Also referred to as a gorge, a canyon refers to a steep-walled, deep V-shaped valley formed due to the weathering and erosive activities of a river flowing through the resistant rocks over geologic timescales. The word ‘canyon’ has been derived from the Spanish word “canon,” which means “pipe” or “tube.” In North America, the term “canyon” is used, whereas the terms “gorge” and “ravine” are popular in European countries and Oceania. Canyons are usually formed in the upper course of the rivers, where the rivers have comparatively more powerful and swift currents, allowing the river to dig much deeper into the floor of the valley.
Canyons are also quite common in limestone rock areas, as limestone can be dissolved to a certain extent, resulting in the formation of cave systems in the limestone bed. There are several different types of canyons in the world, such as box canyon, mountain-type canyon, slot canyon, and submarine canyon. The following article discusses some of the deepest canyons in the world.
Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, Tibet Autonomous Region, China – 19,714 ft
Also known as the Brahmaputra Canyon or the Tsangpo Gorge, the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon is the world’s deepest canyon reaching a maximum depth of 19,714 ft. With a length of 313.5 miles, it is also one of the largest canyons in the world. The Yarlung Tsangpo River, which originates close to Mount Kailash, flows eastwards for 1,100 miles and drains into the northern segment of the Himalayas before entering the gorge close to the village of Pei in Tibet. The canyon then extends for a distance of about 150 miles and bends around the 25,531 ft tall Mount Namcha Barwa, and then cuts through the eastern Himalayan range. As the canyon passes through the mighty peaks of Namcha Barwa and Gyala Peri mountains, it reaches an average depth of 16,000 ft around Mount Namach Barwa.
The overall average depth of the canyon is about 7,440 ft, whereas its maximum depth is 19,714 ft, making it the world’s deepest canyon. The waters of the river then drop from 9,500 ft close to Pei to about 4,900 ft at the Upper Gorge’s end, where it meets the Po Tsangpo River. The river continues to flow through the canyon’s lower segment and crosses the Indian boundary at an elevation of 2,170 ft. From here, the river flows through the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh and finally becomes the Brahmaputra River.
The Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon features a unique ecosystem with many rare floral and faunal species still unaffected by human influence. The takin, a rare ungulate species found in the eastern Himalayas, is hunted here by the members of the local tribe. The region’s climate ranges from subtropical to Arctic type, with the highest temperature being 110.5°F recorded close to the Indian border at an elevation of 2,000 ft. However, at present times, the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon faces a severe threat, as the Chinese government has planned to construct a major dam on the portion of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. This dam would flow through the canyon for hydroelectric power generation as well as to divert water to other areas of the country.
Kali Gandaki Gorge, Nepal – 18,278 ft
Also referred to as Andha Galchi, the Kali Gandaki Gorge is one of the world’s deepest gorges formed by the Kali Gandaki River (a tributary of the Ganges River) in the Nepal Himalayas. The Kali Gandaki River originates from the Nhubine Himal Glacier, close to the Tibetan border at Nepal’s Mustang region, at an elevation of 20,564 ft. The river then flows in the southern direction through a steep-sided deep canyon before it widens at Chele steel footbridge. Continuing its southward journey, the Kali Gandaki River then cuts through the steep Kali Gandaki Gorge, which separates the 29,795 ft high Dhaulagiri in the west from the 26,545 ft high Annapurna I in the east.
It is to be noted that if the canyon’s depth is measured by the difference between the river’s height and the height of the highest peaks on either side, then the Kali Gandaki Gorge is considered the world’s deepest gorge. In the past, the Kali Gandaki Gorge served as a trade route between India and Tibet for centuries. The gorge is placed within the Annapurna Conservation Area and, at present, forms a portion of the well-known trekking route that starts from Pokhara and ends at the sacred temple of Muktinath.
