A visit to a canyon appears on many a bucket list and luckily there are many to explore. Providing sweeping panoramas, ever-changing landscapes, and dramatic rock formations, it’s no wonder that hikers, photographers and nature lovers alike are drawn to these beauties.
From Utah’s dramatic sandstone gorges to the rugged rocks of Iceland’s Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, here are the 20 most awe-inspiring canyons on the planet.
1# The Wave, USA
The Wave is the premier photographic destination in the US Southwest. It is located in the Coyote Buttes North area of the Utah Arizona border. In addition to The Wave Coyote Buttes North contains many other spectacular rock formations.
A permit issued by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is required to see The Wave. Only twenty permits per day (10 on-line and 10 walk-in) are available and demand far exceeds supply. The Wave opens up in three directions, to the north (the direction you came in on), to the east, and to the southwest. Each of these openings has a good photo associated with it. (Source)
2# Antelope Canyon, USA
Few geological formations are as picturesque and awe-inspiring as Antelope Canyon, a magnificent slot canyon just east of Page in Northern Arizona. With tall winding walls, it’s a monumental sandstone sculpture. A photographer’s dream, the canyon is known for its wave-like structure and the light beams that shine directly down into the openings of the canyon, creating a supernatural appearance.
Antelope Canyon is the product of millions of years of water erosion. In fact, the Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is “Tse’ bighanilini,” which means “the place where water runs through rocks.” Once home to herds of pronghorn antelope, the canyon now lies within the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation, and draws nature-lovers near and far for its remarkable, mysterious beauty. The canyon walls climb 120 feet above the streambed, making it a cathedral of red-hued, swirling sandstone.
3# Itaimbezinho Canyon, Brazil
The biggest canyon in Brazil lurks near the border of the southern states of Santa Catarina and the Rio Grande do Sul, inside the Parque Nacional dos Aparados da Serra. Nearly 6 miles long and a mile deep, the Itaimbezinho can be either spectacularly beautiful or treacherously deadly. Or both. The famous Itaimbezinho canyon – Itaimbe in Tupi-Guarani means “cut rock” – is located in the Serra do Mar, Brazilian Highlands. The delimited trails take the visitors on incredible tours, discovering landscapes such as cliffs and waterfalls. The park also has a Visitor’s Center and guide service to welcome the tourists.
4# Zebra Slot Canyon, USA
Zebra Canyon is a stunning and unique out-and-back canyon located in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Zebra Slot Canyon is a very short slot canyon, named for its striped canyon walls. It’s a gorgeous spot, maybe not quite as pretty as Antelope Canyon in Arizona, but since you can explore this on your own without a guide or tour group, it’s more fun.
Hiking Zebra Slot Canyon can be a little tricky. Finding the entrance to the slot canyon can be difficult unless you have good directions and navigating the slot canyon can be challenging. Hike through the narrow slot to find the beautiful pink and white striped pattern along the sides of the canyon walls.
5# Blyde River Canyon, South Africa
The canyon is the third-largest in the world and is South Africa’s fourth most-visited tourist attraction, drawing almost a million visitors a year. The canyon’s scale and beauty make a trip here a memorable experience, especially if you’re lucky enough to visit on a fine day. Epic rock formations tower above the forested slopes and eagle-eye views abound at the dramatic meeting of the Drakensberg Escarpment and the Lowveld.
6# Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, Iceland
Fjadrargljufur is a stunning and magical canyon close to Kirkjubæjarklaustur in the South East of Iceland. Fjaðrárgljúfur is a 2 km (1.24 mi) long canyon in the South-East Region of Iceland. The canyon is about 100 meters deep and through it runs a small freshwater stream. There are speculations that Justin Bieber was influential in introducing Fjaðrárgljúfur to other travelers, as he shot parts of his video “I’ll show you” in the canyon, and in other beautiful locations in South-Iceland during his Iceland visit back in 2015.
Fjaðrárgljúfur is believed to have formed at the end of the last ice age, or about 9 thousand years ago. When the glacier retreated, a lagoon formed in the valley behind the canyon. It’s known to be one of the most picturesque places in Iceland. (Source)
7# Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, China
The Yaluzhangbu (Chinese) Grand Canyon, also known by its Tibetan name: the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, is located in Tibet and lies where the Himalayas, the Hengduan Range, and the Nyainqentanglha Range all come together.
From under the sea to the towering mountains of Tibet, the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon in the Chinese Himalayas is regarded by many as the deepest canyon in the world. This canyon is a major tourist attraction, equal in wonder with the Potala Palace and Mount Everest.
