Last updated
The Grand Canyon, Arizona, at the confluence of the Colorado River and Little Colorado River. Aerial view of canyons.jpg
The Grand Canyon, Arizona, at the confluence of the Colorado River and Little Colorado River.

A canyon (from Spanish : cañón; archaic British English spelling: cañon), [1] or chasm, is a deep cleft between escarpments or cliffs resulting from weathering and the erosive activity of a river over geologic time scales. [2] Rivers have a natural tendency to cut through underlying surfaces, eventually wearing away rock layers as sediments are removed downstream. A river bed will gradually reach a baseline elevation, which is the same elevation as the body of water into which the river drains. The processes of weathering and erosion will form canyons when the river's headwaters and estuary are at significantly different elevations, [3] particularly through regions where softer rock layers are intermingled with harder layers more resistant to weathering.


A canyon may also refer to a rift between two mountain peaks, such as those in ranges including the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, the Himalayas or the Andes. Usually, a river or stream carves out such splits between mountains. Examples of mountain-type canyons are Provo Canyon in Utah or Yosemite Valley in California's Sierra Nevada. Canyons within mountains, or gorges that have an opening on only one side, are called box canyons. Slot canyons are very narrow canyons that often have smooth walls.

Steep-sided valleys in the seabed of the continental slope are referred to as submarine canyons. Unlike canyons on land, submarine canyons are thought to be formed by turbidity currents and landslides.


Sumidero Canyon, Mexico Canyon sumidero entrada.jpg
Sumidero Canyon, Mexico

The word canyon is Spanish in origin (cañón, [4] pronounced  [kaˈɲon] ), with the same meaning. The word canyon is generally used in North America, while the words gorge and ravine (French in origin) are used in Europe and Oceania, though gorge and ravine are also used in some parts of North America. In the United States, place names generally use canyon in the southwest (due to their proximity to Spanish-speaking Mexico) and gorge in the northeast (which is closer to French Canada), with the rest of the country graduating between these two according to geography. In Canada, a gorge is usually narrow while a ravine is more open and often wooded. The military-derived word defile is occasionally used in the United Kingdom.


Kevo Canyon in Utsjoki, Finland Kevo Canyon.JPG
Kevo Canyon in Utsjoki, Finland

Most canyons were formed by a process of long-time erosion from a plateau or table-land level. The cliffs form because harder rock strata that are resistant to erosion and weathering remain exposed on the valley walls.

Canyons are much more common in arid areas than in wet areas because physical weathering has a more localized effect in arid zones. The wind and water from the river combine to erode and cut away less resistant materials such as shales. The freezing and expansion of water also serves to help form canyons. Water seeps into cracks between the rocks and freezes, pushing the rocks apart and eventually causing large chunks to break off the canyon walls, in a process known as frost wedging. [5] Canyon walls are often formed of resistant sandstones or granite.

Snake River Canyon, Idaho Snake River Canyon Idaho 2007.jpg
Snake River Canyon, Idaho

Sometimes large rivers run through canyons as the result of gradual geological uplift. These are called entrenched rivers, because they are unable to easily alter their course. In the United States, the Colorado River in the Southwest and the Snake River in the Northwest are two examples of tectonic uplift.

Canyons often form in areas of limestone rock. As limestone is soluble to a certain extent, cave systems form in the rock. When a cave system collapses, a canyon is left, as in the Mendip Hills in Somerset and Yorkshire Dales in Yorkshire, England.

Box canyon

A box canyon is a small canyon that is generally shorter and narrower than a river canyon, with steep walls on three sides, allowing access and egress only through the mouth of the canyon. Box canyons were frequently used in the western United States as convenient corrals, with their entrances fenced. [6]

Largest canyons

The definition of "largest canyon" is imprecise, because a canyon can be large by its depth, its length, or the total area of the canyon system. Also, the inaccessibility of the major canyons in the Himalaya contributes to their not being regarded as candidates for the biggest canyon. The definition of "deepest canyon" is similarly imprecise, especially if one includes mountain canyons, as well as canyons cut through relatively flat plateaus (which have a somewhat well-defined rim elevation).

The Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon (or Tsangpo Canyon), along the Yarlung Tsangpo River in Tibet, is regarded by some as the deepest canyon in the world at 5,500 metres (18,000 ft). It is slightly longer than the Grand Canyon in the United States. [7] Others consider the Kali Gandaki Gorge in midwest Nepal to be the deepest canyon, with a 6,400-metre (21,000 ft) difference between the level of the river and the peaks surrounding it.

Vying for the deepest canyon in the Americas is the Cotahuasi Canyon and Colca Canyon, in southern Peru. Both have been measured at over 3,500 metres (11,500 ft) deep.

The Grand Canyon of northern Arizona in the United States, with an average depth of 1,600 metres (5,200 ft) and a volume of 4.17 trillion cubic metres (147 trillion cubic feet), [8] is one of the world's largest canyons. It was among the 28 finalists of the New7Wonders of Nature worldwide poll. (Some referred to it as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.) [9]

The largest canyon in Europe is Tara River Canyon.

The largest canyon in Africa is the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. [10]

In August 2013, the discovery of Greenland's Grand Canyon was reported, based on the analysis of data from Operation IceBridge. It is located under an ice sheet. At 750 kilometres (470 mi) long, it is believed to be the longest canyon in the world. [11]

Despite not being quite as deep or long as the Grand Canyon, the Capertee Valley in Australia is actually 1km wider than the Grand Canyon, making it the widest canyon in the world. [12] [13]

Capertee Valley panorama.jpg
Panoramic view of the Capertee Valley in Australia, the widest largest canyon in the world

Cultural significance

Some canyons have notable cultural significance. Evidence of early hominids has been discovered in Africa's Olduvai Gorge. In the southwestern United States, canyons are important archeologically because of the many cliff-dwellings built in such areas, largely by the ancient Pueblo people who were their first inhabitants.

Notable examples

The following list contains only the most notable canyons of the world, arranged by continent and then country.


Fish River Canyon, Namibia Fish River Canyon from Main View Point.jpg
Fish River Canyon, Namibia
Oribi Gorge, South Africa Oribi Gorge, South Africa.jpg
Oribi Gorge, South Africa


South Africa







Ouimet Canyon, Ontario, Canada Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park - Canyon-Thunder Bay- Ontario (2).jpg
Ouimet Canyon, Ontario, Canada




United States

Green River overlook, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, U.S. CanyonlandsNP GreenRiverOverlook.jpg
Green River overlook, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, U.S.


One of the Three Gorges of the Yangtze river, China Sunset on the Yangtze River.jpg
One of the Three Gorges of the Yangtze river, China
The gorge of the Kabul River in Afghanistan Kabul River gorge -a.jpg
The gorge of the Kabul River in Afghanistan







Cheddar Gorge, England Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, UK - Diliff.jpg
Cheddar Gorge, England
Le cirque de la Madeleine, Gorges de l'Ardeche, France Le cirque de la Madeleine 2011.jpg
Le cirque de la Madeleine, Gorges de l'Ardèche, France
A Douro gorge on the Portugal-Spain border Arribes del Duero - Miranda edited.jpg
A Douro gorge on the Portugal–Spain border


United Kingdom




Sulak Canyon in Dagestan Sulakskii kan'on v Dagestane.jpg
Sulak Canyon in Dagestan


Buky Canyon, Ukraine Buky Canyon, Ukraine.jpg
Buky Canyon, Ukraine


Jamison Valley, Blue Mountains National Park, Australia Jamison valley frm wentworth falls.jpg
Jamison Valley, Blue Mountains National Park, Australia
Shoalhaven River Gorge, New South Wales Block-up Gorge, Shoalhaven River - panoramio.jpg
Shoalhaven River Gorge, New South Wales



New Zealand

Canyons on other planetary bodies

Venus has many craters and canyons on its surface. The troughs on the planet are part of a system of canyons that is more than 6,400 km long.

