Name a canyon in the USA… you picked the Grand Canyon, didn’t you? No shame there! It’s the most famous canyon in the world, but as epic as it is, good old GC is only one of many incredible canyons in the United States. The Grand Canyon is a no-brainer, so we’re not going to discuss it any further. If you haven’t seen it, go immediately! If you’ve already toured it and found it mesmerizing, then add a few of these gorgeous gorges to your next road trip itinerary. From hidden slot canyons in Utah to volcanic craters in Hawaii, the U.S.A. boasts an impressive number of gigantic and unique canyons to explore!
Explore Utah with Let’s Roam!
When it comes to slot canyons, buttes, and epic rock formations, there’s no better destination on Earth than the state of Utah. Take a break from the hiking for a few and explore some of Utah’s beautiful cities and Wild West towns on our fun-filled sightseeing scavenger hunts. We’ll combine interesting trivia, fun photo and video challenges, and friendly competition to help you and your crew get the most out of your Utah adventure! Check out our full list of Utah tours!
What is a canyon?
Is it a canyon? It is a gorge? What’s the difference? Then, there’s washes, gulches, valleys, ravines, and on and on. In theory, we all know what a canyon is, but like most things, it’s technically more complicated than you would assume. There also doesn’t seem to be a consensus on the differences, with the words often being used interchangeably, and some used differently in other nations than in the United States. In most definitions, a gorge is more narrow and steep than a canyon, but that’s really splitting hairs. For the scope of this article, we’re going to use them all interchangeably.
The Most Magnificient Canyons in The United States
1. Waimea Canyon: Kauai, Hawaii
“The Grand Canyon of the Pacific” is a stunner! Located on the lush island paradise of Kauai, Waimea Canyon State Park is a must-visit attraction when touring the island. The Canyon is fourteen miles long, one mile wide, and 3,600 feet deep, dotted with buttes, smaller gorges, and waterfalls.
Waimea means “reddish waters” in the Hawaiian language, and it’s fitting as the towering cliffs are layered with bands of red stone and vibrant green tropical foliage. Kauai is Hawaii’s oldest island geologically, and the town of Waimea was once its most important settlement. In fact, it’s where the explorer James Cook first landed.
Visitors approach the viewpoint via a winding mountain road. The main overlook is just adjacent to the parking lot and easily reached by most. If you want a more varied peak, there are more viewpoints around the rim of the canyon. You can also hike the Kukui Trail, for a three-hour journey into the canyon or the much easier Iliau Nature Loop.
Waimea is pretty special because most of the canyons on the list are located in arid regions. The terrain and flora of Waimea are anything but arid, but the environment also causes some issues with viewing. The canyon is routinely shrowded in low-lying clouds, often so thick that almost nothing is visible. It usually doesn’t stay that all way all day though. If the canyon isn’t visible when you arrive, hang around for a while. Take a hike, or keep driving down the road to Koke’e State Park, and come back later. It’s worth the wait.
2. Antelope Canyon: Arizona
Antelope Canyon is a famous slot canyon renowned for its mesmerizing beauty and unique geological formations. Situated on Navajo land, near Page, Arizona, the canyon comprises two main sections: Upper Antelope Canyon is shorter but wider than its lower counterpart due to its upside “V” shape. This unique shape creates the most magical sunbeams at midday that make the Upper Canyon the more sought-after of the two, especially for photographers. Both sections are relatively narrow, with heights varying between 120 and 130 feet, while the corridors can be as narrow as 3 feet in some places. This creates an intimate and immersive experience as visitors navigate through the narrow passageways.
Upper Antelope Canyon (known as “Tsé bighánílíní” in Navajo, meaning “the place where water runs through rocks”) and Lower Antelope Canyon (“Hazdistazí” in Navajo, translating to “spiral rock arches”). Formed over millions of years of erosion caused by flash floods, the canyon’s smooth, sinuous, sandstone walls display a palette of vibrant colors in mind-bending horizontal patterns.
To explore the canyon, visitors are required to join guided tours. The Navajo Nation manages access to preserve its delicate environment and ensure visitor safety. Antelope Canyon is part of the greater Glen Canyon, carved out by the Colorado River. This recreational area includes some of the most amazing natural wonders in the U.S. You can explore Horseshoe Bend, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, and some of the best hikes in the Southwest.
3. Zion Canyon: Utah
Zion Canyon is the centerpiece of Zion National Park, located in the state of Utah. Carved by the Virgin River, the canyon stretches for approximately 15 miles and boasts some of the most awe-inspiring and diverse landscapes in the American Southwest. The canyon’s primary feature is its towering sandstone cliffs, reaching heights of up to 2,640 feet, adorned with vivid colors, unique rock formations, and lush vegetation.