8# Subway Canyon, USA
The Subway is the most popular backcountry hike in Zion, and for good reason! In a park of exemplary beauty, The Subway is one of the most diverse and beautiful canyons. The Subway is a short, spectacular section of the Left Fork of North Creek. The canyon system is called the Great West Canyon, including both the Left and Right Forks.
Due to its popularity, The Subway is managed under a quota system. Reservations are distributed by lottery several months in advance and are highly recommended.
9# Samariá Gorge, Greece
If there is one thing you do when visiting the Greek island of Crete, you must hike Samaria Gorge. There are certain epic hikes throughout the world, and the hike through Samaria Gorge National Park is one of them. What makes Samaria Gorge epic? At 16 kilometers, Samaria Gorge is one of the longest gorges in Europe (some sources say the longest, others the second longest), is located in Crete’s only national park, and provides stunning views all day long. The Samaria Gorge hike starts at the Xyloskalo trailhead at an altitude of 1,250 meters in the midst of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) and ends in the coastal village of Agia Roumeli.
Samaria Gorge has been inhabited since the beginning of time. There are remnants of Byzantine churches and Venetian castles. At the halfway point is the remains of a more modern settlement. Until 1962, families lived in the tiny village of Samaria in the shade of the soaring walls of the gorge. After the area was converted into a national park, all human inhabitants of Samaria Gorge were relocated. (Source)
10# Taroko Gorge, Taiwan
Taroko Gorge, Taiwan, sometimes called the Taiwanese Grand Canyon, is the country’s premier scenic attraction, along with Alishan and Sun Moon Lake. Popular as it is among tour groups, you can still enjoy many of Taroko Gorge’s attractions in relative silence if you get an early start or do one of the gorge’s many hikes. However, if you visit Taroko Gorge during a long weekend or especially the latter half of the Lunar New Year holiday in Taiwan, be prepared for some serious crowds!
11# Weano Gorge, Australia
Enter the enchanting chasm of Weano Gorge and follow the winding corridors of striking red rock through two billion years of the Earth’s history to inviting rock pools and waterfalls. A 2-hour flight from Perth will bring you to Paraburdoo or Newman, the closest airports to Karijini National Park, or a 15-hours drive from Perth, via the Great Northern Highway. Join a guided tour to experience the thrill of jumping down waterfalls and scaling the epic rock face at “The Centre of the Earth”.
There are also easy walk trails around the top of Weano Gorge. These are a delight after good winter rains when the colors of spring flowers fill the surrounding plains. Camping is available 10 kilometers south of Weano Gorge – see Rock wallabies at dawn and dusk, plus some 133 varieties of birds and 92 species of amphibians and reptiles that call Karijini home.
Tourists are advised to check for alerts and road/park closures before commencing their travel on www.emergency.wa.gov.au and https://alerts.dbca.wa.gov.au
12# Al Siq, Jordan
Al Siq Canyon is the entrance to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra. The Siq is a narrow canyon that is 1.2 kilometers long, and visitors need to walk through the 80 meter high cliffs to reach the sites at Petra. The Nabatean city of Petra is located in Jordan’s desert where visitors will see jaw-dropping sites including Al-Khazneh and Ad Deir. Each monastery and temple in Petra is carved from sandstone into the cliff faces. It is believed that only 15% of this ancient city is visible with an astonishing 85% still to be uncovered. The entrance to Petra through Al Siq Canyon is a thrilling way to begin a trip to this world-renowned ancient site. (Source)
13# Colca Canyon, Peru
Colca Canyon, a river canyon in southern Peru famed as one of the world’s deepest, is a well-known trekking destination. It’s a habitat for the giant Andean condor, on view from overlooks like Cruz del Condor. The canyon landscape comprises a green valley and remote traditional villages with terraced agriculture that predates the Incas.
Most first-time visitors to Peru make a beeline for the ruins of Machu Picchu, without realizing that they are passing within a bus ride of the epic Colca Canyon. Slicing through the High Andes like a giant fissure for more than 100km, Colca is the world’s second deepest canyon, approximately 3,400m at its deepest point — a shade shallower that the nearby Cotahuasi Canyon and nearly twice as deep as the US’ Grand Canyon.
14# Verdon Gorge, France
The deepest gorge in France, Les Gorges du Verdon, is one of the must-see natural wonders of central Provence. While there is no road up the gorge, there is a breathtaking circular “corniche” route around the rim of the gorge, and plenty of opportunities for boat and kayak hire on the lower end of the gorge.
The Gorges du Verdon (also known as the ‘Verdon Gorge’ in English) is especially famous for its turquoise color, and it does not disappoint! The bright blue hue comes from glacial minerals and is so striking in person. It’s best seen from the lookout and on the water. This guide to the Gorges du Verdon covers the best viewpoints, renting a boat, and where to stay to make the most of your trip here.
