Canyoning, or canyoneering as it’s known in the U.S., is a combination of many sport activities put together. It generally incorporates one or more of the following: walking, scrambling, climbing, jumping, abseiling, swimming and rappelling. Whew, it’s a long list of adventure designed to give you a one of a kind thrill. Canyoning is a relatively new sport and requires the right conditions, so sometimes it can be hard to find the best places to go. What better way to get to know the sport or develop your skills further than by taking a tour of the best spots Europe has to offer? From alpine hills to waterfalls and rolling rivers, this list will take you down the relatively unbeaten path of European canyoning.
1. Fort William, Scotland
Located on the western side of Scotland, Fort Williams is a cloud covered town, home to about 10,000 inhabitants. It’s also the perfect starting point to access some of Scotland’s best glens and canyons. From here, you can easily access at least 14 canyons, most within a 35 minute drive. So, if you’re new to the sport and feel a little queasy thinking about jumping into a river or sliding down waterfalls, you can go to Allt Van Halen. It’s perfect for the whole family, and if you chicken out or don’t feel like doing any jumps or slides, you can opt out and still continue the course. However, canyoning is about adventure, and the adrenaline rush you get from jumping from ledges and sliding down several meters of waterfall. Ben Nevis offers just that, although you can still opt out of the jumps and slides if you really want to. For the very brave or experienced, try the Grey Mare’s Trail. It’s a slot canyon, meaning it can get rather thin, so maybe not one for the claustrophobic. You’ll slide or jump down several hefty waterfalls, abseil, and do a little climbing to enjoy some pretty spectacular jumps.
2. Peneda-Geres National Park, Portugal
If you go to Portugal, you have to go to its only national park, the Peneda-Gerês National Park. Although it might be the only one, it boasts nearly 700 square kilometers of striking natural beauty. Bordering the northeast frontier with Spain, the park is home to a number of hills, lakes, valleys, castles and of course, canyons. Although winter can get down to 4°C in the mountains, the valleys stay around 8°C, and summer averages around 20°C. What does this mean? You can try your hand at canyoning all year round. You can enjoy this natural wonder more thoroughly by exploring its canyons, which will feature scrambling over slippery boulders, some repelling, cliff jumping, and green hued waters. At river Arado Gerês, you’ll abseil down a wide, rushing waterfall, make a number of small jumps, and let yourself be carried through a narrow tunnel to the next pool. Another popular spot is the Cabril River, Poço do Mouro. Here you’ll walk a dirt trail to get to the start of the canyon, where you can slide or jump down the slanted sides. After getting acquainted with the clear green water, you’ll continue through dim narrow passageways, and abseil down further through the taverns as waterfalls rush around you. This canyon is for the more experienced, and can get quite narrow at points.
3. Málaga, Andalucía Spain
Andalucía is probably known best for its running of the bulls every Easter Sunday. If you want to experience that kind of thrill but skip the risk of being trampled, you’re better off heading to one of the canyons located about an hour or two away from Málaga. Beginners can get their feet wet in the Guadalmina River, where they will learn the technical skills necessary for harder canyons. Think you can handle more than some short slides and jumps? Almanchares canyon will take it up a notch. Located in the Natural Park Sierra Tejeda and Almijara, an hour east of Málaga, it is a narrow course with several waterfalls. Although it has as many as 14 rappels, it isn’t technically difficult. You can also find an even more challenging canyon in this park, Barranco Moreno. The most challenging course around this area is Las Buitreras. Located in a different nature park, this time two hours to the west, you’ll find deep, cathedral-like grey rocks that form a sometimes narrow and winding path. You’ll start by hopping from boulders to ledges and jump into narrow tunnels as you make your way further and further down into the canyon.
4. Nice, France
Southern France has a variety of exciting canyons to offer, most of which are located an hour, hour and half drive from Nice. Les Gorges de Loup features some relatively easy going canyoning, with some light rappelling, several jumps, and a few slides down small waterfalls. A medium level canyon, Bollèn, will take you into the French Alps. It features many jumps, although not usually higher than 3m, and some very steep waterfall slides – one of which is an almost straight vertical drop. It will be sure to get your blood rushing. One of the most advanced canyons, Maglia, is also in the Alps. You better prepare yourself to tackle the various abseils, 15 jumps and 8 fast flowing waterfall slides. Some of the passages are narrow, and you’ll actually pass through a cave. You’ll need some technical skills and guts to get through this one.
5. Interlaken, Switzerland
It’s a small country, but it has a lot to offer. Located between two lakes that are connected by the river Aare, you’ll feel safely sheltered in the lush green valley surrounded by rocky mountains. There are three main canyons here: Saexten, Chli Schliere and Grimsel. Saexten is the easiest and shortest, only lasting about three and a half hours. A bit more complex, at Grimsel you’ll start by rappelling right away into the canyon, climb down a slippery stairway, and several jumps. You’ll also get the chance to try zip lining into one of the pools. The most popular canyon might be Chli Schliere, but you better be ready to spend the whole day in the water – the whole trip will take around 7 hours. It’s worth it though. Inside parts of the canyon the grey rocks have been worn smooth over the ears, forming a spectacular view. You’ll find yourself sliding down almost long vertical waterfalls, rappelling deeper and deeper into the canyon, and various high jumps.
