One of my favorite pastimes is exploring roads and sights less traveled. Don’t get me wrong, there are iconic places like the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls that absolutely must be seen (again and again, if possible). However, there are plenty of other stunning vistas in the United States to explore. Here are five of my favorite less-well-known gorges in the U.S.
North Unit, Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)
If you love the Grand Canyon, you won’t want to miss Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Most visitors to this beautiful badlands park visit the South Unit (adjacent to the town of Medora) on US Route 94. Those who visit the North Unit are rewarded with sweeping vistas over the Little Missouri River and restorative solitude. Wild bison can also be seen at this national park, unlike the Grand Canyon.
Royal Gorge Bridge and Park (Colorado)
The Royal Gorge is simply jaw dropping. That sums up both the vast gorge and the architectural feat of building a span capable of crossing above it. Only one hour from Colorado Springs and two hours from Denver, the area offers several terrific viewpoints. The best is Point Sublime, which features views of the bridge, gorge, Arkansas River far below and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. You can also experience great views from the bridge or take a ride down the incline. Adventurers can zip line or ride the gondolas along the rim, or even white-water raft in the river below!
New River Gorge National River (West Virginia)
This West Virginia park contains a stunning gorge cut through the Appalachian Mountains by the river below. The pictured bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in the world. Plus, the New River Gorge Bridge is the longest steel span in the western hemisphere and the third highest in the United States. The bridge is opened to pedestrians on the third Sunday of each October. Thousand attend the annual Bridge Day event, featuring BASE jumping, crafts vendors, food, music and more. See it along our Route 64 road trip.
Genesee River Gorge (New York)
The 17-mile drive along this amazing gorge would be reason enough to visit, but there’s so much more. Visitors can enjoy picnic sites, scenic turnouts, hiking trails to waterfalls, 270 campsites and 82 rustic cabins. The 14,000 acre park near Rochester also has over 60 miles of hiking trails and a mixed forest of oaks, beech, maples and evergreens that make an autumn visit even more spectacular. One of the most beloved features of the gorge are the cascading waterfalls of the Genesee River.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona)
Lesser known and much less visited than the Grand Canyon, this beautiful desert canyon, located entirely on Navajo tribal land, contains over 2700 documented archaeological sites as well as a working Navajo community. The 43 miles of roads above the canyon (North Rim Drive and South Rim Drive) provide great ways to gain familiarity with the area with viewpoints that take in the 500-1000 foot drop to the canyon floor. The 2.5 mile (roundtrip) hike from the White House Ruins overlook to the 1,000 year old ruins is the only hike permitted in the canyon that does not require a guide. Other tours to Navajo ruins are fee based.
I hope this list inspires you to seek out these gems as well as the dozens of other canyons and gorges created through the forces of nature and time. I think you’ll agree, they’re well worth the trip.