15# Grand Canyon, USA
Both breathtaking and overwhelming at the same time, the 1.6-kilometer deep and 16-kilometer wide Grand Canyon is a testament to 2,000 million years of geological history. Powerful and inspiring, Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona is no doubt on every traveler’s must-see list. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is arguably one of the USA’s most famous landmarks and encompasses nearly 5,000 square kilometers of plummeting canyons, multicolored rocks, dramatic cliffs, and stunning ravines.
There are plenty of overlooks from which you can admire the view, including Mather Point and the Toroweap Overlook. Even though the favorite activity at Grand Canyon is to stand on the edge and overlook the beautiful landscape, there are many other ways to enjoy the park’s natural splendor. Take a mule ride along the South Rim trail or take a white-water rafting trip down the Colorado River.
16# Copper Canyon, Mexico
Located the northwestern state of Chihuahua, this system of canyons is both longer and deeper than the Grand Canyon. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Copper Canyon is known for its spectacular landscapes and opportunities for outdoor adventure. El Chepe (Ferrocarril Barrancas del Cobre) is the most popular way to get around Copper Canyon. The train runs 418mi (673km) from Chihuahua to Los Mochis, making many stops along the way. Make the most of your time in Copper Canyon by hopping on and off the train line, stopping to explore the small towns and incredible natural beauty.
Most travelers start in Los Mochis and travel west to east. For the best views along the way, sit on the right-hand side.
17# Peekaboo Canyon, USA
Peek-A-Boo, also commonly known as Red Canyon, is an easy, short hike (0.7 miles round trip) into one of the most beautiful slot canyons in the area. The stunning orange, sandstone walls make an amazing backdrop for photographs. In the canyon, you will find ancient Moqui Steps climbing the canyon wall as well as logs balanced between the canyon walls above you. Keep in mind, deep sand makes the route to Peek-A-Boo difficult, and in some cases, impassable. In recent years, flash floods have pushed boulders into the Peek-A-Boo Canyon, creating drop-offs that may pose challenges for visitors. Floods frequently change the height and difficulty of these obstacles by depositing or washing away sediment and debris.
18# Spooky Gulch, USA
Located along Hole in the Rock Road just southeast of Escalante, Utah, are some of the finest slot canyons in the world. Peek-A-Boo, Spooky, and Brimstone gulches, are just three of the dozens found off of Hole in the Rock Road. These slot canyons started as mere cracks and fissures in the sandstone, but over time, flash floods ripped into the cracks, creating the amazing and serpentine slot canyons that we now enjoy. These three slot canyons are nicely lined up in a neat row, which allows the hiking enthusiast to hike through all three in one afternoon.
Distance – 4.8 miles round trip
Approximate hiking time – 3 to 4 hours
Elevation at the trailhead – 4960 feet
Elevation at Peek-A-Boo Gulch – 4720 feet
Elevation at Spooky Gulch – 4640 feet
Elevation at Brimstone Gulch – 4580 feet
Elevation gain – 380 feet
Difficulty – Moderate, extremely confined spaces, if claustrophobic best to avoid.
Trail – sand
Amount of water recommended – 2-3 liters
Bathrooms – None
Season to hike – can be hiked all year long, avoid during July through August due to extreme heat and flash floods
Permits – None needed
19# The Fish River Canyon, Namibia
The Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon worldwide after the Grand Canyon in the USA. The Canyon forms part of the state-run Ais-Ais Richtersveld Transfontier Park. Entrance to the Park is situated 10 kilometers from the well-known viewpoint of Hell`s Bend at the Hobas Restcamp.
Visitors have to report here. It is important to know that during the summer month the Canyon hike is closed due to the heat. The Fish River Hiking Trail can be conducted during the months April – September and can be completed within 4 to 5 days, depending on fitness. It covers a length of 85 km and the descent into the Canyon is only allowed for hikers doing the trail. Day-visitors are not allowed to climb into the Canyon.
20# Dadès Gorge, Morocco
As the local saying goes, the wind has a son who lives in Boumalne, which is why he rips down this valley to visit him in winter. Sitting in the rain shadow of the Central Atlas, the Dadès Gorge presents a dramatic landscape: ancient rust-red and mauve mountains stripped back to zigzagging layers of strata and knobbly rock formations. A rush of springtime water puddles in the valley where irrigation channels siphon it off to fields of wheat and orchards of fig, almond and olive trees.
The Dades Valley and the Dades Gorge in Morocco are definitely one of the must-see places. Beautiful old Kasbahs and spectacular red-colored canyons, formed by the Dades River are waiting for you to explore! There are plenty of things to see inside the Dades Valley: Including the breathtaking Dades Gorge, the spectacular winding road, and the monkey fingers.