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The American canyons
The American canyons

The immensity of nature in its purest form

The American canyons in short

Majestic mountains, sparkling coastlines, towering forests, steep cliffs, carved rock, breathtaking colours and vertiginous ravines... the beauty of America's canyons is both awe-inspiring and breathtaking. True natural wonders, canyons are powerful sources of inspiration and bear witness to over 2,000 million years of geological history.

View from US 163 to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

- © Diego De Munari / Shutterstock

Mother Nature has been generous with the United States, with 70 magnificent canyons to explore in several States. From Hawaii to Arizona to Alaska, these spectacular landscapes are among the country's most emblematic monuments. The biggest, the narrowest, the most colourful, the steepest, the canyons come in all shapes and sizes.

There's nothing like standing at the precipice of a canyon, watching the immensity of nature stretch endlessly to the horizon. A truly spiritual journey that reconnects you with pure, unadulterated nature. The canyons are accessible to everyone: as a family, solo, as a couple, with friends... or by practising fun and extreme sports activities, discovering the cultural and historical side or simply taking a stroll.

Thor's hammer and the spectacular rock spires of Bryce Canyon's Hoodoo

- © Jane Rix / Shutterstock

You can hike, cycle, ride a horse or travel in a 4x4. Photographers enjoy the breathtaking scenery from morning till night.

Where do canyons come from? These natural monsters reveal the history of the Earth. Experts and geologists have been studying this story for millions of years. And the rocks tell us a great deal about living beings before and now. These rocks come from volcanic eruptions. Lava has spread over the Earth and created wonders.

Aerial view of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon

- © Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock

Canyons are also important for palaeontology, or the study of fossils. Fossils are often better preserved in dry, warm areas. Since canyons generally form under the same conditions, they are good places to examine fossils.

Even further afield, geologists study canyons to determine how the landscape will change in the future. Erosion patterns and the thickness of different layers can reveal the climate in different years.

Geologists estimate that the Grand Canyon, for example, is eroded at a rate of 0.3 metres every 200 years. The Colorado Plateau, the geological area where the Grand Canyon is located, is a very stable zone. They expect the Grand Canyon to continue to deepen as long as the Colorado River flows.

Horseshoe Bend near Page

- © Dr_Flash / Shutterstock

A few facts about canyons

👉 What is a canyon?

A canyon is a deep, narrow valley with steep sides. "Canyon" comes from the Spanish word el cañon, which means tube or pipe.

👉 How are canyons formed?

Canyons are generally formed by erosion of the plateau level. Over millions of years, wind, rain and ice erode the material forming a deep cleft between the more resistant granite and sandstone areas of the plateau. This process takes place over millions of years.

👉 What is the largest canyon in the United States?

At 446 km long and up to 29 km wide, Arizona's Grand Canyon is the largest canyon in the United States.

👉 What is the deepest canyon in the United States?

Plunging to more than 2,400 metres, the Idaho Canyon is the deepest canyon on the North American continent.

Sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

- © Vadi Fuoco / Shutterstock

How to get there?

There is no airport in the United States that allows you to get as close as possible to the canyons. In any case, you'll need to hire a car to get from the airport to the parks. For the Grand Canyon, the two nearest airports are Las Vegas and Flagstaff. For Canyonlands, the nearest airports are Denver or Salt Lake City.

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Where to stay?

Hotel, motel, campsite, glamping... There's plenty of choice when it comes to enjoying America's most beautiful canyons. It's a good idea to book your accommodation in advance, especially for some of the more popular tourist destinations such as the Grand Canyon. For less-frequented areas, you may be able to book accommodation at the last minute for greater flexibility.

Practical information

Documents and visa :

To enter the United States, you need a valid biometric or electronic passport and an electronic travel authorisation (ESTA) before boarding the plane. This application is made online and a decision is taken within 72 hours of registration. The ESTA costs $21 (payable by credit card on the website) and is valid for two years. Please note: each member of a family must have their own passport, including babies and children.

Currency:

Dollars are used here. Should I use cash or a bank card? You can pay for everything with a credit card. However, it is a good idea to carry some cash for small purchases and tips. Be aware that if you are travelling with cash, you will need to declare it at customs once you reach a certain threshold (equal to or greater than $10,000). A payment card is more than necessary, as it can be used to pay for purchases, confirm reservations (car hire, hotels) and withdraw cash. ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) are widely available in all the States. Finally, you should be aware that a small commission is charged for cash withdrawals.

Tipping is commonplace in the United States. Prices in shops, hotels, restaurants and parks (except museums) are often tax-free. Many tourism professionals depend on tips, such as guides, baggage handlers (1 dollar per piece of luggage), cleaners (around 5 dollars for a weekend), waiters (15% to 20% depending on the service), taxi drivers, etc.

Best period :

The climate in the American West is continental, with contrasting temperatures in the north and south. In general, the best months to visit the American canyons are April to June (spring) and September to November (autumn). Summers are very hot and stifling, with temperatures that can reach 40 degrees. Winters, in contrast to summer, are very cold and snowy. Trails may be closed.

Safety :

In the American West, there are no major dangers to be aware of, apart from animals. You must remain vigilant for grizzly bears, bison, coyotes and rattlesnakes. It's forbidden to feed the animals or leave rubbish in the car, and you should also be careful on the road, as it's possible to cross the path of an animal (particularly bison in the middle of the night). On average, around ten bears are hit by cars every year, particularly in Yosemite Park. Park rangers are on hand to ensure safety in the parks and are happy to give advice. Most accidents in the canyons are caused by the tourists themselves, such as lack of water, unsuitable footwear, vertigo or poor preparation.

The emergency number is 911.

lightbulb_outline Editor's tip

Fill up with petrol in towns, because in rural areas and in the desert, petrol stations are few and far between.

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