Many of you know that we’re gearing up for our first Grand Canyon hiking trip in a few weeks. Canyon hikes have become a staple for us in our #parkchasing travels. Thankfully, there are TONS of great canyon hikes in the National Park Service.
If you’re up for a physical challenge or you want to see some of the most scenic places in the United States, get ready. East coast. West coast. If there’s a place to peer over a nail-biting cliff in a national park, we’ve got you covered. Here’s our list (in no particular order) of the best canyon hikes in the National Park Service:
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
We’re listing Grand Canyon National Park first on our list of best canyon hikes in the National Park Service because it’s the one we’re most familiar with from our trip planning research. With options to hike down from both the South Rim and the North Rim, and with rim-to-rim trail options, Grand Canyon offers a lifetime of hiking trips. The most popular routes include the Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trails departing from the South Rim. Hermit’s Rest Trail and the North Kaibab Trail rank high on many lists of GCNP routes.
Permits are required for camping and you’ll want to make sure you spend some time training. The heat, altitude
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Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
At more than 2,700 feet deep and only 500 feet across, Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado carries some significant “Woah!” power. The canyon gets its name from the dark rocks and minimal sunshine that makes its way to the canyon floor. While there aren’t any maintained routes from canyon rim to canyon floor, there are options for inner canyon day hiking from both the North and South Rim.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park consistently ranks among the best hiking trails in all of the National Park Service. In part, it’s because of the park’s unusual crimson-colored hoodoos (rock formations that form the walls and geological wonders of the park). Bryce Canyon National Park is home to the largest collection of hoodoos on the planet. Queen’s Garden, Peekaboo Trails and the Fairyland Loop rank among the top canyon hiking trails in the park.
Zion National Park, Utah
There’s no way to write a list of the best canyon hikes in the National Park Service without including Zion National Park. Millions of people flock to Zion Canyon each year to hike along the Virgin River as it flows through the canyon floor, to hike the world-famous Narrows Hike, and to try the nail-biting heights of Angel’s Landing Trail.
Zion has something to offer every skill level of hiker. If climbing is more your style, try scaling the walls of Zion Canyon or dropping into one of the park’s many slot canyons.
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Death Valley National Park, California
The land of extremes. Even though Death Valley holds records as the hottest, driest, and lowest national park, it’s also home to some of the best canyon hikes. By tackling the trails during the cooler months of November to March, hikers can experience hundreds of miles of trails ranging from the lowest point at Badwater Basin, to peaks at more than 11,000 feet.
Death Valley’s not just home to one large canyon. Instead, the landscape is home to hundreds of different valleys, slot canyons, and areas to hike. Some of the top canyon trails to explore: Fall Canyon, Golden Canyon, Mosaic Canyon, and Sidewinder Canyon.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone was one of the first places in the National Park Service where we encountered the majesty of a canyon. At 20 miles long and more than 1,000 feet deep, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone can give that eerie feeling of staring at a green screen image. I remember saying when we visited, “Is this really real?“
The park offers hiking options on both rims of the canyon as well as two opportunities for inner canyon hiking. Uncle Tom’s Trail, established in 1898, drops visitors more than 500 feet into the canyon at the base of the Lower Falls. With more than 300 rickety metal stairs, it’s not for everyone! The Seven Mile Hole Trail is the only trail that travels to the bottom of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, dropping more than 1,000 feet in less than 2.5 miles.
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Big Bend National Park, Texas
Santa Elena Canyon is one of the most popular destinations in Big Bend National Park. Located on the southern border of the park, the canyon trail travels in to the heart of the canyon via a moderate 1.7 mile out-and-back hike. The midpoint leads directly to the edge of the Rio Grande River, which hosts popular one-day and three-day guided river trips through the Santa Elena.
Other popular canyon hiking options in Big Bend include trails to Boquillas Canyon and Hot Springs Canyon.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona
Although Glen Canyon National Recreation Area does not maintain any organized trails, if you’re willing to brave the desert wilderness, the canyon hiking options in the area are some of the best in the National Park Service. Boaters along the shores of Lake Powell can explore side canyons and passageways into slot canyons. Cathedral Wash offers a non-technical slot canyon hike departing from Lee’s Ferry. The Escalante District and Orange Cliffs area are two other backcountry areas worth exploring.