Colca Canyon, Peru – 11,154.86 ft
Formed by the Colca River, Colca Canyon is one of the world’s deepest canyons, situated approximately 99 miles northwest of the city of Arequipa in southern Peru. Placed in the colorful Colca Valley of the Andes Mountains, this canyon has a length of about 43 miles. It is believed that the high seismic activity of two active Peruvian volcanoes led to the formation of the Colca Canyon. In ancient times, the canyon area was used for the cultivation of grains by the Incas. At present, the canyon supports several notable avian species, such as the Andean condor, giant hummingbird, mountain caracara, Andean goose, and Chilean flamingo. Some animals that are found here include vizcacha, vicuna, zorrino, fox, deer, and chinchilla. The Colca Canyon also hosts other well-known attractions like the Caves of Mollepunko above Callalli, and the La Calera natural hot spring.
Cotahuasi Canyon, Peru – 11,004 ft
Formed by the erosive activities of the Cotahuasi River, the Cotahuasi Canyon is one of the world’s deepest canyons, situated at Arequipa’s highest Andean point in southern Peru. The canyon was formed due to the erosion of two huge mountain massifs: the 21,079 ft high Coropuna and the 19,990 ft high Solimana by the Cotahuasi River. The only road that leads to the canyon begins at the Pan-American Highway close to Arequipa and passes through the Condesuyos province’s town of Chuquibamba and the Castilla Province’s town of Aplao.
The Cotahuasi Canyon forms a part of the Cotahuasi Subbasin – a landscape park that covers an area of 1,894 sq. mi and preserves an environment where humans live in close harmony with nature. The Cotahuasi landscape reserve supports several important plants like kiwicha, mint, llacon, arveja, anise, quinoa, dark maize, beans, muna, jara, yareta, retama, coca, and ruda. In addition, about 12 different ecosystems are found in the reserve, along with many agricultural terraces that are still used today.
Copper Canyon, Mexico – 6165 ft
Also known as “Barrancas del Cobre” in Spanish, the Copper Canyon refers to a group of six different canyons that are located in northwestern Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental in the southwestern portion of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Ranging about 25,000 sq. mi in size, this group of canyons was formed by six rivers that flow in the western portion of Sierra Tarahumara. All these rivers join the Fuerte River and finally drain into the Gulf of California. The Copper Canyon can be explored by hiking, horseback riding, biking, driving, or by the Chihuahua-Pacific Railway.
The mountainous regions of the Copper Canyon experience an alpine climate with moderate temperatures from March to April and October to November. Droughts are quite common during the warmest months, with scant rainfall until the beginning of the rainy season. Numerous pine and oak species cover the Sierra Tarahumara Occidental region, while wildflowers blossom in the upper regions after the rainy season. Currently, deforestation of several important floral species like Mesquite, Amapa, desert ironwood etc., has made many wild species endangered and led to the extinction of the Mexican wolf and imperial woodpecker. Moreover, the rapid rise in human population has also threatened the ecosystem of the Sierra Tarahumara Occidental region.
Grand Canyon, United States – 6,093 ft
This 277 miles-long and 18 miles-wide steep-sided canyon has been carved by the continuous erosive activities of the Colorado River for thousands of years in the extreme northwestern corner of Arizona, United States. Reaching a maximum depth of 6,093 ft, the canyon’s wide, intricately carved chasm contains several buttes, peaks, gorges, and ravines. The Grand Canyon’s most beautiful and deepest segment is placed within the heart of the Grand Canyon National Park and extends from Lake Powell to Lake Mead for about 55.9 miles. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is placed at an average elevation of 8,000 ft more than the South Rim, which is the Grand Canyon’s most visited part. Due to its higher elevation, the North Rim receives an average of 69cm of rainfall and 370cm of snowfall per year.
The Grand Canyon National Park supports about 195 species of lichen, 64 species of moss, 167 species of fungi, and 1,737 known vascular plant species. Several endemic plant species are also supported by the Grand Canyon within the National Park boundaries. More than 450 avian species, 48 reptilian species, 10 amphibian species, 91 mammalian species, and numerous invertebrate species are found in the Grand Canyon area. On January 11, 1908, the Grand Canyon was designated a National Monument by US President Theodore Roosevelt.