See also

Aegopodium podagraria1 ies.jpg   Environmentportal

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Valley</span> Low area between hills, often with a river running through it

A valley is an elongated low area often running between hills or mountains, which will typically contain a river or stream running from one end to the other. Most valleys are formed by erosion of the land surface by rivers or streams over a very long period. Some valleys are formed through erosion by glacial ice. These glaciers may remain present in valleys in high mountains or polar areas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Intermontane Plateaus</span>

In the context of physical geography, the Intermontane Plateaus is one of eight physiographic regions of the contiguous United States. The region consists mostly of plateaus and mountain ranges lying between the Rocky Mountains on the east and the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains on the west. It is subdivided into three physiographic provinces: the Columbia Plateau in the north, the Basin and Range Province in the central and southwestern portions, and the Colorado Plateau in the southeast. In turn, each of these provinces are each subdivided into a number of physiographic sections.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Butte</span> Isolated hill with steep, often vertical sides and a small, relatively flat top

In geomorphology, a butte is an isolated hill with steep, often vertical sides and a small, relatively flat top; buttes are smaller landforms than mesas, plateaus, and tablelands. The word butte comes from the French word butte, meaning knoll ; its use is prevalent in the Western United States, including the southwest where mesa is used for the larger landform. Due to their distinctive shapes, buttes are frequently landmarks in plains and mountainous areas. To differentiate the two landforms, geographers use the rule of thumb that a mesa has a top that is wider than its height, while a butte has a top that is narrower than its height.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colorado Plateau</span> Plateau in the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States

The Colorado Plateau, also known as the Colorado Plateau Province, is a physiographic and desert region of the Intermontane Plateaus, roughly centered on the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States. This province covers an area of 336,700 km2 (130,000 mi2) within western Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, southern and eastern Utah, northern Arizona, and a tiny fraction in the extreme southeast of Nevada. About 90% of the area is drained by the Colorado River and its main tributaries: the Green, San Juan, and Little Colorado. Most of the remainder of the plateau is drained by the Rio Grande and its tributaries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon</span> Canyon in Tibet, China

The Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, also known as the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon, the Tsangpo Canyon, the Brahmaputra Canyon or the Tsangpo Gorge, is a canyon along the Yarlung Tsangpo River in Tibet Autonomous Region, China. It is the deepest canyon in the world, and at 504.6 kilometres (313.5 mi) is slightly longer than the Grand Canyon in the United States, making it one of the world's largest. The Yarlung Tsangpo originates near Mount Kailash and runs east for about 1,700 kilometres (1,100 mi), draining a northern section of the Himalayas before it enters the gorge just downstream of Pei, Tibet, near the settlement of Zhibe. The canyon has a length of about 240 kilometres (150 mi) as the gorge bends around Mount Namcha Barwa and cuts its way through the eastern Himalayan range. Its waters drop from about 2,900 metres (9,500 ft) near Pei to about 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) at the end of the Upper Gorge where the Po Tsangpo River enters. The river continues through the Lower Gorge to the Indian border at an elevation of 660 metres (2,170 ft). The river then enters Arunachal Pradesh and eventually becomes the Brahmaputra.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kali Gandaki Gorge</span> Himalayan gorge in Nepal

The Kali Gandaki Gorge or Andha Galchi is the gorge of the Kali Gandaki in the Himalayas in Nepal. By some sources, it may be one of the deepest gorges in the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Namcha Barwa</span> Mountain in Tibet, China

Namcha Barwa or Namchabarwa is a mountain peak lying in Tibet in the region of Pemako. The traditional definition of the Himalaya extending from the Indus River to the Brahmaputra would make it the eastern anchor of the entire mountain chain, and it is the highest peak of its own section as well as Earth's easternmost peak over 7,600 metres (24,900 ft). It lies in the Nyingchi Prefecture of Tibet. It is the highest peak in the 180 km long Namcha Barwa Himal range, which is considered the easternmost syntaxis/section of the Himalaya in southeastern Tibet and northeastern India where the Himalaya are said to end, although high ranges actually continue another 300 km to the east.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yarlung Tsangpo</span> River in Tibet, upper stream of the Brahmaputra

The Yarlung Tsangpo, also called Yarlung Zangbo and Yalu Zangbu River is the upper stream of the Brahmaputra River located in the Tibet Autonomous Region, China. It is the longest river of Tibet and the fifth longest in China. The upper section is also called Dangque Zangbu meaning "Horse River."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Canyon Lands</span> Section of the Colorado Plateau