Nomadic Native American tribes inhabited the canyon back to 5,000 B.C. before the Virgin Branch Puebloan and Fremont Indian tribes settled the region. The region was then inhabited by the Paiute tribes before Mormon pioneers arrived in the late 1800s. It was the Mormons who gave Zion its current name. After a petition from surveyors, President Taft designated it a national monument in 1909, and it gained national park status in 1919.
The park features a comprehensive network of hiking trails catering to all skill levels and interests, including the world-renowned hike through The Narrows. This hike includes tromping through a babbling creek and wading emerald pools, at the base of towering bluffs. The hike’s difficulty varies significantly based on the river’s conditions. It’s essential to check the weather and water level before embarking. Hiking equipment such as sturdy, waterproof footwear and a walking stick are recommended. Daredevils can also hike to the top of Angels Landing for incredible views over the canyon, or venture into the lesser-known areas of the park for a more secluded experience hunting for petroglyphs.
To access Zion Canyon, enter the park through the main south entrance located near Springdale, Utah. The park is open year-round, though peak visitation occurs during the spring and fall months when the weather is pleasant, and the landscape bursts with color. During the busy seasons, a shuttle system operates within the park to minimize traffic congestion and provide easy access to trailheads.
4. Palo Duro Canyon: Texas
Palo Duro Canyon, often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” is a magnificent geological wonder located in the town of Canyon, in the northwest corner of the state. With a length of approximately 120 miles and a width ranging from six to 20 miles, it’s the second-largest canyon in the United States, following the Grand Canyon. Formed by the erosive forces of the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, the canyon features vibrant layers of red, orange, and yellow sedimentary rock, providing breathtaking viewpoints.
The history of Palo Duro Canyon dates back thousands of years, as evidence suggests that Native American tribes, including the Apache and Comanche, inhabited the region for centuries. In 1874, the U.S. Army engaged in a significant battle against the native tribes, known as the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon, resulting in the defeat and forced evacuation of the tribes.
Today, Palo Duro Canyon State Park welcomes visitors to explore its natural beauty and rich history. The park offers an extensive network of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails that wind through the vast canyon. Popular spots within the park include the Lighthouse rock formation and the iconic Palo Duro Canyon overlook.
Access the park from its main entrance located near Canyon, Texas. Open year-round, visitors can choose from a plethora of camping options, including tent camping, RV sites, and cabins, to fully immerse themselves in the canyon’s natural splendor. The summer months can be hot, so it’s essential to stay hydrated and take appropriate precautions when exploring the trails. There is little to no shade. The easiest way to explore the park is by car, driving between trailheads.
5. Bryce Canyon: Utah
Located in Southern Utah, Bryce Canyon is a captivating national park renowned for its otherworldly landscape of hoodoos—spire-like rock formations formed by frost and erosion. Despite its name, Bryce Canyon is not technically a canyon but rather a series of natural amphitheaters carved into the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The park covers an area of approximately 35,835 acres and ranges in elevation from 6,620 to 9,115 feet, offering a diverse range of breathtaking vistas.
Though inhabited by Native American tribes for centuries, Mormon pioneers, led by Ebenezer Bryce, settled in the area in the 1850s, and the canyon later became known as Bryce Canyon due to their association with it. The unique hoodoos intrigued early visitors, and the national park was established in 1928 to protect and preserve this exceptional natural wonder.
The park features a massive network of hiking trails that cater to all levels of hikers, allowing visitors to explore the hoodoos up close and from parking lot-level overlooks. Some of the most popular trails include the Queen’s Garden Trail, Navajo Loop Trail, and the iconic Rim Trail, which offers panoramic views of the amphitheaters below. Additionally, visitors can enjoy ranger-led programs, stargazing events, and horseback riding excursions.
The park is open year-round, though some areas may be inaccessible during heavy snowfall. The best times to visit are during the spring and fall when the weather is milder. However, it looks pretty amazing in the winter as well, when the hoodoos are covered in snow!
6. Canyonlands National Park: Utah
Canyonlands isn’t one canyon, but a series of them. Kind of in the name, right? We list them as one because the park is driveable, and adventurers are sure to peruse many of the canyons on one visit. Canyonlands National Park is in Southeastern Utah and serves up a rugged wonderland of reds and pinks. The park is characterized by its deep canyons, towering mesas, and dramatic desert scenery. Spanning over 337,598 acres, Canyonlands is one of Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks and is divided into four distinct districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the Colorado and Green Rivers.
