Natural Wonders

Canyons in Arizona Beyond the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is the ultimate canyon, but it's only one of many canyons that are worthy of seeing and experiencing during your Arizona vacation.

Okay, so no doubt the main reason you’re considering or planning a vacation to this region is to see Grand Canyon. Certainly, Grand Canyon is the ultimate canyon; a canyon like no other in the American Southwest. But it’s only one of many canyons that are worthy of seeing and experiencing during your Grand Canyon vacation.
Following is a sampling of other canyons that can be enjoyed, especially if yours is an extended vacation.

Northern Arizona Canyons

Havasu Canyon is located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation along the west end of Grand Canyon’s South Rim. You cannot reach Havasu Canyon from the national park. To get to this canyon, which is home to magnificent, world-famous remote waterfalls that have unique and wonderful swimming holes they plunge into, including Havasu (Havasupai) Falls, drive Historic Route 66, accessed via Kingman, Ariz., or Seligman, Ariz.. It will take about 2.5-3 hours to drive from either of these towns to Hualapai Hilltop, the trailhead/starting point to get to the waterfall wonders nestled in this spectacularly scenic canyon.

Marble Canyon is located in northern Arizona, about 45 miles southwest of Page, Ariz., or 15 miles north of Bitter Springs, Ariz.. The canyon runs from Glen Canyon Dam to the confluence with the Little Colorado River, near an area known as Lee’s Ferry, which marks the start of the Grand Canyon. Marble Canyon is the west boundary of the Navajo Nation and is a beautiful canyon worth seeing. A great view can be enjoyed on the Navajo Bridge. An extra bonus: Marble Canyon is also along the Vermilion Cliffs-Fredonia Scenic Byway.

Upper Antelope Canyon near Page Arizona. Photo by Joshua Benally
Upper Antelope Canyon near Page Arizona. Photo by Joshua Benally

Antelope Canyon is a five-mile canyon and is the most popular slot canyon in the American Southwest. Anyone who has seen photos of it or has been there would not argue. A slot canyon is a very narrow canyon that is formed as a result of water rushing through rock. Slot canyons are taller and deeper than they are wide, and hence their “slot” reference. Slot canyons are often also referred to as “narrows.” Antelope Canyon runs north into Lake Powell. 

NOTE: To see Antelope Canyon, visitors must tour the slot canyon with a licensed guide. Cost will be about $40-$60 per person for a tour that takes about 1-2 hours. To get to Antelope Canyon, from Page, AZ, head south on Copper Mine Road for just under a mile to Haul Road, turn left on Ariz. Hwy. 98 for about two miles then turn left on Indian Route 22 and travel 4.7 miles.

The Wave at Vermilion Cliffs in the Paria Wilderness. Photo courtesy Kane County
The Wave at Vermilion Cliffs in the Paria Wilderness. Photo courtesy Kane County

Paria Canyon is carved by the Paria River, which is the main tributary of the Colorado River between Lake Powell and Lee’s Ferry (the start of the Grand Canyon). Paria Canyon is home to the protected Coyote Buttes Special Management Area, where spectacular sandstone formations take on unusual shapes and shades of red and orange marking the southern tip of Utah’s vast Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Most who are familiar with the Coyote Buttes area of the Paria River Canyon region will think first of The Wave, an aptly-named sandstone natural wonder, or Buckskin Gulch, which is the longest slot canyon in the American Southwest ? possibly even the longest in the world. Trailhead is Wire Pass, located in the beautiful Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area of southern Utah and northern Arizona, about half-way between Kanab, Utah, and Page, Ariz., a little more than eight miles south of US 89 along House Rock Valley Road.

Walnut Canyon National Monument near Flagstaff Arizona
Walnut Canyon National Monument near Flagstaff ArizonaPublic Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Walnut Canyon is a national monument located about 10 miles southeast of Flagstaff, Ariz. Walnut Canyon is 400 feet deep, 14 miles wide and 20 miles long. Carved by Walnut Creek over a period of 60 million years, this canyon is full of natural and cultural riches. Walls of buff sandstone form the canyon’s inner gorge; the rock contours reveal their origins in the wind-scoured dunes of an ancient desert. The limestone ledges of the upper canyon contain delicate marine fossils, remnants of a later sea. Much later, the people of this canyon built their sturdy homes in shallow alcoves along these ledges. This national monument protects these ancient dwellings and affords visitors a glimpse into an ancient past that is nestled within a striking canyon.

Oak Creek Canyon is a beautiful canyon that extends 12 miles along northern Arizona’s Mogollon Rim between Sedona and Flagstaff. This is a spectacular stretch, so it’s perhaps not surprising that it’s been designated a Scenic Byway, and it is the second-most popular destination in Arizona, second only to the Grand Canyon. To get there, start in Sedona. From Sedona, travel north through the Oak Creek Canyon. Take your time and enjoy the striking scenery.

Sycamore Canyon is another canyon located near Sedona, Ariz. Sycamore Canyon is almost as deep as Oak Creek Canyon but is more remote and as a result, less visited. The only approach to this gem of a canyon, which extends some 25 miles, is along lengthy dirt tracks through the Kaibab National Forest south of the town of Williams, Ariz.

Central Arizona Canyons

Verde Canyon Railroad. Courtesy photo
Verde Canyon Railroad. Courtesy photo

Verde Canyon, is a beautiful canyon that is only accessible via the Verde Canyon Railway, or by foot. Visitors will enjoy its unspoiled nature. Visitors will enjoy the best views of this canyon while embarking on a historic train ride, including narration and interpretation, into the canyon to Perkinsville, a ghost ranch. This is a beautiful canyon and a great way to experience some culture while taking in its vistas. To experience this canyon and historic train ride, travel to Clarkdale, Ariz., located about 19 miles northwest of Camp Verde/Interstate 17, or 22 miles west of Sedona on Highways 89a and 260.

Northeastern Arizona Canyons

Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Canyon De Chelly is a national monument located in northeastern Arizona, within in the Navajo Nation. The monument, which spans 131 square miles, encompasses the floors and rims of the three major canyons: de Chelly, del Muerto, and Monument. All three were carved by streams with headwaters in the Chuska mountains to the east of the monument. Don’t miss viewing Spider Rock, a unique sandstone spire that juts 800 feet from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. Spider Rock can be seen from South Rim Drive. It has served as the scene of a number of television commercials. Canyon De Chelly National Monument is about 300 miles east of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, or 100 miles south of Teec Nos Pos, Ariz., (the “Four Corners”), or 232 miles west of Albuquerque, NM.

Eastern Arizona Canyons

Salt River Canyon is carved by Salt River, a 200-mile tributary of the Gila River. Salt River Canyon is about 105 miles east of Phoenix, or 25 miles north of Globe, Ariz., or 70 miles south of Payson, Ariz.

Southeastern Arizona Canyons

Ramsey Canyon is located in the Upper San Pedro River Basin and is known for its diversity of plants and animals, not to mention its beautiful scenery. Among other things, Ramsey Canyon is home to 14 species of hummingbirds. This canyon is located about 82 miles southeast of Tucson.