The granddaddy of all canyons is the Grand Canyon, in northern Arizona. The canyon stretches its arms to be 10 miles wide, mile deep and is about 277 miles long. It is a World Heritage Site and the country’s most popular natural wonder. It encompasses well over a million acres of desert plateaus split by water-cut canyons.
Before Zion was established as a national park in 1919, in 1915 over 100,000 visitors made the trek out to see it. For a few years, those numbers declined, but there was never a year after 1922 when the park entertained less than a hundred thousand visitors. Considering that the Lincoln Highway, the first paved road across the nation, was completed in 1927, that fact is astounding and a testament to its awe inspiring draw.
Paria River and Paria Canyon have been immortalized in the Paria-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Poets and hikers wax ecstatic when the sun hits the canyon walls and reflects off the valley floor, lighting up everything with a spiritual glow.
Cataract Canyon is known for its spectacular rapids, but there are times when rafters can take a break to explore some of her other assets. Favorite hikes take rafters to see petrified palm trees and ancient pictographs in Lathrop Canyon. Part of Canyonlands National Park, Cataract is home to big horn sheep, mule deer, leopard lizards and many birds including great horned owls and great blue heron.
Capitol Reef National Park contains brilliant red cliffs, hoodoos and spires as well as deep, sheer-walled canyons like Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge. Grand Wash has a hidden arch named Cassidy Arch after the famous outlaw Butch Cassidy, who once hid out in the narrow canyons in the area.
Most of the Glen Canyon floor was flooded when the dam created Lake Powell in 1963. But the maze of red canyons and rock formations remain.
Flaming Gorge was carved out of the Uinta Mountains over millions of years by the Green River as it cut its way through the “flaming, brilliant red gorge,” as noted by John Wesley Powell in 1896.
Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona, called the little cousin of the Grand Canyon, is the cute one. A forested corridor between Sedona and Flagstaff, it offers breathtaking views of steep canyon walls, meandering streams, vivid red cliffs and lush wetlands.
The San Rafael Swell is a kidney-shaped uplift with miles of desert canyons, odd outcrops, arches, slot canyons and stratified rocks. With destinations like Reds Canyon, Temple Mountain, Hidden Splendor and Little Grand Canyon, this 2,000-acre playground with one paved road is a hidden treasure.