The history of Canyonlands National Park starts with the Ancestral Puebloans who left behind remnants of their civilization, such as cliff dwellings (mostly in the Needles District) and rock art. In the late 19th century, European explorers and settlers ventured into the area, followed by prospectors in search of valuable minerals. Efforts to preserve this spectacular landscape began in the early 20th century, eventually leading to the establishment of Canyonlands as a national park in 1964.
Visitors can access each district through its own entrance. The Island in the Sky District, which offers sweeping views of the canyons from atop a mesa, is the most accessible and popular district. The Needles District, known for its striking rock formations and backcountry trails, can be reached through a separate entrance on UT Hwy 211. The Maze District, characterized by its remote and rugged terrain, requires high-clearance 4WD vehicles and advanced planning due to its challenging access.
7. Royal Gorge: Colorado
Royal Gorge, located near Canon City, Colorado, is a gigantic gorge renowned for its awe-inspiring depths. Carved by the Arkansas River, the gorge stretches for approximately ten miles, with sheer granite cliffs rising as high as 1,250 feet.
The gorge gained popularity as a tourist attraction in the late 19th century, drawing attention from early explorers and settlers. In 1879, the renowned Royal Gorge Route Railroad was established, providing a scenic and thrilling train journey through the gorge. It remains a popular tourist attraction to this day. The Royal Gorge Bridge, constructed in 1929, spans the canyon and is one of the world’s highest suspension bridges, offering stunning panoramic views of the gorge below.
Visitors can walk or drive across the bridge, which also features a gondola that provides a bird’s-eye view of the rugged terrain.
8. Columbia River Gorge: Oregon
Another jaw-droppingly gorgeous gorge with a fancy bridge, the Columbia River Gorge is a spectacular canyon carved by the Columbia River, forming the border between the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington. Spanning over 80 miles in length and reaching depths of up to 4,000 feet, the gorge is a geologic marvel characterized by its towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and lush greenery. Its natural beauty and unique landscape have earned it the designation of a National Scenic Area.
From early indigenous tribes to the fur traders of the John Jacob Astor Fur Co., the gorge has always been an important trade region. The Historic Columbia River Highway, constructed in the early 20th century, removed the need to navigate the rough waters, making access to the region far easier. It now offers breathtaking views of numerous waterfalls, including the famous Multnomah Falls.
For a unique perspective, visitors can take a cruise along the Columbia River, offering a different vantage point to appreciate the grandeur of the gorge. Windsurfing and kiteboarding are popular water activities, thanks to the strong winds funneled through the canyon.
9. Kings Canyon: California
Kings Canyon, located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, is a stunning canyon, with soaring granite cliffs. Spanning over 461,901 acres, Kings Canyon National Park is adjacent to Sequoia National Park. The canyon’s depth reaches an impressive 8,200 feet, making it one of the deepest canyons in North America.
Formed by glacier activity, King’s Canyon was made a national park in 1940, encompassing the older General Grant National Park. Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park were the first parks designated in an effort to protect living organisms. Kings Canyon was also the first park administrated by an African American caretaker.
One of the park’s main attractions is the Mist Falls Trail, leading to a powerful waterfall cascading over granite boulders. Kings Canyon is also home to the 3,000-year-old General Grant Sequioa-the second largest Sequoia in the world. For more seasoned hikers, the Rae Lakes Loop offers a multi-day trek through diverse landscapes, including forests, alpine lakes, and mountain passes. The park is open year-round, but some areas may be limited by snowfall during the winter months.
10. Hells Canyon: Idaho and Oregon
Hells Canyon, located on the borders of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington is known for its rugged beauty and dramatic landscapes. Carved by the Snake River, Hells Canyon is North America’s deepest river gorge, plunging to depths of approximately 8,043 feet, making it even deeper than the Grand Canyon. The canyon spans over ten miles at its widest point, and its sheer cliffs and rugged terrain create a striking and awe-inspiring sight.
The history of Hells Canyon is rich and diverse. Native American tribes, such as the Nez Perce and the Shoshone, have inhabited the region for thousands of years, leaving behind a cultural legacy reflected in the rock art and artifacts discovered throughout the area. In the 19th century, European settlers and explorers had tried and failed to map the canyon several times, causing author H.W. McCurdy to dub it “Hells Canyon” in her 1895 guide Marine History of the Pacific Northwest.
Hells Canyon provides an array of recreational opportunities from jet boat rides on the river to grinding hiking routes. The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway is a breathtaking drive, showcasing the canyon’s grandeur and diverse ecosystems. Adventurous travelers enjoy multi-day rafting and kayaking trips down the Snake River to experience the canyon from a unique perspective. Though you can now take a guided boat tour on the rowdy river below, Hell’s Canyon still feels somehow untamed and mesmerizingly rugged.
