Your hands get sweaty just thinking about it: ascending 400 feet of steel cables on the backside of Half Dome so that you can hang off the edge of Yosemite’s most celebrated rock face, with a 2,700-foot drop. It’s both thrilling and humbling to look down on the world from such great height.
With their soaring beauty and treacherous geology, cliffs have always occupied a special place in the human imagination. From the cathartic moment in King Lear when the Earl of Gloucester contemplates the “extreme verge” at England’s White Cliffs of Dover to cartoons of Road Runner luring Wile E. Coyote over yet another desert precipice, cliffs appear again and again in music, literature, and pop culture.
And no wonder: the most amazing cliffs leave viewers in awe of their sheer majesty. Couples take their wedding vows next to famous drop-offs. Adrenaline junkies get their fix climbing towering rock faces or leaping off the top in wingsuits. Bird-watchers turn up to observe some of the world’s most intriguing seabirds. And New Age gurus lead encounter sessions on cliff tops.
Cliffs have the power to influence the course of history and teach us about the past. If the British Army had failed to scale the cliffs of Quebec in 1759 during the French and Indian War, North America might be a much different place. Archaeologists would know little about the Anasazi cliff dwellers of the American Southwest if they had decided to live in the lowlands.
Take a peek at the world’s more dramatic cliffs, along with recommended adventurous activities that will get intrepid travelers close to the edge—or at least to the best vantage point.