Visiting Antelope Canyon can be the highlight of your trip to Arizona. As you're surrounded by the red canyon walls, carved by nature over millennia, it's easy to see why the Navajo people hold this place sacred. Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon, created by water rushing through the sandstone during flash floods. The water carves a winding path through the stone, forming round and waving walls marked with delicate lines.
We visited the canyon a few years ago. It was one of the more expensive items on our itinerary and I had wondered if it would be worth it. It was. In this post, I'm going to share with you some insights and tips for visiting Antelope Canyon. I hope these will help you make the most of your trip to this majestic place.
Update: This post has been updated to include more information.
Things you should know before visiting Antelope Canyon -
1. Visiting Antelope Canyon during a flash flood is dangerous.
When it's raining upstream, tours can be canceled without prior notice. Tour operators should refund your money if that happens, but check their website to make sure. Flash floods are a serious threat. People have been killed in slot canyons, getting caught up in flash floods.
Antelope Canyon itself has claimed its share of lives, unfortunately. I don't mean to deter you by being too morbid, but if you're curious about Antelope Canyon deaths, then it's worth noting that 11 tourists lost their lives in the canyon back in 1997. With no early warning system in place, they had no idea a flash flood was coming in. You can read the story of their guide here. He was the only survivor of the incident.
Fortunately, things have changed after that. An early warning system has been put in place, and visitors are no longer allowed in the canyon when there's a high flood risk. So, if this happens to you, please don't be mad at them. Floods post a very real risk.
Some people think Antelope Canyon is a national park. I can actually see why. It would have certainly become a national park had it not been on Navajo land. It is one of several Navajo tribal parks, maintained by tribal authorities.
Oh, and just in case you're wondering. Antelope Canyon is not in Utah. It's in Arizona. I know this may sound silly but people actually Google for "Antelope Canyon, Utah", so worth mentioning.
3. Mind the timezone
Navajo territory follows Daylight Saving Time (DST) during summer. Most areas in Arizona do not. That means it's one hour earlier in the Navajo reservation.
If you're visiting Antelope Canyon and arriving from outside the reservation on the same day, adjust your timetable accordingly.
4. There are two Antelope Canyons: The lower and the upper
It is the same canyon but there are two separate points where you can visit: Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. The upper canyon is the more popular one. It's wider and more accessible with the entry point being on the ground level. The lower canyon has a narrower and steeper entry point and visitors go down several flights of stairs.
5. Visiting Antelope Canyon is limited to guided tours only
The regulations of the Navajo Tribal Parks Authority state that you can only visit Antelope Canyon with a Navajo guide.
Guided tours are available throughout the year for both the Upper and Lower canyons.
You can choose between a general tour which lasts about an hour or a more slow-paced photography tour which can last up to two hours. Park regulations limit all visits to no more than two hours.
Upper Antelope Canyon Guided Tours
There are three official tour companies that can take you to the upper Antelope Canyon. Tour operators can usually pick you up from the town of Page, or you can drive to the parking lot, closer to the canyon's southern entrance and be picked up there. They will then drive you on their 4WD trucks to where the tour begins.
Upper canyon tour operators:
Lower Antelope Canyon Guided Tours
There are two companies offering guided tours to the lower part of the canyon. They are located right across from one another next to the northern entrance to the canyon. Visitors leave their cars in the parking lot and it's a short hike from there to the entrance.
Lower canyon tour operators:
6. Antelope Canyon Entrance Fees
Visiting Antelope Canyon is expensive. The guided tours companies charge $40-$50 per person for the tour itself (discounts available for children under 12) and there is an additional $8 fee to be paid to the Navajo Tribal Parks. There is also a 6% sales tax (collected by the Navajo authorities).
If you want to save on cash, travel to the lower canyon and start your tour there. That will be cheaper than getting one of the tours which drive you to the canyon.
7. Be prepared to rough it for a bit
You'd think that these fairly exuberant fees will get you some tender loving care... but they don't. Visiting the upper canyon, you will be thrown around in a 4WD truck across the desert. Not recommended for pregnant women, or those suffering from back pain and other health issues. Pretty uncomfortable for the rest of us too.
If you drive to the lower canyon, you have to go down (and then up) five flights of stairs. This is what we've done and frankly, the stairs were not much of a problem. However, be prepared for an overall dismal experience before entering the canyon. You're expected to wait for at least 45 minutes in the heat of the Arizona desert - even if you booked your tour in advance. There's some shade but no air conditioning.
The bathrooms leave a lot to be desired too... If you like yours clean and modern, make sure you find a place to go before heading out for the tour.