11. Black Canyon of the Gunnison: Colorado
Located in Western Colorado, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a striking and narrow gorge carved by the Gunnison River. The canyon is renowned for its dramatic black rock formations. With a length of approximately 53 miles, the Black Canyon is relatively small compared to other famous canyons, but its depth and narrowness make it exceptionally unique and captivating.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is deeply connected to the region’s Native American inhabitants, with evidence of Ute tribes living in the area for thousands of years. However, the canyon’s rugged terrain made it difficult for early European explorers to access, and it remained relatively unknown until the late 19th century. The first recorded expedition to explore the canyon was led by Captain John Williams Gunnison in 1853. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was designated as a national park in 1999.
The North Rim of the Black Canyon provides a more remote and less crowded experience, accessed via a gravel road. It offers a rugged and wild atmosphere with fewer amenities and facilities compared to the South Rim. The viewpoints are closer to the canyon’s edge, giving you a more dramatic view. Hiking trails from the North Rim are challenging routes descending into the canyon.
On the other hand, the South Rim is more accessible and has better-developed infrastructure, making it a popular choice for many visitors. The viewpoints on the South Rim offer expansive and panoramic vistas of the canyon, providing a broader perspective of its vastness. The hiking trails from the South Rim are generally less steep and more accessible to a wider range of visitors.
12. Grand Canyon of Yellowstone: Wyoming
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park was carved by the Yellowstone River and stretches for approximately 24 miles, reaching depths of up to 1,200 feet. Known for its striking yellow and orange-colored canyon walls, and its rushing waterfalls, the canyon is a must-visit spot on any Yellowstone drive-thru.
The history of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is closely linked to the exploration and preservation of Yellowstone National Park. In 1871, the Hayden Geological Survey expedition led by Ferdinand Hayden brought the canyon to the attention of the public and contributed to the park’s eventual establishment as the world’s first national park in 1872.
Visitors can access the canyon from multiple viewpoints along the North and South Rims. The most famous viewpoints include Artist Point, Lookout Point, and Uncle Tom’s Trail, all offering stunning panoramas of the canyon and its iconic waterfalls, such as the Upper Falls and Lower Falls.
13. The Subway: Zion National Park, Utah
The Subway in Zion National Park, Utah, is a unique geological feature that draws adventurous hikers seeking an extraordinary experience. This iconic slot canyon, often referred to as the Left Fork of North Creek, is renowned for its distinctive appearance, with curving walls and narrow passages resembling a subway tunnel.
The subway is not for laissez-faire adventurers, starting with the tough permit process. One-day wilderness passes are granted from April through October and must be applied for online at least two months prior to your intended trip. Two popular hiking routes lead to The Subway. The Bottom-Up approach is a strenuous nine-mile round-trip hike that begins at the Left Fork Trailhead, and the Top-Down approach, a more challenging 9.5-mile hike from the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead.
The Subway hike takes adventurers through a stunning landscape, crossing through pools of water, navigating over boulders, and finally passing through the unique subway-shaped section. The trail requires some technical skill, and hikers should be prepared with proper equipment, sturdy footwear, and a good sense of direction. There is no overnight camping and no guided tours allowed on this route.
14. Paria River Canyon: Arizona
Paria River Canyon, located in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, is a breathtaking and remote wilderness known for its stunning beauty and colorful sandstone formations. The winding passages of the canyon were carved by the Paria River. Though the entire area is gorgeous, Paria became famous for the vastly popular formation known as “The Wave.”
With archaeological evidence dating back more than 10,000 years, Paria Canyon was used by Native American as sort of a transit highway. The name means “muddy waters” in Paiute. In the 19th century, European settlers and explorers ventured into the region, drawn by the allure of its rugged terrain and unique beauty.
Explore the area through a host of hiking routes that range from short day hikes to multi-day backpacking adventures. The Buckskin Gulch and the Paria Canyon are popular routes, offering hikers the chance to traverse narrow slot canyons, witness towering sandstone cliffs, and marvel at the ever-changing colors of the rocks. Due to the canyon’s remote and challenging nature, it is essential for hikers to be well-prepared. Carry sufficient water and supplies, and check weather conditions before embarking on a journey.
Day passes are available via a QR code system for most of the wilderness area. Overnight requires a special permit. Permits to Coyote Buttes, including the famous wave are done by lottery. Lotteries open on the first of every month to book a permit for four months in advance. They sell out in seconds. There is a day lottery as well and sometimes you can score a same-day permit.
