Arizona's Most Beautiful Canyons in Photos

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Arizona's Most Beautiful Canyons in Photos

While the Grand Canyon may be the Canyon State’s most famous, it’s not Arizona’s only one worth a visit. But picking the most beautiful is a bit like Sophie’s choice.

Along with intense, wild beauty, these seven places have both timelessness and the weight of history. Expect tourists by the busload, but don’t let pride get in the way. Arizona’s canyons are still epic, even when flooded with people.

Kristin Conard is a writer, teacher, runner, and occasional climber living along California’s central coast, and she wrote the award-winning book on Kansas trails.

1. Canyon de Chelly

The Navajo have lived continuously in this canyon they call Tséyi', or "Deep in the Rock," for over 5,000 years, proven in the ancient ruins, cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and 40 or so families who still live there. Many of the rock formations within the canyon, like the 750-foot monolith Spider Rock, are intertwined with Navajo mythology and folklore.

While you can visit the overlooks solo, getting in (except for the hike to White House ruins) requires a Navajo guide. Day trips are an option, but getting all up in it for at least a night or two is the best way to do it. Walk through the creek, relax beneath cottonwoods and hear the coyotes howl. REI Adventures, for example, has a trip into the canyon that sets you up in a campsite in the shadow of an over 800-foot-tall sandstone cliff with no one else around.
Photo by Kirstin Conard

2. Antelope Canyon

The Navajo name for Upper Antelope canyon is fantastically literal—Tse' bighanilini, "the place where water runs through rocks." The sinuous, flowing curves in the Navajo sandstone were carved by flash floods and rain over millions of years. You can reach out and touch 120-foot walls as you make your way through the quarter-mile long slot in the earth where sunlight and shadows play along the ribbed rocks.

Pictures may make it seem like it's just you and the rock, but tours fill that place up. However, guides (and since it's on Navajo land, you need a guide) know that money shot may be part of why you're there, so they do their best to stagger the tours. Some of the most booked times are during summer around noon, when tripod wielding photographers flock to see the sun at its highest.

Lower Antelope (in Navajo, Hasdeztwazi, which means "Spiral Rock Canyon") is shallower than Upper Antelope and less crowded. However, it's narrower, longer, and a more intense hike with ladders in some spots. Yet all worth it for the mesmerizing curving sandstone and the feeling you're being practically swallowed by the earth.
Photo courtesy of Arizona Office of Tourism

3. Oak Creek Canyon

You can drive the length of much of this canyon between Flagstaff and Sedona along State Route 89A. If you're prone to car sickness, take precautions for the hairpin turns as you descend 4,500 feet to Oak Creek. But around nearly each bend, a new vista appears, varying from dense oak forest to pine trees to Sedona's iconic red rock formations. Worth a stop along the way is Slide Rock State Park with an 80-foot-long slippery section of the creek, a natural water slide amid popular swimming holes.
Photo courtesy of Arizona Office of Tourism

4. Black Canyon of the Colorado

Paddling the 55-degree Fahrenheit Colorado River through Black Canyon below Hoover Dam doesn't have the rapids of the Grand Canyon. But along the 30-mile National Water Trail through rugged volcanic rock cliffs are hot springs, beaches, a natural sauna, and Emerald Cove, where if the sun is at the right angle, the water seems to glow green.
Photo by Andrew Cattoir/NPS

5. Glen Canyon

While much of Glen Canyon disappeared with the controversial Glen Canyon dam in the 1960s, part of what's left is one of the most photographed spots along the Colorado River—Horseshoe Bend. You slog and sweat your way through sand for about ¾ mile, and all you see is more stone, sand, and sky, until the ground opens up to show off a 270-degree curve of the blue, green Colorado River amid 1,000 feet of layered rock.
Photo by Kristin Conard

6. Grand Canyon

When you arrive at the rim of the Grand Canyon, it almost seems like you're looking at a backdrop, with layers upon layers of red, gray, and brown rock and sediment over a mile deep, and with its maker, the Colorado River, at the bottom with North America's most intense rapids. As you stare into what's likely a familiar scene from pictures, trying to understand its vastness (which you'll never be able to) can make you realize that while Mother Nature is creates beauty, she absolutely doesn't care about you and your survival.

To get a different, more intimate feel of its immensity, run the river. Outfitters like Arizona River Runners take you through the canyon, and give you the chance to sleep in the heart of the earth with bats flitting overhead and more stars than you've seen before.
Photo by Kirstin Conard