When it comes to exploring the natural wonders that are canyons, there is no better place in the world to visit than the US. It should come as no surprise to learn that the Grand Canyon in Arizona is the largest structure of its kind in the United States, but it is far from the only such location worth discovering.
There are over 65 canyons in the US, and each one has its own unique reasons for spending a day (or more) at. However, we realise that the time available on a USA holiday is always limited, so we have put together our top 10 favourite canyons that we think should go straight to the top of your list if you are planning a trip to the USA soon:
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Surely the best place to discover canyons in the US, the state of Arizona is home to a wide range of fascinating gorges. Among the most special is Antelope Canyon, which can be found on land owned by the Native American Navajo people, just east of the city of Page.
Antelope Canyon consists of two sections, both of which are spectacular. However, we recommend prioritising a visit to ‘Upper Antelope Canyon’, as it is much more accessible, and you are far more likely to witness the incredible sight of a shaft of sunlight beaming down to the floor through openings in the canyon roof. Pre-planning your visit to Antelope Canyon is essential, as it can only be accessed with the supervision of a professional guide.
Buckskin Gulch, Utah
After Arizona, Utah is probably the second-most-loved state among those hoping to see some amazing canyons during their visit to America.
Buckskin Gulch - which can be found between the cities of Kanab and the previously mentioned Page, Arizona - is allegedly the longest ‘slot’ (narrow) canyon not just in the US but the whole world. The gulch is particularly popular among hikers and, if you are feeling energetic, it is possible to walk through the 20-mile canyon in one day.
Unlike Antelope Canyon, Buckskin Gulch can be accessed without the assistance of a guide by car via Highway 89 or 89A.
Nine Mile Canyon, Utah
The misleadingly-named Nine Mile Canyon, also in Utah, is around 40 miles long and serves as a particularly fascinating example of why visiting canyons in the US remains such a popular holiday activity.
The canyon (which spans the eastern Utah counties of Carbon and Duchesne) is affectionately described as ‘the world’s largest art gallery’ due to its beautiful and intricate rock art carvings. Many of the carvings – which are thought to be made up of at least 10,000 individual images – are impeccably preserved, despite the earliest (created by the ancient Fremont people) being dated at around AD 950.
Road access to Nine Mile Canyon has been made much easier in recent years, thanks to improvements funded by the developers responsible for the nearby West Tavaputs gas field.
Canyon de Chelly, Arizona
Like Antelope Canyon, Canyon de Chelly in Arizona falls within the boundaries of land owned by the Navajo people. Part of one of the most visited national monuments in the US (which also includes the del Muerto and Monument canyons), Canyon de Chelly is the only location of its kind to be entirely owned and managed by Native Americans.
An archaeologically stunning area, Canyon de Chelly can only be explored with the help of a Navajo guide or park ranger, but it is well worth the small amount of planning required. The canyon is most commonly visited by car and viewed from above, but Navajo-organised horseback tours of the floor can also be pre-booked.
Bryce Canyon, Utah
The next location on our list is, in fact, not a canyon as its name would suggest; instead, the sprawling Bryce Canyon in southwestern Utah is a series of natural amphitheatres formed by headward erosion. However, there is not much chance you will care what Bryce’s technical description is once you have taken in the truly spectacular views it has to offer.
Bryce Canyon is perfect for exploring by car, as there is a dedicated and well-travelled scenic route that provides easy access to 13 of its memorable viewpoints. For the more intrepid explorer, however, a series of hikes (ranging from easy to strenuous) are available, whilst its legendarily clear skies also make it a fantastic spot for stargazing expeditions.
Palo Duro Canyon, Texas
The third and final state which we feel is home to some truly must-visit canyons is Texas. Known as the state’s very own version of the Grand Canyon, Palo Duro Canyon (found near the two cities of Amarillo and the aptly-named Canyon) is notable for its width, spanning a remarkable 20 miles at some points.
A visit to Palo Duro is perfect if you are looking to see some genuinely amazing rock formations, and you will surely be left amazed by natural structures such as the Lighthouse Rock, which is so intricately and perfectly shaped that it is hard to believe it was not designed by an architect. A range of tours and self-guided trails are available to those wishing to explore this and other nearby highlights.
Glen Canyon, Arizona
Back in Arizona, Glen Canyon is part of the Vermillion Cliffs area, which can be found in the north of the state. The canyon is known for having been flooded in 1963 due to the building of the Glen Canyon Dam, which led to the creation of the Lake Powell reservoir – a controversial move at the time but one which has now helped to make the area a hugely popular summer holiday destination.
Although the leisure-focused Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is visited by millions of people annually, access to the canyon itself is difficult and should only be attempted by those who are prepared to engage in some challenging, off-trail hiking.
Zion Canyon, Utah
Found in southwestern Utah, Zion Canyon differs from the rest of our choices in that it is much ‘greener’ than most canyons in the US. The typical, desert-like canyon landscape is not all you will find at Zion, with a large forested area offering something a little different for visitors to enjoy.
The canyon is located within Zion National Park and therefore benefits from being managed by a team who actively encourage visitors looking to explore it in various ways. Perhaps the most exciting of these methods are ‘canyoneering’ – a demanding pursuit involving hiking, swimming and orienteering, but one which allows those who are brave enough to take it on an opportunity to truly experience the canyon in all its glory.
Santa Elena Canyon, Texas
The much-revered Big Bend National Park is home to many natural highlights, including an amazing diversity of plants, birds, reptiles and, of course, canyons. Perhaps the most striking of these is Santa Elena, an imposing landscape which conjures up romantic images of the old Wild West.
Part of one of the largest yet most isolated national parks in the whole of America, a trip to Santa Elena Canyon would be perfect for anyone looking to really get away from it all and be at one with the wonders of nature. Despite its remote nature, however, a range of backpacker tours of the canyon and surrounding areas are held regularly, meaning it can be explored by anyone who enjoys hiking.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
Of course, we could not complete our list of canyons in the US without mentioning the daddy of them all, Arizona’s legendary Grand Canyon. Nearly 300 miles long, 18 miles wide and more than a mile deep, the largest of all US canyons is fully deserving of its iconic status.
Incomparable in its starkness and historical significance, it is easy to see why the Grand Canyon is easily the most visited location on our list. With more than five million visitors flocking to see its unforgettable landscape every year, the canyon is appropriately well-served by all kinds of activity providers, meaning you can pretty much discover it however you would prefer – rafting, hiking, skydiving and even helicopter tours are all popular choices, but they just represent a few of the many options available.