6. Lake Garda, Italy
One of the most popular travel destinations, no time could be enough to see all this country has to offer. But while you’re there, don’t skip the best canyons, which are located around Lake Garda. Situated conveniently between Venice and Milan, you have no excuse not to explore these canyons. A really fun one for adventurous beginners is Torrente Tuffone, where the main draw is three jumps up to 15m high into sparkling turquoise pools. There are several more beginner routes to be sure, but let’s skip ahead to the bone chilling drops. Vajo dell’Orsa is a 7 hour long adventure, where you’ll find yourself going through some narrow passageways and very dim spaces. With jumps and slides that get up to 13m, and plenty of abseiling, you’ll need some technical skills to master this canyon. If you’re not afraid of heights and have a lot of experience, go for the gold and try Torrente Aviana. You’ll need to abseil 100 meters down a waterfall, and push yourself to make these jumps. Another advanced option is Rio Nero, where you can expect to abseil up to 40m, and jumps up to 15m. With the black rock walls and vibrant green shrubbery bordering the top of the canyon, you’ll feel like you’re in a completely different world.
7. Tirol, Austria
Also known as Tyrol, this Austrian state is full of mountains. With so many canyoning opportunities, it’s hard to choose the best ones. Alpenrosenklamm is perfect for beginners. You’ll get a feel for short abseils, jumps that only get up to 4m, and a little longer slides. The abseils can get a bit high though, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re afraid of heights. One of the most popular canyons in Tirol is Auerklamm. This canyon has three parts, so the difficultly might depend on which part you go to, but all are for those with at least some experience. Slides can be 20m long and in many sections of the canyon the jumps get up to 17m, with many abseiling opportunities. Finally, the bravest of hearts can try the less traversed Kronburg. The canyon is narrow, requires abseiling up to 40m, and features plenty of waterfalls. You’ll need technical skills to finish this trip.
8. Triglav National Park, Slovenia
This national park, as well as the areas surrounding it, has around 7 canyons worth exploring. Beginner canyons can be found in the park at Mostnica Gorge or just outside at Sušec Canyon. Sušec is easier to access, and a lot of fun. You’ll have the opportunity to jump up to 12m off a ledge into the stream, and several belly slides down short waterfalls. All obstacles can also be easily avoided. For more challenging canyons, you can explore Predelica Stream, where you’ll encounter many waterfalls, five of which require abseiling. This difficult canyon requires some technical skills. Be prepared for high cliffs and jumps into clear water pools bordered by rough rocks. The most challenging may be Grmečica Canyon, where you’ll need a background in technical skills to abseil into parts of the canyon. The most exciting parts is abseiling through a narrow space to access a pool of water before jumping 8m from a waterfall. There is also a very technical canyon on the other side of the bark near Lake Bled, Sava Bohinjka. It requires ample use of wires, traversing through fallen trees and obstacles, and several high jumps.
It’s a small country, which makes it easy to reach all the canyons it has to offer. Canyon Rikavac is for absolute newbies, lasting only around 3 hours, with small jumps and slides. Even if it isn’t your first time, you’ll still be impressed by the dark green forests, and ruddy rocks lining this canyon. Two hours to the northwest is Nevidio, probably this country’s most popular canyon. One of several canyons in Durmitor National Park, you’ll climb and weave through boulders, wade through turquoise water, and make several medium jumps into small pools surrounded by steep ledges. It might be the perfect canyon for intermediates. Another possibility is canyoning in the Skurda River. You’ll find yourself walking down into the forest and abseiling through a thin, smooth slot to get further into this canyon. You’ll find a waterfall, and more boulders that lead to a ledge where you can abseil even further down the cliff lined with trees and a waterfall.
10. Mount Olympus and Kissavos, Greece
Greece’s eastern mountains have nearly unlimited canyoning opportunities. Not many places offer so many canyons concentrated so close together. Really, this is a beginner or intermediate’s paradise. If you love canyoning and are looking to binge, this is definitely the place for you. Kissavos has two major canyons, Kalypso and Kakoskala. Kalypso Canyon has two sections, both of which are suitable for beginners. You’ll get a feel for abseiling by going down a long waterfall. It isn’t too intense, but certainly gives you a glimpse of the mountain’s natural beauty, and what else you can look forward to canyoning in Greece. Kakoskala canyon is broken into four or five sections that will be difficult to finish in one day alone. There are many easy abseils, the longest being 25m. You’ll find yourself moving through a number of waterfalls, blue water, and dark cliff edges lined with vegetation. At Mt. Olympus you’ll find Enipeas, another canyon broken into three sections. Most take between 5 to 7 hours, so it’s not feasible to tackle them all in one day. This means that getting to the further sections may require walking for an hour to an hour and a half. Some abseiling is required, but not much, and they only get up to 40m. Greece’s east coast is perfect for a tranquil trip for beginners and intermediates, or just those who want to experience these beautiful mountains from a different perspective.
image credit: By Krish Dulal (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons