal Veil and Horsetail falls that drop several hundred feet along the steep walls of the canyon and flow into Lowe River. If you visit in March or April, keep an eye out for the mountain goats along the west end of the canyon on the southern wall.
You can hike the Valdez Wagon and Goat Trail that runs through the canyon above the highway. Or for a more adrenalin-filled adventure, you can go rafting or kayaking through the canyon.
Recommended by me
Lost Canyon, Wisconsin
Lost Canyon is one of the unique destinations to visit in Wisconsin. It is a canyon with a wild west feel and adventure. If you want to have such an experience without going to the west, Lost Canyon in Wisconsin Dells is the perfect place. The adventurous place is the deepest and longest canyon in the state of Wisconsin and it also has a romantic feel, which makes it distinct from others. There is more to Lost Canyon than what you can see or read online.
The remarkable canyon offers the visitors to enjoy horse and buggy ride and experience adventure. The horse-drawn carriage tour lasts for 15-20 minutes and can hold 10-16 people.
On the tour, you will through such narrow passageways that the guides have to coax the horses through these narrow lanes. The canyon even has some places where there is no source of sunlight. That means you will enter a place where there has been no warmth of the sun for the last 50,000 years.
The canyon is situated on the south shore of Lake Delton. So, apart from spending time in the canyon, there are plenty of other things to enjoy in the area. It is a perfect destination for family trips, even for big families. There are some of the best Airbnbs in Wisconsin Dells where you can have a great stay after exploring the canyon.
Recommended by Paulina from Paulina on the Road
Red Rock Canyon, Nevada
As one of Nevada’s best-kept secrets hidden deep in the Mojave desert, Red Rock Canyon is one of the most striking canyons in the United States and one of the best destinations to visit if you’re up for diving head-first into an adventure. Not only is this magical slice of desert paradise still a bit of a hidden gem, but it’s also located just 30 minutes west of Las Vegas, which makes for a perfect day trip to escape the bustle and hustle of Sin City.
For over 600 million years, the canyon has transformed from an ocean basin into a desert. In combination with the harsh environment of the Mojave, it has shaped into a dramatically beautiful landscape made up of bright-red sandstone rock (hence the name!), as well as insane-looking rock formations, cliffs, and buttes that look as though they’re piercing the sky.
As for what to do at Red Rock Canyon, there’s is a little something for everyone! From leisurely scenic drives (the Scenic Loop will leave your jaw on the ground at every viewpoint), hiking trails that aren’t too strenuous but provide magical vistas, and some of the most challenging rock climbing routes in the country (try The Kraft Boulders and Calico Basins to test your climbing skills!)
Recommended by Meg Atteberry from Fox in the Forest
Santa Elena Canyon, Texas
Santa Elena Canyon, one of the most iconic landmarks in Big Bend National Park, is an exceptional destination for those looking for the chance to explore a canyon in two unique ways – by land and by water! Santa Elena’s breathtaking views can be equally enjoyed by those that hike its trail and by those that boat the serene Rio Grande River that weaves through these canyon walls.
Santa Elena Canyon is located in far southwestern Texas, closest to the western entrance of Big Bend National Park. After entering the park, Santa Elena Canyon is an approximate one hour drive along the scenic Ross Maxwell Drive, before arriving in the parking area and trailhead for Santa Elena Canyon. The Santa Elena Canyon Trail is an easy 1.5 mile out and back roundtrip trek, which leads visitors to the shore of the Rio Grande River, before tracing up and along cliffsides of the canyon for epic views of the river below.
To enjoy Santa Elena Canyon by water, there is direct river access found on the Santa Elena Canyon Trail for boaters and kayakers to put in and launch. Boating Santa Elena Canyon is a perfect day-long event, or it can even be extended into a longer, multi-day venture. Either way, this poster child of Big Bend will impress with its 1,500-foot walls, mysterious waters, and towering chasms!
