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Surreal Sights: America’s Canyons
Say the word “canyon,” and many people will naturally think of the Grand Canyon, the granddaddy of them all. But there are many other canyons to explore across the country, each of them spectacular in its own way. Here are a few worth a visit on your next camping trip:
Oregon and Idaho
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
Don’t let the scary-sounding name put you off. The Hells Canyon National Recreation Area spans more than 650,000 acres on the borders of northeastern Oregon and western Idaho and is home to the deepest river gorge in North America. In addition to spectacular views, the area offers boating on the Snake River, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, hundreds of miles of mountain biking trails and wildlife viewing.
Kings Canyon National Park
The famous naturalist John Muir called this park, which is located about 50 miles east of Fresno, “a rival to Yosemite,” so that should tell you something in itself. Based on the measurements used, it may even be the deepest canyon in America. The park’s valley was carved by glaciers, making its terrain ideal for hiking and horseback riding. This is definitely a land of superlatives with its tall mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons and vast caverns. The park is also home to Redwood Canyon, the largest remaining grove of sequoias in the world.
Royal Gorge Canyon
There are a lot of good reasons why Royal Gorge, located about an hour from Colorado Springs, is one of Colorado’s most popular attractions. It has one of the world’s highest suspension bridges which spans 1,270 feet and soars over 950 feet above the Arkansas River. Adrenaline junkies will appreciate the Royal Rush Skycoaster where they will free fall at 50 mph then hang over the rim with only the river below. There’s also the Royal Gorge Train which runs along the base of the canyon next to the river, and several outfitters offer rafting trips on the Arkansas River.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
To visit the second largest canyon in the country, head to the Texas panhandle and visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park south of Amarillo. In addition to enjoying the canyon’s rugged beauty, you can explore the park’s more than 30 miles of trails on foot, by mountain bike or on horseback. There’s also something else you probably wouldn’t expect to find at a state park – an outdoor musical drama titled TEXAS which is presented in the Pioneer Amphitheater. This family-friendly show features singing, dancing, fireworks and lots of Texas humor as it showcases the stories, struggles and triumphs of early settlers to the area.
Island in the Sky Mesa
You’ve got to love the name of this one. Located in Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky sits atop sheer sandstone cliffs that tower over 1,000 feet above the park’s spectacular landscape. There’s a paved scenic drive with plenty of pullouts where you can admire the views or you may want to embark on one of the park’s hiking trails. There’s also a visitor center that’s open daily, spring through fall. It’s about a 40 minute drive from Moab. Note: The National Park Service strongly recommends using a map to reach Island in the Sky, as GPS navigation systems may send you in the wrong direction.
Pine Creek Gorge
Also known as “The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania,” the Pine Creek Gorge spans almost 50 miles and is over 1,000 feet deep. Located in the north central part of the state, the gorge offers beautiful views, abundant wildlife and birding opportunities, including woodpeckers, mourning and black-and-white warblers, wild turkey and wood and hermit thrushes. It’s also a great place to take in the changing colors in the fall. For an interesting side trip, visit the town of Wellsboro with its gas-lit streets and Victorian mansions that date back to the early 1800s.
The Franconia Ridge Loop, a nine-mile hike, is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the White Mountains and one of the most popular in New England. As you might imagine, it’s also extremely popular when the fall foliage is at its peak. You’ll hike along the rim of the second highest range of peaks in the mountain range as you take in spectacular views of the gorge between Little Haystack, Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette.