There is a fantastical essence to the beauty of canyons and gorges that attract adventure and photography lovers like bees towards nectar. And if these mighty geological wonders have some mystery and breathtaking panoramic vista, there is no way you can stay away from visiting them at least once in your lifetime. This is why it is necessary to make a bucket list of visiting the most beautiful canyons in the world. If you have one, let’s cross check from the ones I believe must be in the list.
When the discussion of the most beautiful canyons begins, Grand Canyon is stated at most times in the same breath. In sheer size and sights, this American beauty has no comparison. What makes it more attractive is that it has something for everyone. The mule rides, helicopter tours, and free bus shuttle in the South Rim gives you a fair idea of the grandeur of the Grand Canyon. Walk on the Skywalk in the Hualapai Indian Reservation in the West Rim, and watch the dizzying mile-deep canyon through the glass bottom. Several hikes of different difficulty levels take you across the length and breadth of the Grand Canyon National Park. While the South Rim trails are for the amateurs and fit, the North Rim trails are for the experienced and athletic; trails here are more picturesque and may require props. If you have a day to enjoy the Canyon’s beauty, you can hike on the popular Bright Angel Trail or Rim Trail. The South Kaibab Trail is famous among regular hikers. In case you have more days and an adventurous mood, try rafting or boating across the Colorado River, flowing through the Canyon; the mightiness will unfold dramatically while you feel the exhilaration of the Rapids. Various well-appointed lodges and restaurants provide sustenance to those who wish to make a holiday out of a canyon visit.
Gorges du Verdon, France
The Grand Canyon of Europe (as some say) the Verdon Gorge is a gorgeous and verdant creation of nature. Its wild greenery, emerald Verdon River flowing between the limestone towering blocks, and quaint and pretty villages adjacent to the Vista have brought canyoneers and nature lovers from around the globe. Hiking on the rocky paths while you look around the green landscape and watch colorful (and endemic) birds flittering around may remind you of the places shown in the fantasy movies. When you reach the edge of the valley you might get dizzy with the drop, which is 2,300 feet at the deepest. The river is uncanny green and a boat ride along the towering cliffs is delightful. Nothing, however, can give you the best experiences in Gorges du Verdon than climbing it. Routes you can scale include La Demande, Eperon Sublime, Les Cauous, and Castapiagne Rouge. Some of these can be pretty tough, so you better come prepared. Another thing you cannot miss is driving on of the gorge perimeter. There is a chance you will find a village that popped out of a story book. Interesting places to visit include the Musée de Prehistorire at Quinson that has hundreds of prehistoric artifacts collected from the Gorge, the Notre Dame du Roc in Castellane, the 12th century Notre Dame chapel in Moustiers-Ste-Marie, or beautiful Sainte Croix Lake closeby.
Antelope Canyon, US
Antelope Canyon is a photographer's delight. The horizontal lines showing the layers of sedimentations, and the variation of the colors from red to orange to maroon off the walls within the canyon that shines when the sunlight peeks in through an opening at the top are remarkable. All you need to do to is walk through the canyon with a guide. Situated within the Indian Reservation, visitors are not allowed to loiter too far, but the allotted routes are themselves so breathtakingly beautiful that you will not want to get away, even though it might get pretty crowded. In case you want to avoid that, try waking up early and reaching before breakfast time. The Antelope Canyon has two parts almost similar – lower and upper. If you have lesser time in hand, get into the lower canyon. Your trip will end within an hour.
Loch Ard Gorge, Australia
Many years ago there was a shipwreck. It probably killed some men and drowned all their valuables. But what remained was the story being associated with a wonderful place carved out for millions of years into the earth’s canvas. Loch Ard Gorge is nothing less than captivating. The rugged cliffs abutting the blue waves create a pleasant cacophony. The view from a helicopter is similarly wondrous, and so is the road to the destination. The Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia, is one of the best drives in the world. In order to reach the gorge, you will be visiting the Port Campbell National Park, which has other geological wonders like the Twelve Apostles. Loch Ard Gorge, although is special. You can call it the beauty or the history associated, but the baseline is that a clear sky and the blue waves make the gorge come alive.
Little known around the world, Gandikota is a hidden gem in South India. The scenic canyon is carved by the Narmada River and has wonderful views of the surrounding greenery and lofty rocks that look like someone had stacked them up. The beauty is enhanced by the rich history of the gorge and its surrounding area. A 13th century fort by the same name stands in ruins with the canyon as its background. It seems like a silent reminder that the place has been appreciated for time immemorial. The nearby temples and the Jama Masjid mosque are worth visiting as well for their intricate architecture and cultural heritage.
Tiger Leaping Gorge, China
If gorges have dramatic landscape, the Tiger Leaping Gorge has a thrilling one. The wild and violent Yangtze River flows through the rugged valley at an elevation of over 8,000 feet cutting through the bare rocks of the gorge. The main hiking trail runs along the river just a few miles above. You will find yourself trekking through some easy and some steep and slippery paths while spotting several rare animals and birds along the way. When you look up, you will see snow capped mountains towering more than ten thousand feet above you. The gorge also has caves that feature cave drawings and artifacts. Apart from the trekking paths, there is a road along the river where vehicles ply. In case there is less time in your hands, you can get a basic beauty profile of the gorge on a tour bus. Along the way, there are resting places and shops that allow you a comfortable trek.
Fish River Canyon, Namibia
Fish River Canyon does not have anything to do with fish or river. Your first impression on seeing the enormous canyon will be, “Am I in Mars, or what?” It is rocky with desert-type vegetation, and the river flowing through may not be there during the dry season. Unlike many canyons, Fish River was not responsible for creating this stunner. It was actually the earth’s crust movements that collapsed the bottom of the valley to form the gorge. There are therefore, hot springs and sulphur springs in some places. The one at Ais Ais is quite popular. You can dip your feet in the heated waters and feel rejuvenated. Apart from the shrubs and small trees, you will spot a number of animals in the canyon wilderness, especially Klipspringers, which are pretty abundant here. If you are a bird watcher, you may be disappointed. Unless you are a very fit hiker and can sustain in high and dry temperatures, driving would be a better idea. Then again, seeing the entire canyon may not be that simple. Fish River Canyon is really large, some say it is second only to the Grand Canyon. While you are here, do see the site called Hell’s Corner or Hell’s Bend. This is the one place that truly flaunts the Fish River Canyon’s beauty.
Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan
Another comparison to the Grand Canyon, Charyn Canyon, they say is its little brother! The stunning canyon is God’s work of millions of years. The multi-colored cliffs are only proof to how hard. He worked in giving the canyon its unique character and beauty. Another proof is at the site called Valley of Castles, where the rocks are shaped like pillars of a castle. The Charyn River flowing dramatically through the canyon is pretty challenging for rafters. The best way to see Charyn Canyon is of course by hiking, but if you are short of time, you do have the option of driving through the craggy roads.
There are so many other beautiful canyons in the world that you would want to see in this lifetime before they succumb to extreme erosion and man-made machines. My list would not be complete without mentioning the Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepal, Marble Rocks in Madhya Pradesh in India, Cetina River Canyon in Croatia, Rugova Canyon in Kosovo, Blyde River (also known as the Motlatse) Canyon in South Africa, Waimea Canyon in Hawaii, and Taroko Gorge in Taiwan. Their mighty formations, craggy pathways, and spectacularly flowing rivers create enough drama for every visitor to attempt at exploring more than they planned for.