Our world is home to some amazing forces of nature, many of which take hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years to form. Canyons are a great example of these terrestrial forces.
Deep canyons (like those found on this list) are formed from turbulent river flows wearing away the ground, sediment, and soil of a flat piece of land. These water flows slowly erode the sediment over the years, removing the soft dirt particles and leaving behind the hard rock strata in the ground.
The result is a deep gorge of empty space surrounded by rocky outcroppings, clefts and channels. In other words, a canyon! And of all the canyons strewn across the world, these four are without question the deepest.
4. Grand Canyon, Arizona, U.S.
Deepest point: 6,000 feet
Right here in the United States, we have the fourth largest canyon in the world: Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Over a mile deep at its lowest point, the Grand Canyon is without question the deepest valley in North America. Its history dates back over 5 million years, slowly being formed by the relentless water forces of the Colorado River. And while our Ice Age-era ancestors may have witnessed these forces in action, the waters were all but dried by the time Spanish explorers discovered the valley in the 1500s.
In terms of the canyon itself, its characteristics certainly earn it a place on this list. It’s over 270 miles long and 18 miles wide, and it features some of the oldest exposed rock in the world. Researchers have found visible bedrock in the canyon’s walls dating as far back as 2 billion years.
3. Cotahuasi Canyon, Peru
Deepest point: 11,595 feet
You thought the Grand Canyon was deep? Ranking third on our list, Peru’s Cotahuasi Canyon puts it to shame with a depth of approximately 11,595 feet — almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. And strangely enough, it’s not even the biggest canyon in the country (though we’ll get to that in a minute).
Formed by the Cotahuasi River, the canyon’s geography is known for being wild and diverse, blanketed by steep gullies, terraced fields, and rustic farmland inhabited by local Andean peoples. And the canyon isn’t the only geographic anomaly in the region: Right near the canyon runs the Nevado Solimana massif, a volcanic mountain that climbs over 19,000 feet above sea level.
2. Colca Canyon, Peru
Deepest point: 11,155 feet
As impressive as Cotahuasi Canyon is, it’s only runner-up in the spectrum of Peru’s canyons. The biggest canyon in Peru—and the second-biggest canyon in the world—is the Colca Canyon, a deep gorge located just hours from Cotahuasi and Machu Picchu.
With an average depth of approximately 10,725 feet, Colca Canyon is actually slightly more shallow than Cotahuasi, but its substantial size makes it the larger of the two. Colca Canyon runs near the Andes mountain range, with plenty of local inhabitants and wildlife living throughout the region. Locals often see plenty of native Andean animals parading around the area, including wild llamas, condors, alpacas, and pumas. In fact, Colca Canyon is such an interesting geographical area to explore that it’s one of the most-visited tourist destinations in the whole country.
1. Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, Tibet
Deepest point: 19,714 feet
Finally, ranking number one in our list of deepest canyons in the world, we have the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon. Located in Tibet, the Yarlung Tsangpo measures an impressive 19,714 feet at its lowest point (though the canyon’s average depth is only around 7,400 feet).
Twisting and winding throughout the mountains of Tibet and continuing into India, the Yarlung Tsangpo is a place of extremes. It’s quite isolated, making it one of the few places on earth virtually untouched by humans. It’s also extreme in terms of temperature. Climates in the region can range from freezing cold at the higher peaks to over 110° F in the lower valleys. So, it’s understandable that it wouldn’t be the first choice for native Tibetans to live. Regardless, the gorge stands as the deepest canyon in the world and will likely remain that way for years to come.
The Deepest Valleys and Highest Peaks
In many ways, the world’s most extreme geographical regions can be considered natural wonders. The Grand Canyon in the U.S. certainly is—and the others on this list are no exception. Each region deserves to be conserved to maintain the natural beauty and delicate ecosystem of the area. It’s not an easy goal to maintain at a global level, but it’s one well worth working toward.