15. Santa Elena Canyon: Big Bend National Park, Texas
Santa Elena Canyon is located in one of the most remote national parks—Big Bend National Park, in Southwest Texas. The canyon showcases the power of the Rio Grande River, cutting through the rugged limestone cliffs. This awe-inspiring canyon stretches for approximately 1.7 miles, reaches heights of up to 1,500 feet, and is one of the most picturesque canyons in the American Southwest.
The history of Santa Elena Canyon is intertwined with the ancient cultures of Native American tribes, including the Comanche, who used the river as a natural barrier for their raids into Mexico. Mexican settlers began farming the banks of the river in the early 1900s, and its name, “Santa Elena,” is believed to have been given by Spanish explorers in honor of Saint Helen after originally naming it “El Despoblado” or the uninhabited lands. The area was made a national park under Theodore Roosevelt in 1944.
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive leads to a parking area where visitors can access the Santa Elena Canyon Trail. The trail offers a moderately easy 1.7-mile round-trip through lush vegetation and along the Rio Grande River, culminating in epic views of the majestic canyon walls. The best time to visit Santa Elena Canyon is during the cooler months of fall, winter, and spring, as summer temperatures can be scorching. The area also offers excellent opportunities for birdwatching, stargazing, and river-related activities like rafting and canoeing.
16. Red Rock Canyon: Nevada
Just a short drive from Las Vegas, Nevada, Red Rock Canyon occupies a desert landscape known for its vibrant red sandstone formations and striking rock cliffs. Spanning over 195,819 acres, Red Rock Canyon is part of the larger Mojave Desert ecosystem and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management as a National Conservation Area.
The history of Red Rock Canyon dates back thousands of years, with evidence of the Paiute people, inhabiting the region for millennia. These indigenous peoples left behind petroglyphs and pottery fragments that offer insights into their ancient cultures and way of life. European settlers once attempted to mine sandstone until it became a protected recreation area in 1967.
Today, millions of visitors a year make the 15-minute drive from Las Vegas to explore Red Rock Canyon. Scenic Loop Drive is a popular route that takes visitors on a 13-mile journey through the canyon, offering numerous viewpoints to admire the arid landscapes. Hiking trails cater to all skill levels, with options ranging from easy walks to challenging hikes that lead to hidden springs, towering peaks, and panoramic vistas.
For rock climbers, Red Rock Canyon is a renowned destination, with over 2,000 climbing routes that cater to climbers of all levels of experience. Wildlife enthusiasts can also spot diverse flora and fauna, including desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, and several species of cacti and wildflowers.
Travelers can access the canyon through the main entrance located off State Route 159. The canyon is open year-round, but the best times to visit are during the cooler months of fall, winter, and spring when the weather is more comfortable for outdoor activities.
17. Keystone Canyon: Alaska
Keystone Canyon, located in Valdez, Alaska, is one of the most beautiful canyons in the USA known for its towering waterfalls and rugged scenery. The canyon was formed by the Keystone Canyon Creek, which carved through the Chugach Mountains over millennia. The name “Keystone” is believed to have originated from the resemblance of one of the rock formations to a keystone, a wedge-shaped stone used in arch construction.
The history of Keystone Canyon is closely linked to the development of Alaska’s transportation infrastructure in the early 20th century. The 1899 construction of the Richardson Highway, Alaska’s first highway, involved challenging engineering feats to navigate through the steep terrain of the canyon. It provided an essential route connecting the port city of Valdez to the interior of Alaska, opening up economic opportunities for the region.
The canyon is located approximately 15 miles from Valdez and is easily accessible by car. Several viewpoints along the highway offer stunning vistas of Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls, two of the most prominent waterfalls in the canyon. The Valdez Goat Trail is a popular trail that offers a moderate hike with spectacular views of the canyon and its waterfalls. Alaska is a bucket list destination for adventures, and Keystone Canyon is a must-see stop on any Alaskan excursion!
There you have it—the 17 most mesmerizing canyons in the United States. From lush, tropical, lava craters to high desert divides, the canyons, buttes, and ravines of the USA offer endless treks and adventures for those willing to brave the territory. Add a few of these fabulous destinations to your next American road trip!
Once you’ve tackled the craters, it’s time to move on to caves! Check out our guide to “Exploring the Largest Caves in the World.”
Many of the best canyons in the United States also offer watersport adventures. Take a look at “Where to Find the Best Whitewater Rafting in the U.S.” for some ideas!
Frequently Asked Questions
The deepest canyon in the USA is Hells Canyon in Oregon and Idaho at approximately 8,000 feet deep.