A slot canyon is a narrow canyon formed by water, generally from a flash flood. It is significantly deeper than it is wide. In the case of Antelope Canyon flash flooding has eaten away at the Navajo sandstone for years, creating deep cuts in the earth and smoothing the edges to form curving and flowing shapes.
To visit a slot canyon, you descend into the ground, either through a narrow path or by ladder. This can be difficult for those with mobility issues or claustrophobia, so consider your needs before planning a visit.
We visited Antelope Canyon on a road trip in the American Southwest. We started in Las Vegas and explored some of the best U.S. parks. For an overview and a suggested route read Utah National Park Road Trip.
We’d always hoped to visit the canyon but were confused on how to tour on Native American land. When our trip planning took us to Lake Powell, we decided to do the research and visit.
Upper vs Lower Antelope Canyon Tours
Antelope Canyon is actually two canyons – Upper Antelope (Navajo name- Tse’bighanilini, “the place where water runs through rocks.”), and Lower Antelope (Hasdestwazi, “spiral rock arches.”)
First decision you must make is which section of the canyon to visit. Both canyons are spectacular with more photo opportunities than any 2 hour visit can handle. Upper Antelope Canyon is well known for its light beams, the way sunlight filters through the dust. To see this best, we’d recommend you visit around noon when the sun is high in the sky. Upper Antelope Canyon is easily accessible for visitors whereas Lower Antelope Canyon is only accessible with a series of ladders. But because of these factors, Upper Antelope Canyon is generally more crowded, and taking pictures of the formations can be difficult.
We chose to visit Lower Antelope Canyon because of the fewer crowds, and because we liked the challenge of the twists, and the ups and downs. We booked with Ken’s Tours based on reviews of Antelope Canyon tours on TripAdvisor.
Ken’s Tours offers several options for visits – a general tour, a deluxe tour, and a photographer’s tour. The general tour (~$50 for adults, ~$28 for children 8-12. Price includes Navajo Nation Park Fee) was well reviewed but would consist of a larger group going through a narrow space. We decided on the deluxe tour (~$92 including Navajo Nation Park Fee) for our group. The deluxe tour is usually limited to four people but they allowed us six on this day. The higher price was, without question, worth every penny!
Our tour began with freshly baked oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies! Probably the best cookies I ever had! OK, I’m getting off track here, but they were really good and unexpected. We were given an introduction to the canyon, shown a video, and issued complimentary water bottles on a lanyard. (this was great as there are restrictions on what you can carry into the canyon. See below)
The first question to our group was how we heard about Antelope Canyon. We volunteered “National Geographic!” Apparently that was the #1 answer from all visitors to the area. The otherworldly beauty of the slot canyon has been captured by thousands of visitors, but it was the National Geographic cover that brought the attention of the world to Antelope Canyon. So much so that in 2014 Peter Lik sold his ‘Ghost’ photograph of Upper Antelope Canyon for a record $6.5 million!
We didn’t anticipate getting multi-million dollar images from the canyon, but were delighted with the images we got. The deluxe tour ensured we had time, and space, to get the pictures we wanted. Our guide, Rashon, helped us to find the best angles and showed us settings on our cellphones we’d never tried before. He posed us for group pictures and took some fun shots of each of us. All while NEVER STOPPING SMILING! What a guide!
How difficult is a visit to Antelope Canyon?
Upper Antelope Canyon is accessed with a flat, sandy walk in and out. You are driven to the entry point in a 4 x 4 vehicle and walk in. Not difficult at all. In fact people have explored this canyon in wheelchairs, though I wouldn’t recommend this without express permission from your tour company. Children can be carried through the canyon, but strollers are not permitted.
Lower Antelope begins with a set of steep ladders descending into the canyon. Within the canyon there are a few more staircases to navigate. The entry ladders were probably the most difficult part of the tour, and, although having a fear of heights, I didn’t think it too hard.
Once inside the canyons, the tightest spot is about 3 feet wide. In Lower Antelope Canyon there are spots where you have to stop over rocks, etc., and spots where you must duck your head. The canyon didn’t feel claustrophobic with the light streaming in from the sky. You are never completely underground.
One member of our travel group chose to skip the tour as she thought it would be claustrophobic and physically challenging. In retrospect I think she could have done the tour.
How to visit to Antelope Canyon
Car: Antelope Canyon is about 15 minutes from Page, Arizona. From Page take AZ-98 East to Indian Route 222. You will see multiple tour companies when you arrive. We traveled this way as we were leaving our rental car at the Page airport before embarking on a Grand Canyon rafting expedition.
Bus: If you are coming from Las Vegas (4.5 hours away) or Grand Canyon National Park (~2-3 hours depending on your location) there are buses available that will take you to the canyon. You can combine a trip to the canyon with a stop at Horseshoe Bend, another spectacular photo op!
Bag and gear restrictions:
The canyon is narrow and winding so it makes sense that there are restrictions on what you can carry. On Ken’s Tours you are allowed a clear bag (similar to what you’d bring to a stadium), a water bottle, hand held camera, and cell phone. No backpacks, purses, Go-Pros, selfie sticks, etc.
Best Time to Visit Antelope Canyon:
Best months to visit are March through October. Be aware that rain may close the canyons to tours. The flooding that shaped these extraordinary canyons is still happening. Respect the guides if they tell you the canyon is unsafe.
Best time to go to Lower Antelope Canyon is early morning. Crowds are thinner and the temperature more manageable.
Best time to go to Upper Antelope Canyon is when the sun is high in the sky – noonish. There is a shaded waiting area so you will not become overheated while you wait to enter.
Book your tour in advance:
There may be availability if you just show up, but I wouldn’t count on it. And it’s an out of the way location for a drop in. Book your visit far in advance.
Whatever tour agency you choose, we highly recommend upgrading your tour, if possible, to a deluxe tour or similar. The primary complaint voiced on TripAdvisor is that there were too many people to get a good picture. This was not the case with our tour.
Respect the culture:
Both canyons are sacred to the Navajo nation. Be mindful of this when you visit.
Our Mission is to protect, preserve and manage tribal parks, monuments and recreation areas for the perpetual enjoyment and benefit of the Navajo Nation – the spectacular landscapes, buttes, canyons, clean air, diversity of plants and wildlife, and areas of beauty and solitude. – Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation
Other Things to Do Near Page, AZ
The Navajo nation manages the East Waterholes and the Rainbow Bridge Trail. All require a guide to visit. For more information see the Navajo National Parks page.
Horseshoe Bend – this much photographed curve of the Colorado River is accessible from AZ-89 between milepost 544 and 545 – look for “scenic view” sign and walk to viewpoint. Or take a 15 minute walk from Lower Antelope Canyon with a guide.
Lake Powell – a man-made reservoir on the Colorado river with tons of recreational opportunities. We stayed a night at the Lake Powell Resort before heading to Page. The resort offers a scenic boat tour of Lake Powell each evening. It was a nice change from the National Park lodges.
Big John’s Texas BBQ in Page, Arizona- once a gas station, now a fun spot to eat with picnic tables, peanut shells, and great barbecue food! We went at lunchtime but in the evening they have live music. Will have to go back!
There are some incredible places in Arizona to explore. Here are recommendations for some of the best hikes in Arizona.
We only had time for a visit to Lower Antelope Canyon. Have you been to Upper Antelope Canyon? What guide would you recommend for Upper Antelope?