The Canyon Lands Section of the Colorado Plateau is a physiographic section of the larger Colorado Plateaus province, which in turn is part of the larger Intermontane Plateaus physiographic division in the Western United States

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Course of the Colorado River</span> Route and confluences of the Colorado River in the United States and Mexico

The Colorado River is a major river of the western United States and northwest Mexico in North America. Its headwaters are in the Rocky Mountains where La Poudre Pass Lake is its source. Located in north central Colorado it flows southwest through the Colorado Plateau country of western Colorado, southeastern Utah and northwestern Arizona where it flows through the Grand Canyon. It turns south near Las Vegas, Nevada, forming the Arizona–Nevada border in Lake Mead and the Arizona–California border a few miles below Davis Dam between Laughlin, Nevada and Needles, California before entering Mexico in the Colorado Desert. Most of its waters are diverted into the Imperial Valley of Southern California. In Mexico its course forms the boundary between Sonora and Baja California before entering the Gulf of California. This article describes most of the major features along the river.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tapeats Sandstone</span> Cambrian geologic formation found in the Southwestern United States

Except where underlain by the Sixtymile Formation, the Tapeats Sandstone is the Cambrian geologic formation that is the basal geologic unit of the Tonto Group. Typically, it is also the basal geologic formation of the Phanerozoic strata exposed in the Grand Canyon, Arizona, and parts of northern Arizona, central Arizona, southeast California, southern Nevada, and southeast Utah. The Tapeats Sandstone is about 230 feet (70 m) thick, at its maximum. The lower and middle sandstone beds of the Tapeats Sandstone are well-cemented, resistant to erosion, and form brownish, vertical cliffs that rise above the underlying Precambrian strata outcropping within Granite Gorge. They form the edge of the Tonto Platform. The upper beds of the Tapeats Sandstone form the surface of the Tonto Platform. The overlying soft shales and siltstones of the Bright Angel Shale underlie drab-greenish slopes that rise from the Tonto Platform to cliffs formed by limestones of the Muav Limestone and dolomites of the Frenchman Mountain Dolostone.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Toroweap Formation</span> Middle Permian geologic unit in the Grand Canyon

The Middle Permian Toroweap Formation is a thin, darker geologic unit, between the brighter colored units of the Kaibab Limestone above, and Coconino Sandstone below. It is a prominent unit in Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA, found through sections of the South Rim, Grand Canyon, and the North Rim, of the Kaibab Plateau; also the Kaibab's southeast extension to Cape Royal, the Walhalla Plateau. The Colorado River of the Grand Canyon makes its excursion from due-south to due-west around the Walhalla Plateau, as it enters the east end of the Grand Canyon's interior, Granite Gorge. The formation is also found in southeast Utah.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Toroweap Fault</span> Geologic feature in the Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Toroweap Fault of northwest Arizona and southwest Utah is part of a fault system of the west Grand Canyon region, Arizona, US; also the west perimeter regions of the Coconino and Colorado Plateaus. The Hurricane Fault originates at the Toroweap Fault, in the region of the Colorado River, and strikes as the westerly depression of the Toroweap Fault. The Toroweap strikes northerly from the Colorado at the east of Toroweap Valley, and enters south Utah; from the Colorado River, the Hurricane Fault strikes north-northwest along the west flank of the small, regional Uinkaret Mountains, the west border of Toroweap Valley. The Hurricane Fault, and the Hurricane Cliffs strike into southwest Utah as part of the west, and southwest perimeter of the Colorado Plateau. The Hurricane Cliffs are made of Kaibab Limestone, an erosion resistant, cliff-forming rock unit.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Isis Temple</span> Landform in the Grand Canyon, Arizona

Isis Temple is a prominence in the Grand Canyon, Arizona, Southwestern United States. It is located below the North Rim and adjacent to the Granite Gorge along the Colorado River. The Trinity Creek and canyon flow due south at its west border; its north, and northeast border/flank is formed by Phantom Creek and canyon, a west tributary of Bright Angel Creek; the creeks intersect about 3 mi (4.8 km) southeast, and 1.0 mi (1.6 km) north of Granite Gorge. The Isis Temple prominence, is only about 202 ft (62 m) lower than Grand Canyon Village, the main public center on Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Esplanade Sandstone</span> Geologic unit found in the Grand Canyon

