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Bryce Canyon
JFL Photography | Adobe Stock

10 Jaw-Dropping U.S. Canyons To Explore That Aren’t the Grand Canyon

SmarterTravel

The Grand Canyon is the single most famous canyon in the United States, but it’s not the only one. While everyone should make plans to visit the Grand Canyon at some point in their life, there are dozens of other astounding canyons and geological marvels that deserve equal attention. Stunning, rocky landscapes across states like Utah, Nevada, and Arizona will capture the heart of any explorer, be they amateur or expert. And while the hiking trails and views are the primary draws, these unbelievable sites offer plenty of other attractions you won’t want to miss. 

Editor’s Note: Please be aware that some of these canyons may not be open to the public until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Andrea Izzotti | Adobe Stock

One of the most Instagrammable canyons in the world is Antelope Canyon located in Page, Arizona. It is a slot canyon, which is a narrow, deep gorge with dramatic rock walls. Take a tour through the painted grooves of Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon with a local Navajo nation guide. Once all the perfect photos have been snapped, head over to the marina for a boat tour or take a more private Hidden Canyon Kayak Tour through narrower, red sandstone walls.

Horseshoe Canyon, Utah

Horseshoe Bend, Utah
Karl Le | Adobe Stock

Horseshoe Canyon, named for its distinctive shape that features a mesmerizing ring of water, is a must-see extension of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. Aside from its breathtaking natural features, Horseshoe Canyon is famous for its several-thousand-year-old rock art known as “The Great Gallery.” Stand in awe of these well-preserved, life-sized drawings of humanoid figures left by the area’s great ancestors. Love horseback riding? Obtain a free permit to take horses and other pack mules through Horseshoe’s riding trail.

The Needles at Canyonlands, Utah

Elephant Canyon, Canyonland National Park
lightphoto2 | Adobe Stock

Another incredible section of Utah’s Canyonlands is the impressive geological feature known as “The Needles.” This tall forest of Cedar Mesa Sandstone spires towers hundreds of feet above beautiful grasslands and canyons. Take in the sublime, warm hues of these striated rocks via hiking trails or four-wheel-drive roads. After, spend the night under the stars at one of the area’s 26 campsites. 

Pastel Canyon, Nevada

Pastel Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Billy McDonald | Adobe Stock

Located in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, the Pastel Canyon is a sea of soft pink, orange, and white rocks that calms the soul. Its light hues stand in contrast to other canyon rocks across the U.S., like the famous fiery Red Rock Canyon in the same state. Also known as the Pink Canyon, this easy hike takes you to an entirely new world than that of the more well-known red and white Fire Wave less than a mile away.

Waimea Canyon, Hawaii

Waimea Canyon, Kaua'i, Hawaii
Mike Liu | Adobe Stock

The Hawaiian island of Kaua’i is home to Waimea Canyon, an impressive geological feature formed not only by erosion, but by a major volcanic collapse. Also described as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea is more than 3,500 feet deep and 10 miles long. The red-orange rock is partially covered by the lush, green leaves of trees, making it notably different from the more barren canyons found in the desserts of the American west. There are a number of hiking trails ranging from beginner (Waimea Canyon Lookout) to expert level (Kukui Trail). For a more panoramic experience, book a helicopter tour. 

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Bryce Canyon, Utah
Bill45 | Adobe Stock

This Utah State Park consists of 20 miles of stunning views, the most iconic of which are the hoodoos (tall, narrow towers of canyon rock). But while Bryce Canyon makes for an awe-inspiring day trip, it is equally impressive at night. Witness over 7,500 stars shining so brightly that you’ll cast a shadow even in the darkest hours. The park offers astronomy presentations on Wednesdays and Fridays in the summer, and each new moon also brings with it the opportunity to take a guided night hike to observe the sparkling cosmos. If that’s not enough, Bryce Canyon even hosts an Astronomy Festival.

Zion Canyon, Utah

Zion Canyon, Utah
Julien | Adobe Stock

Another Utah marvel is Zion National Park, where one of the most popular treks is actually not on dry land. The tightest space in Zion Canyon is a gorge called The Narrows, whose walls rise 1,000 feet high. The Virgin River flows through The Narrows, and can be as small as 20 feet across. Wade in the cool waters of the river as you hike and take in the sublime scenery around you. Visitors must be careful, though, of the slippery rocks and uneven path. Also do some weather research before you go, as this area can be subject to flash floods.

Kings Canyon, California

Road through Kings Canyon, California
Galyna Andrushko | Adobe Stock

Kings Canyon is an incredibly diverse landscape consisting of imposing mountains, enchanting meadows, and exciting caves. This California park is also home to the world’s largest remaining grove of sequoia trees. Snap photos of the powerful Kings River or kayak in the calmer Hume Lake. Have a picnic at Cedar Grove, or sign up for horseback riding to experience the trails in an entirely new way. With so much to explore, plan to spend more than just one day here. 

The Wave, Arizona

The Wave, Arizona
oscity | Adobe Stock

Straddling the northern border of Arizona is a rock formation made of hardened, windblown sand. These majestic crests, troughs, and multicolored swirls of rock dubbed “The Wave” form one of the most exclusive canyon destinations in the United States. To preserve the area, foot traffic has been severely limited to only a few dozen people per day. Because of this, there is a lottery system in place, and anyone who hopes to win a permit must apply four months in advance. It seems like quite the obstacle course, but hikers and photographers know that being able to see The Wave in person is certainly worth it.

Zebra Slot Canyon, Utah

Zebra Canyon, Utah
Fyle | Adobe Stock

Zebra Canyon is an extremely narrow slot canyon in Utah that is ideal for those adventurous souls who enjoy a bit of a challenge. Hiking through Zebra slot canyon requires a slight degree of athleticism, as it gets so narrow in some places that walking on the floor is no longer an option; visitors must support themselves using the canyon walls. It’s not necessarily an expert level hike, but if you are claustrophobic, this isn’t a place for you. Those who can hack it will enjoy a one-of-a-kind, interactive experience they won’t soon forget. 

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