Stand on the brink, stare into the abyss, and have your mind blown by these monumentally deep pits.
Dramatic, inspiring, and sometimes downright scary, holes can hide treasures, reveal secrets, and offer tantalizing tastes of adventure. Manmade or natural, there’s something about a big hole that makes the curious want to stand at its brink, take a deep breath, and explore its mysteries. These deep craters are sure to have you gasping, “Hole-y cow!”
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Not only do humans flock to this 50-foot-wide, 140-foot-deep natural shaft—so do 3 million or so Mexican free-tailed bats, which come billowing out of the hole each night. Early risers can enjoy a spectacle relatively few people witness: the bats coming home after a night on the town.
Yes, it’s filled with water, but standing on the brink of this volcanic caldera, gazing into its impossibly dark blue waters, you sense every single one of the 1,949 feet to the bottom. No springs or streams empty into this mountaintop lake—the second-deepest in the world. Every drop you see has dropped from the sky.
When The Grand Canyon grows up, it wants to be Hell’s Canyon. Nearly a half-mile deeper than Arizona’s Big Ditch, it’s especially beautiful when ablaze with aspens in the fall. All those trees can block the view, though, and there are only a few spots where you can drive up to the edge.
INSIDER TIPHell’s Canyon is one hole that may best be viewed from the bottom up: A scenic road traces the east side of the Snake River through the canyon.
Grand Canyon North Rim
No list of Big Holes can ignore the most famous one in the world, but if you want to get the full eternal abyss effect, journey to the less-visited North Rim. It’s 1,000 feet higher above the Colorado River than the South (and cooler in the summer).
INSIDER TIPThe North Rim is open only from mid-May to December 1—and then only if snow has not closed the roads.
Tourists are shocked to come to the end of Meteor Crater’s six-mile access road and learn that this mile-wide, 560-foot-deep hole, punched into the Earth by a 300,000-ton meteorite, isn’t a public park. It’s owned by descendants of Daniel Barringer, the scientist who first theorized it was dug by a body from outer space (previous experts thought it was volcanic). They charge $18 to stand at the lip, but just go ahead and pay the man: Because Meteor Crater is “only” 50,000 years old, a visit to its still-rugged rim is sort of like traveling to the moon.
INSIDER TIPDon’t miss the tiny figure of an astronaut down below; the Apollo astronauts trained here.
Brigham Copper Mine
With its concentric tiers and roughly oval outline, the largest human excavation on Earth resembles the Rose Bowl on steroids. After some recent landslides, the visitors’ center has been closed until further notice but you can still get to an overlook 9,000 feet above sea level and peer down into the three-quarter-mile-deep gash.
St. Croix Dalles
Around here, the locals actually brag about the potholes in the Interstate—because the holes in question are located in Interstate State Park, and they’re the world’s deepest basalt (a type of volcanic rock) potholes. It takes a lot of water to dig a pothole in basalt, and that’s what poured through here a million years or so ago when the ancient glacial Lake Duluth drained. The pot-holiest of them all is said to be the 60-foot-deep “Bottomless Pit,” but there’s another that may be even deeper.
Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania
Fun Practical Joke for Easterners: Pile the family into the car, announce you’re driving everyone to The Grand Canyon—then stop at Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, where Pine Creek cuts a 47-mile-long, 450-foot-deep gorge through the Allegheny plateau. The best news: You can ride through the canyon without a raft. Just hop on a bike at Wellsboro and coast along the 62-mile rail trail downhill to Williamsport.
Morning Glory Hole
WHERE: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
A sort of primal horror may grip you while staring into the eye of this steaming, green-and-yellow-and-blue hole—and somehow sensing that it’s staring back. Ironically, much of that brilliant color is considered undesirable by the National Park Service; the hole used to be blue, but decades of tourists tossing in coins, as if it were some wilderness Trevvi Fountain, have clogged up the hot water source below, resulting in an invasion of multicolored algae.
INSIDER TIPDon’t throw in coins.
Lake Berryessa Glory Hole
WHERE: Napa Valley, California
There are all kinds of reasons to be thankful that northern California’s drought has been eased by recent rains, and here’s an unexpected one. As the waters of the Lake Berryessa reservoir threaten to top out, they swirl down what amounts to a giant 72-foot-wide bathtub drain. The shaft is 200 feet deep, but as the waters disappear down that inky abyss, it seems hypnotically infinite.
WHERE: Death Valley, California
No, this is no cheat: As the deepest spot in the lowest area in North America, Badwater Basin really is a hole—it’s just a hole with very, very shallow sides. Surprisingly, there are a few inches of water down there most of the year, but true to its name, the pool is infused with a higher salt content than the ocean.
WHERE: Scranton, PA
Ever since its discovery by some mighty confused coal miners who happened to tunnel into it from below in 1884, this 38-foot-deep, 42-foot-wide glacial pothole in the mountains north of Scranton has drawn visitors and, earlier in the 20th Century, too many adventurous local kids, hence the fencing. Perhaps due to its location near an urban center, an awful lot of oddball objects have been found at the bottom, including a parking meter and a park bench.
Hill Annex Mine State Park
WHERE: Calumet, Minnesota
The thing about mines is, when the miners leave for good and switch off the pumps, they fill up with water mighty fast. That’s what happened here, where before 1978 more than 63 million tons of iron ore were pulled from the earth, creating a hole hundreds of feet deep. You can take boats over the mine now, pulling up to the steep, crater-like sides seeking fossils embedded in the walls. Unlike lots of parks, here you can keep whatever you find.
Homer City Generating Station Smokestack #3
WHERE: Indiana County, Pennsylvania
A hole is defined by the walls around it, so you could say when you visit this 1,217- foot chimney — the tallest in the U.S. — you’re standing next to a very deep, extremely narrow hole. Visible from 30 miles away, the chimney, built in 1977, is now out of commission except for its bragging rights.
INSIDER TIPThe stack is on private property, so you can’t get right up next to it—but for picture-taking purposes, the farther away you are, the more of the smoke stack you’ll get in your frame.