8. Antelope Canyon Accommodation
Antelope Canyon is near Page, AZ - a small town in the Navajo reservation. The town has several major attractions, including Antelope Canyon, Glen Dam, Lake Powell, Rainbow Bridge, and the Horseshoe Bend.
With so many tourists pouring into town, accommodation tends to be expensive. Make sure you book in advance, or you'll be left with the least desirable spots (and sometimes with none at all).
Here are some good choices for motels and hotels in Page, AZ. This is the "Deals Finder" by Booking.com so you can be sure you're seeing the best deals in Page. Trust me, you'll need 'em.
The Antelop Canyon FAQ
Over the years, we've had questions from visitors about visiting Antelop Canyon, so I've decided to put them into an FAQ. Here goes.
How to get to Antelope Canyon?
Antelope Canyon is near the town of Page, AZ. It's a short 1o minute drive from town, and there's plenty of parking space near the ticket booths. If you don't have a car, or don't want to be driving yours, some tour operators will gladly shuttle you from Page itself.
Antelope Canyon from Las Vegas
The shortest route from Vegas to Page is via i-15, and then through Kanab, Utah. The drive takes about 5 hours to complete, so most people plan on staying in Page for at least one night. There's plenty to do there, actually, so if you have an additional day, you won't get bored. Renting a boat and sailing on Lake Powell would be my recommendation. My kids absolutely loved that particular experience.
If you have more time, you can get to Page - or return from it - via the Grand Canyon National Park. This would become a longer drive - around 7 hours - but hey, you'll be visiting the Grand Canyon! If you go that route, make sure to include the historic Route 66 section between Oatman and Seligman in your itinerary.
Antelope Canyon from Phoenix, AZ
You can drive to Antelope Canyon from Phoenix via route 17 and road 89. If you have the time, take the detour to visit Sedona, on highway 89A. It's a gorgeous scenic byway, that's well worth the extra time. Going straight - without the detour, this drive should take you about six hours.
What can you bring with you to Antelope Canyon?
That depends on your tour operator's policies. On our tour, we had no limitations. While you can't eat and drink once inside the canyon, we could bring our bags and backpacks. However, some tour operators mention on their website that they don't allow backpacks. So, again, check the conditions before booking your tour.
Can you bring a young baby along?
Again, that depends on your tour operator's policy, so make sure you check with them before making the reservation. You definitely can't take a stroller into the Lower Canyon because of the ladders. As for a baby backpack, I don't think I would have been comfortable wearing one in the Lower Canyon. Some parts of the hike were simply too narrow. It would have been possible to take off a backpack and pass the baby along, but you'd have to really be careful.
Are the ladders in Antelope Canyon safe and/or scary?
The ladders are in the lower canyon and they felt very safe to me. I have fear of heights and had no problem with them. They weren't too long, and felt very stable.
Is this a difficult or technical hike?
Nope. I'm not a very fit person and had no issue with the hike. It's not too fast - everyone stops for pictures all the time - and the ground is fairly level (with the exception of the ladders themselves).
When is the best time of day to visit Antelope Canyon?
That's something a lot of people ask. The guides usually recommend early morning or afternoon, thanks to the angle of the sun. Personally, I think that this is a consideration that's more relevant to professional photographers. We went on a mid-day tour and had a great time (will be sharing photos in a minute - they seem pretty good to me).
When's the best time in the year to visit Antelope Canyon?
Tours are held all year long. Summertime is the busy season because that's when people travel most. However, Page is super hot during summertime, and while it's cool in the canyon itself, IMO it's too hot to enjoy other activities in the area. Winter time in Page is ok but it might be too cold if you want to work the Grand Canyon or Bryce Canyon into your itinerary while in the area. With that in mind, autumn and spring are probably the best times for visiting Antelope Canyon and the area.
Visiting Antelope Canyon - Is it worth the hassle?
So, between the expensive tour in an expensive town and waiting for an hour in the heat of the desert with no decent bathrooms - should you even be visiting Antelope Canyon?
Yes. You should.
Antelope Canyon is a bucket list item. The rock formations are amazingly beautiful and serene. Yes, the tour is crowded and can even feel a little bit rushed but you'll be spending it feeling in total awe of the beauty of nature.
It's said to be one of the most photographed places on earth. That may be so but truly, it's a place you have to be at in order to experience the magic for yourself. I really don't want the last photo in this post to be that of the nasty toilets, so I'll wrap it up with a few more of the pictures we took during our visit -
I hope you find this post useful. If you do, please share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. And, as always, comments are welcome!