The Seven Summits are easy to decide:
Pick the highest peak on each continent and, voila, you have your list. The “Seven Canyons”? Not so easy. Deepest? Sure, that could be fun. Largest? Well, you could estimate volume, but is that better than deepest? It’s not really worth the debate. Instead, we took a more aesthetic line and asked longtime Grand Canyon guide and world traveler Bruce Corey, owner of Canyon Tough Adventures
, for his list of the seven “best” canyons in the world.
1. Colca Canyon, Peru
Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon (and at 13,650 feet deep touted as the world’s deepest, though it isn’t), Colca Canyon’s colorful 45-mile length is rife with cultural history, with Inca and pre-Inca settlement and indigenous peoples who maintain ancestral traditions. Its main attraction is the endangered Andean condor, which regularly float on thermals at close range to tourists, especially at the pass at Cruz del Condor, the edge of a 1,200-foot drop.
2. Copper Canyon, Mexico
The Barrancas del Cobre, six canyons formed by six rivers draining the western side of the Sierra Tarahumara, form a network larger and more complex than the Grand Canyon. Thousands of feet of elevation separate the canyons’ two ecosystems, a high alpine environment and a sub-tropical forest climate. The Tarahumara, the indigenous, natural ultramarathoners made famous in Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run, call Copper Canyon home. The Copper Canyon Railway, a 400-mile, 16-hour trip from Los Mochis to Chihuahua, climbs 8,000 feet over 36 bridges and through 87 tunnels on its breathtaking route.
3. Echidna Chasm, Australia
This sandstone joint in the Bungle Bungle Range in Western Australia’s Purnululu National Park is only a 1.5-mile walk from the parking lot. Its narrows slot down to six feet wide in spots, with 600-foot walls above, bouncing sunlight around to glow red and orange, making it a photographer’s dream.
4. Fish River Canyon, Namibia
At 1,800 feet deep, 100 miles long, and 18 miles wide, Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa and Namibia’s second-most popular tourist attraction (behind Etosha National Park). The Fish River Canyon Trail, a stout 54-mile hike along the Fish River, is one of the most popular in southern Africa.
5. Grand Canyon, United States
Probably the most famous canyon in the world (and one of the Seven Natural Wonders), the Grand Canyon receives five million visitors each year, mostly to the South Rim but plenty from boaters tackling the 12- to 18-day drip down the Colorado River, which cut the canyon over millions of years. At 6,000 feet deep, 277 miles long, and up to 18 miles wide, it’s not the world’s deepest or longest, but the view from either rim might be the most visually arresting (and accessible) in the world. Plus there’s two billion years of exposed geology visible by hiking the 4,400 feet from rim to river.
6. Verdon Gorge, France
The cool turquoise-green Verdon River cut this canyon in southeastern France (top photo, above), hailed as Europe’s most scenic canyon, 2,300 feet deep and 13 miles long. Rock climbers have developed more than 1,500 routes along the limestone walls of the gorge, and hikers, kayakers, and motorists visit this “Grand Canyon du Verdon,” close in proximity to the French Riviera.
7. Yarlung Tsangpo, Tibet/China
A lot of folks say the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon is the deepest canyon in the world, and it’s definitely longer than the U.S.’s Grand Canyon, making it one of the world’s largest. As it passes between the Namcha Barwa and Gyala Peri mountain ranges, it’s 16,000 feet deep, and explorations of the gorge by boaters have led to nicknaming the Yarlung Tsangpo “The Everest of Rivers” because of its harrowing conditions. A full descent of the gorge has yet to be completed, although a group of kayakers completed a bold descent of the upper gorge in 2002.
Photos by Shutterstock, except for Echidna Chasm (Andy Tyler) and Yarlang Tsangpo (NASA).