World's top 10 best canyons and gorges to explore beyond the Grand Canyon

In the desert lands of Arizona, there's a very famous Grand Canyon, but across the world there are many other grand canyons. Some are deeper than the Grand Canyon, some are wider and a few get spruiked as contenders for the immeasurable title of world's largest canyon. Regardless of the numbers, these 10 canyons and gorges are grand indeed.


Let's start at the top. The Kali Gandaki separates two of the world's 10 highest mountains, and when measured from the tip of Dhaulagiri to the riverbed – a vertical distance of about 5.5 kilometres – it's considered to be the deepest gorge in the world. Trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit get a good sense of the Kali Gandaki, with the western half of the route following the gorge between the mountains. It's hard to get a perspective of scale from down here, so it's better admired from the likes of Poon Hill or the slopes of the Annapurnas.

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Yes, an actual Grand Canyon. In the United States. But not the Grand Canyon. Splitting the heart of Yellowstone National Park, this 40-kilometre-long canyon begins in a flurry of colour as the Yellowstone River pours over two waterfalls and into the 300-metre-high jaws of Artist Point. True to its name, the cliffs here are a canvas of colours – yellows, purples and reds naturally painted onto the white rock. There are easy walks along the canyon's north and south rims, or you can follow Uncle Tom's Trail steeply down to the canyon floor and the base of Lower Yellowstone Falls, which are almost twice the height of Niagara Falls.

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Modestly, South Africa claims only a podium position, claiming its spectacular Blyde River Canyon as the third largest in the world. Not to be outdone entirely, however, it's often described as the world's greenest canyon. At about 27 kilometres in length and up to 15 kilometres wide, the canyon is one of the easiest to view, with the Panorama Route road out of Graskop winding along the canyon's top. Here you'll find baboons grazing beside the road, river-scoured channels at Bourke's Luck Potholes, and the canyon's most stunning lookout at the Three Rondavels, where the cliffs rise up to 1300 metres above the river.


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Africa's second great canyon is just across the South African border, in southern Namibia. Cutting through the dry, desert-like Koubis plateau, Fish River Canyon – sometimes billed as the second largest in the world – is around 160 kilometres in length and plunges to depths of 550 metres. It has a few rim-top viewpoints, but this is a place to explore from within, on one of Africa's great hikes. An 85-kilometre trail, only open from May to September, winds through the gorge, beginning with a knee-shattering, chain-assisted descent before scrambling through boulders and criss-crossing the riverbed. In the five or six days of the walk, you'll become very intimate with Fish River Canyon.

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Sounding more like an Ang Lee film than a natural wonder, Tiger Leaping Gorge is a stunning gash in the Yunnan landscape and one of the deepest gorges in the world. From the bed of the Jinshajiang River to the mountain tops, it's a heady 3900 vertical metres. Tiger Leaping Gorge has the double attraction of being one of China's finest hikes. The 22-kilometre "high trail" begins near popular Lijiang and threads the gorge to the village of Walnut Grove. The trail's switchbacks are infamous, but the going – albeit narrow at times – is not as laborious as some in the region might try to convince you.

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The only thing grander than the Picos de Europa's name – the so-called Peaks of Europe – is the filament-thin gorge that splits these mountains near Spain's northern coast. The Garganta del Cares cuts an 11-kilometre-long line through the range that's almost as deep as the Grand Canyon, and far narrower. Running the length of the gorge is an airy and exposed walking trail that's one of the most thrilling non-Alpine hikes in Europe. The trail runs high above the river – 200 metres above in parts – and is cut into the cliffs themselves. It's wide and safe, but you won't want to become too absorbed in the scenery …

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Head about 1000 kilometres south from the Grand Canyon and you come to the edge of Copper Canyon. Famed among trail runners as the setting for the book Born to Run, Copper Canyon is actually a series of six individual canyons, four of which are claimed to be deeper than the Grand Canyon. There's a reputation for lawlessness through its depths, but you can easily view the canyons on the Ferrocarril Chihuahua-Pacifico train, which burrows (almost literally, given its 87 tunnels) through the Copper Canyon.


Guinness World Records has listed this gorge in northern Greece as the deepest in the world in proportion to its width, even though it's less than a kilometre from the rim to its deepest point. The narrow gorge cuts through the Zagorohoria collection of stone villages in the Pindos Mountains. Just outside the main town of Monodendri, you can view the gorge from the rim-top Oxia lookout, but the best way to experience it is on foot. Steep paths drop into the gorge, where you can head for the village of Kipi to find the beautiful stone arch bridges that define the region.

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More than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, the much-visited Colca Canyon is famed for the Andean condors that soar past its cliffs. For most visitors, this means an early morning stop at the Cruz del Condor lookout, where the canyon plunges 1200 metres to the Colca River. But in Colca terms, this is a shallow bit of the canyon. In other places, Colca Canyon is up to 3200 metres deep. Set among 6000-metre-high Andean peaks, it'd almost be a contender for deepest canyon in the world, except that you only have to travel about 100 kilometres west to find Cotahuasi Canyon, which is up to 100 metres deeper.

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It's perhaps inevitable there would be a place labelled as the Grand Canyon of Europe. That place is the Gorges du Verdon. One of Europe's most famous and popular river gorges, Verdon cuts through the foothills of the Provencal Alps, with cliffs that rise up to 700 metres above the vibrant green river. With popularity comes options. You can drive the cliff-top roads to peer down into the gorge, you can hike through much of the gorge on the beautiful Sentier Martel trail, or you can take the popular option and hire a canoe or kayak to splash beneath the limestone cliffs.

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