Secret Canyons in the US: 4 Hidden Gems to Explore


If canyons hold a special place in your heart, the United States are a treasure trove of these natural wonders. Some of the best spots to explore are the secret canyons in the US that are still off the radar.

Let’s face it, the Grand Canyon is remarkably famous, receiving more than five million visitors annually. About four million people flock to Antelope Canyon and two million to Bryce Canyon every year.

Admittedly, these iconic destinations deserve a spot on your bucket list. But there are plenty of intriguing gems away from the crowds. These hidden gorges spread out across the vast country are some of the most intriguing on the planet.

They are ever-changing geological wonders, living works of art showcasing the power of the elements. Their intricate landscapes continuously evolve in response to the forces of wind, water and tectonic movements.

Come along with us as we explore the depths of these wonderful landscapes:

Hell’s Canyon, Oregon/Idaho


Covering a vast region in Idaho and Oregon, Hell’s Canyon is the deepest in North America. At its deepest point, it reaches a breathtaking 8,043 feet (almost 2,500m). It has a maximum width of 10 miles (16km). Due to its remote location, it receives a lot less visitors than the popular canyons in the US. However, it is one of the best gorges for outdoor adventure lovers. It has amazing spots for camping and great terrain for hiking and whitewater rafting. Most of it is not accessible by vehicle; much of the adventure takes place on foot or by boat.

Though it traces its origins to volcanic activity, Snake River was responsible for carving out its intricate gorge. The action of floodwater from Glacial Lake Bonneville added to its depth and shape, accounting for the last major changes. From its highest point, the Seven Devils Mountains, you can see Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington.

Over the years, it has seen its fair share of indigenous tribes reside in its depths. The Nez Perce (Nimlipuu) tribe was the earliest but in later years the Shoshone, Cayuse and others followed suit. Traces of their existence are still visible in the ancient rock art that graces the gorge’s walls.

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas


Despite being the second-largest canyon in the US, the Palo Duro is relatively unknown to tourists. It features among secret canyons of the US primarily because of its isolation. Moreover, Texas is full of hidden attractions that tend to overshadow this magnificent work of art.

Among the greatest visual feasts in the Palo Duro are the Caprock formations. These display a wide spectrum of colors and patterns in different rock layers. There are various shaded of purple, red, yellow, orange, gray and white neatly stacked together. When the sun hits these walls, the resulting visual show is mesmerizing.

Over eons, water and wind have carved out delicate cliffs, caves and hoodoos here. One of the most famous formations here is the Lighthouse Rock. A signature feature of the location, this rock is a natural artwork that resembles a lighthouse. It consists of reddish-brown rock layers and columns that rise to a height of 310 feet (95m). In summer, music lovers can enjoy the Texas Outdoor Musical. Explore the area on foot or by horse on any of its beautiful trails. It is also a great destination for mountain biking, birdwatching and sunset viewing.

Linville Gorge, North Carolina


Some refer to it as the Grand Canyon of Eastern America and in many ways, it fits the bill. This is one of the most dramatic secret canyons in the US. It drops to a depth of about 4,000 feet (1,200m) and runs a distance of 12 miles (19km) around Linville River.

The gorge sits in the heart of some of the most rugged and dramatic peaks you will ever see. Part of the reason for its rugged look is the erosion resistant quartzite that lines the rims. As a result of its ruggedness, the terrain is extremely challenging. It has therefore warded off loggers and here you will find ancient oaks, tulip trees, maples and hickories.

The site boasts plenty of natural attractions and is a magnet for outdoor lovers. There are about 39 miles of trails with stunning waterfalls, breathtaking rock formations and dense forest. Linville Falls stands out among the waterfalls – a beautiful sight straight out of a fairytale. It consists of a series of cascades that plunge a collective 90 feet (27 feet) into a deep pool. The surrounding landscape is a beautiful wash of colors, especially in autumn.

Waimea Canyon, Hawaii


Another one of the secret canyons of the US is off the mainland, in Hawaii. Some of its nicknames include the ‘Kauai Grand Canyon’ and the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific.’ The spectacular wonder known as Waimea Canyon is the product of erosion and volcanic activity.

Much like all other islands in the Hawaii Archipelago, Kauai is the peak of a volcanic mountain. Its base sits on the ocean floor. While it was still an active volcano, a part of its peak collapsed to form a depression. Lava filled this depression creating an intriguing landscape. Water did the rest, cutting deep gorges into the terrain. Overall, the Waimea Canyon spans about 10 miles (16km) and is nearly 3,600 feet (1,000m+) deep.

Just like the canyon walls surrounding it, the Waimea River is a deep shade of red. It derives this color from the ancient rock in the gorge. Though it was originally black, weathering processes have resulted in an intriguing transformation. In addition to red layers, the cliff walls have brown and green layers with different types of volcanic rock.

Your tour of this wonderland is not complete without a visit to Waipoo Falls. Drawing its waters from the Koke’e stream, it drops down 800 feet in a double-tier cascade. The initial 25-foot drop is visible from the end point of the Waipoo Falls Trail. The best viewpoint of the entire falls is at Puu Ka Pele lookout. For the best possible view, consider taking a helicopter tour. Against the backdrop of reddish rock, the fall forms a beautiful white strip that seems to go on forever.

A World of Diversity Beyond the Grand Canyon

As it turns out a canyon tour of the US does not have to start or end with the Grand Canyon. There are numerous charming alternatives to explore across the states. These secret canyons in the US may not surpass their older sibling in grandeur. But they offer different perspectives on the power of natural elements and the diversity of formations that result. No matter how many you have visited, each one is a new adventure with endless visual feasts.

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