Recommended by Kristen from Yonderlust Ramblings
Palo Duro Canyon, Texas
Palo Duro is one of the largest canyons in North America and the second-largest canyon in the United States although it is not nearly as famous and popular as the Grand Canyon. If you’re looking for a slightly more quiet experience with fewer tourists this is the perfect spot to go although Palo Duro has definitely gained a lot of popularity in the past years.
Located in Texas, this canyon is easy to access with lots of things to do. Of course, you absolutely need to go hiking while you are there. One of the best hikes goes to the Palo Guro lighthouse, an impressive rock structure. The hike is just under 6 miles round-trip and fairly easy to manage. If hiking is not for you, luckily you can still enjoy Palo Duro from the comfort of your car. Drive the Canyon Loop and see all the important sights on the way.
You could also go on a jeep tour that will take you into the canyon and on more adventurous tracks. Horse-back riding is another great option to truly get to know the area from a unique perspective. There are tours available even for complete beginners so there’s something for everyone. Definitely add Palo Duro to your list of best canyons in the United States.
Recommended by Victoria from Guide Your Travel
Tallulah Gorge, North Geogria
Tallulah Gorge is one of the most beautiful canyons in the Eastern United States and a must-see on any trip to North Georgia. The gorge features numerous trails, waterfalls, and recreational opportunities that are great for all ages.
For beginners or kids, you can hike around the entire rim of Tallulah Gorge. These North and South Rim trails are easy hikes. You’ll have ten different overlooks into the gorge, including the spectacular Overlook #3 which has a direct view of L’eau D’or (pronounced Ladore) Falls. The South Rim’s best overlook is #6 with a view directly down the length of the entire gorge. #6 also features a great place to picnic with the family.
If you’re looking for a tougher hike, then brave the 1,099 stairs it takes to reach the Hurricane Falls suspension bridge. The trek down isn’t for the faint of heart, but give you an awe-inspiring walk across the top of Hurricane Falls. Standing directly over the falls can be a deafening experience if there has been recent rain or you’re there on one of the water release weekends. These water release weekends are a great time to visit because the river is fuller and rafters might be braving the river too!
Camping at Tallulah Gorge is a great way to stay in the area to explore the gorge and all of the other natural wonders of Northern Georgia!
Recommended by Zack Litchfield from Florida Man On The Run
Waimea Canyon, Hawaii
When people think of Hawaii, they think of white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and volcanoes. And they’re right – Hawaii IS a tropical paradise. But it is so much more!
For example, there’s a huge canyon on one of the main Hawaiian Islands – Kauai – called Waimea. It’s known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”.
In a true tropical fashion, unlike the Grand Canyon, Waimea Canyon is covered in green foliage, incredible waterfalls, reddish tropical cliffs, and mesmerizing scenery. It’s smaller than its Arizona cousin as well, stretching just 14 miles long, 1 mile wide and more than 3,600 feet deep.
The name “Waimea” means “reddish water”, and it is a reference to the red soil of the canyon.
There are a lot of things you can do at the Waimea Canyon, both for those who like and don’t like physical activities.
You can drive to different lookouts enjoy the Waimea Canyon from different angles. There’s the official Waimea Canyon lookout which makes you really feel the grandeur of the canyon, as well as Puu Ka Pele and Puu Hinahina Lookouts.
There are some hikes for everyone as well. You can choose from easy and short walks like the Cliff walk which will only take you one hour to complete and will offer some nice views at the end, or do some more straining ones like the Kukui Trail – 3 and a half hours long and with 2000 feet drop in elevation.
Recommended by Kristine from Wanderlust Designers
I hope this post inspired you to add at least one canyon to your US itinerary and gave you enough information to plan your visit.
More on North America
- When and Where to See Animals in the Wild: Guide to Wildlife Watching
- 24 Stunning Canyons in the US to Add to Your Bucket List
- 50 Outstanding Safari Holidays Destinations Outside of Africa
- The 8 Stunning National Parks of Alaska
- Katmai Bear Viewing – the Ultimate Alaska Experience
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