Gorges or canyons are art projects of fast-flowing rivers – carved over millennia, the water creates visual spectacles that are both breathtaking and unique. Ranging from arid gorges to lush canyons with fast-flowing rivers, these natural creations can be easily explored by foot, mountain bike or from the river.
Near the town Tinerhir, in the eastern part of the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, is the Todgha Gorge (or Todra Gorge). The spectacular canyon was carved by the rivers Todgha and Dades, as they flowed their final 40km through the mountains. The last 600m of the gorge is the most spectacular; here, the road through lush palmeraies and Berber villages narrow into an area just wide enough for the crystal-clear river and single-file trekkers to squeeze through pink-and-grey rock walls that soar over 100m high. The canyon, which is en route along the ‘Road of One Thousand Kasbahs’ is easily accessible by a road which local inhabitants run with donkeys, camels and goats.
One of Europe’s most picturesque gorges is the Congost de Mont-Rebei in Catalonia, Spain. This 600-hectare canyon was carved by the river Noguera Ribagorcana, and is the only gorge in Spain with no railway or road access. You can explore the gorge by hiking along the scenic old bridle trail that’s carved into the canyon, which leads you to a suspension bridge, and a vertigo-inducing set of stairs that cling to the cliffside. The cliffs attract rock climbers, and mountain bikers sometimes ride the trail, while kayakers can admire the gorge from the calm river. High above, birds of prey – griffon vultures, golden eagles, and bearded vultures – patrol the skies.
Also known as Barrancas del Cobre, this canyon is located in the Sierra Madre Occidental, in northwestern Mexico. The canyons were created by the six rivers that merge into Rio Fuerte and empty into the Gulf of California, resulting in an area that is larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. There are several ways to explore the Copper Canyon, including hiking, biking and horseback riding, but the most famous way to go through the canyon is by train. The construction of the railway began in the 19th century but ended only in 1961. Today, the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico railway runs along the canyon, which is located on the Gulf of California.
Situated about a 90-minute drive from Atlanta, Georgia is the Tallulah Gorge. In the 19th century, this gorge was even more famous than the Niagara waterfalls and attracted a larger number of visitors thanks to the Tallulah Falls Railway. Today, the Tallulah Gorge is the centrepiece of Tallulah Gorge State Park; the gorge itself is 3km long, almost 300m deep and features 5 waterfalls. You can hike the rim trails and cross a suspension bridge that swings 24m above the rocky bottom for a spectacular view of the river and waterfalls or obtain a permit (100 hikers per day) to hike the gorge floor. Mountain bikers can challenge themselves along the 16km trail.
The Yarlung Zangbo is located in China and stretches 240km, winding around Mt Namcha Barwa and through the eastern Himalayan range. Nowadays, the river which crosses the gorge is called Zangbo, previously known as Yarlung Trangpo River (the ‘purifier’), and flows from China to India, where it becomes the Brahmaputra. The gorge is known as the highest green land on earth and its landscape consists of green mountains with white peaks poking through the clouds. Thanks to its spectacular untouched vegetation and wildlife, the area has been declared the “Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon National Reservation” by the government. The most striking animal here is the Tarkin, a furry goat-antelope with a stocky body.
Composed of schist, gneiss and marble, this impressive gorge is 19km long and situated in Taiwan’s east coast. Meaning “magnificent and splendid”, Taroko Gorge is part of Taroko National Park which is known for its variety of vegetation, including subtropical forested canyons and rugged coastal cliffs that are home to an impressive 144 species of birds. The narrow highway that runs through the spectacular gorge was hand-carved during the 1950s to provide access to the west coast through breath-taking tunnels and bridges and reaches 3,400m at its highest point. There are plenty of hiking trails spread across the park, and the steep highway is popular with cyclists who love a challenge.
The Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepal is one of the world’s deepest, at 5,571m from the highest peak to the river surface. The Gandaki river which flows through the gorge – separating the major peaks of Dhaulagiri on the west and Annapurna on the east – is actually older than the Himalayas. The gorge is popular among trekkers in Nepal who use it to get from Pokhara to Muktinath, along the famous Annapurna Circuit. Local outfits also run rafting and canoeing trips along the 92km stretch of river between Baglung and the dam at Marmin. Locals sometimes head into the muddy waters to find saligrams, sacred stones valued for their healing properties.