The Lower Permian Esplanade Sandstone is a cliff-forming, resistant sandstone, dark red, geologic unit found in the Grand Canyon. The rock unit forms a resistant shelf in the west Grand Canyon, south side of the Colorado River, at the east of the Toroweap Fault, down-dropped to west, southeast of Toroweap Overlook, and west of Havasupai. The red, sandstone shelf, The Esplanade is about 20-mi long. At Toroweap Overlook region, Toroweap Valley with Vulcan's Throne, Uinkaret volcanic field, the resistant Esplanade Sandstone is described in access routes exploring the Toroweap Lake area.

The Peacock Mountains are a small, 26 mi (42 km) long mountain range in northwest Arizona, US. The range is a narrow sub-range, and an extension north, at the northeast of the Hualapai Mountains massif, which lies to the southwest. The range is defined by the Hualapai Valley to the northwest, and north and south-flowing washes on its east border, associated with faults and cliffs; the Cottonwood Cliffs are due east, and are connected to the Aquarius Cliffs southward at the west perimeter of the Aquarius Mountains; the cliffs are a result of the Aquarius Fault, which is an extension southward from the Grand Wash Cliffs and Grand Wash Fault which crosses the Colorado River at Lake Mead, and the west perimeter of the Grand Canyon/Colorado Plateau.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shinarump Conglomerate</span>

The Shinarump Conglomerate is a geologic formation found in the Four Corners region of the United States. It was deposited in the early part of the Late Triassic period.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grand Canyon (Greenland)</span> Large subglacial canyon in Greenland

The Grand Canyon of Greenland is a tentative canyon of record length discovered underneath the Greenland ice sheet as reported in the journal Science on 30 August 2013, by scientists from the University of Bristol led by Jonathan Bamber, University of Calgary, and University of Urbino, who described it as a mega-canyon.

The Bailey–Morshead exploration of the Tsangpo Gorge was an unauthorised expedition by Frederick Bailey and Henry Morshead in 1913 which for the first time established the definite route by which the Tsangpo River reaches the sea from north of Himalaya, through the Tsangpo Gorge.


  1. "canon". Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on January 16, 2020.
  2. Society, National Geographic (20 May 2011). "canyon". National Geographic Society.
  3. Ward Cameron (2005). "Understanding Canyon Formation".
  4. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Canyon"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  5. "The Geology of the Grand Canyon" . Retrieved 2015-10-01.
  6. "box canyon". Encarta World English Dictionary. 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-12-17. Retrieved 2009-08-04.
  7. "China Virtual Museums: Canyon".
  8. "Park Statistics". National Park Service. USA.
  9. Truong, Alice (1 July 2011). "Everything About the Grand Canyon". Discovery Communications. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
  10. Cohen, Callan; Spottiswoode, Claire & Rossouw, Jonathan (2006). Southern African Birdfinder. Penguin Random House South Africa. p. 210. ISBN   978-1-86872-725-4.
  11. "Grand Canyon of Greenland Discovered under Ice". 2017-05-10.
  12. Fitzsimons, David (14 December 2015). "Capertee Valley: Australia's own Grand Canyon". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved March 28, 2016.
  13. Kruszelnicki, Karl S. (22 May 2012). "Grand Canyon is not so grand › Dr Karl's Great Moments In Science". ABC Science. Retrieved March 28, 2016.
  14. Poggiali, Valerio; Mastrogiuseppe, Marco; Hayes, Alexander G.; Seu, Roberto; Birch, Samuel P. D.; Lorenz, Ralph; Grima, Cyril; Hofgartner, Jason D. (9 August 2016). "Liquid-filled Canyons on Titan". Geophysical Research Letters. 43 (15): 7887–7894. Bibcode:2016GeoRL..43.7887P. doi:10.1002/2016GL069679. hdl: 11573/932488 . S2CID   132445293.

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Canyons at Wikimedia Commons