Antelope Canyon, United States – 5905.5 ft
This slot canyon was formed by the Navajo Sandstone’s erosion by flash flooding and other subaerial processes on the land of the Navajo Nation in the southwestern United States. Situated to the east of Lechee in Arizona’s Coconino County, the Antelope Canyon comprises six distinct scenic slot canyon segments, including the Upper Antelope Canyon, Owl Canyon, Canyon X, Lower Antelope Canyon, Mountain Sheep Canyon, and Rattle Sheep Canyon. The Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park is the canyon’s principal attraction, along with the hiking trail which leads to Rainbow Bridge National Monument. A popular attraction for sightseers, Antelope Canyon can only be accessed by Navajo guided tours.
Blyde River Canyon, South Africa– 4501.3 ft
This 16-mile-long canyon forms a part of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve that is located in the Drakensberg Escarpment region in the eastern portion of the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. Dominated by lush subtropical vegetation, this green canyon has been named after the Blyde or Motlatse River that flows through it. The canyon passes a rock formation named the “Three Rondavels” and is a part of the scenic Panorama Route, which begins at the small town of Graskop.
The Blyde River Canyon area supports a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Several fish and antelope species, crocodiles, hippopotami, vervet monkeys, Samango monkeys, and both greater and lesser bushbabies, are found here. Numerous avian species, such as Narina trogon, jackal buzzard, white-rumped vulture, African fish eagle, malachite sunbird, etc, are also found here.
Tara River Canyon, Montenegro – 4300 ft
Also referred to as the Tara River Gorge, the Tara River Canyon is Europe’s biggest and deepest canyon. It stretches for more than 51 miles from Montenegro’s Bistrica to the village of Hum in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The canyon is characterized by over 80 massive caves, sandy beaches, high cliffs, and rocky and pebbly terraces. The high rocks of the Ljubisnja mountain range that are placed within the Durmitor National Park are the most attractive section of the Tara River Canyon. Within the Durmitor National Park, the Tara River, which becomes the Drina River after meeting with the Piva River close to Hum, contains a number of cascades that offer whitewater rafting opportunities.
Fish River Canyon, Namibia – 1805 ft
Africa’s largest canyon, the Fish River Canyon, features an expansive ravine that has a total length of about 100 miles and a maximum width of 16.7 miles and is situated to the south of Namibia. The 400-mile-long Fish River, which is Namibia’s longest interior river, cuts deep into the dry, stony, sparsely covered plateau. There are two parts of the Fish River Canyon: the upper canyon – where hard gneiss bedrocks inhibit the erosive activities of the river; and the lower canyon – which formed after erosion. About 55.9 miles of the Fish River Canyon is privately owned, whereas public viewing points are located close to the Hobas campsite, about 43.5 miles north of the IAi-IAis/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. One of Southern Africa’s most well-known hiking trails – the Fish River Canyon Trail, attracts hordes of visitors from all over the world to experience the hiking opportunities that this canyon offers.
Canyons are truly one of Nature’s most impressive creations. Canyons offer some of the Earth’s most dramatic landscapes, and one must enjoy the breathtaking beauty of these canyons by visiting them and taking part in several recreational activities like hiking, rock climbing, trail running, whitewater rafting, etc, for experiences of a lifetime. If you are an admirer of natural creations, an extreme sports lover, or a photographer, the spectacular beauty of the canyons will never fail to amaze you.
The 10 Deepest Canyons In The World
|Name Of Canyon||Country||Estimated Depth (In Ft)|
|Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon||Tibet Autonomous Region, China||19,714|
|Kali Gandaki Gorge||Nepal||18,278|
|Grand Canyon||United States||6,093|
|Antelope Canyon||United States||5,905.50|
|Blyde River Canyon||South Africa||4,501.30|
|Tara River Canyon||Montenegro||4,300|
|Fish River Canyon||Namibia||1,805|