Antelope Canyon has a problem we can all relate to -- rowdy neighbors! The canyon is surrounded by Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. There is always a lot of noise heading in its direction, but it’s not always getting a piece of the action. Too many travelers are passing it by. But that’s about to change, since more and more people are discovering the spectacular natural beauty of this slot canyon.
The first thing to know about Antelope Canyon is that it’s actually TWO canyons! Talk about a travel bonus! Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon both have their pros and cons. And, yes, you CAN visit both in a day, depending on which tour provider you choose.
Antelope Canyon is located on Navajo land about 4 hours and 30 minutes east of Las Vegas; just over 2 hours north of Flagstaff, Arizona; and just south of the Utah-Arizona border. The nearest airport and bus station is in Page, Arizona.
If your heart is set on seeing the famous sunbeams of Upper Antelope Canyon, you’ll have to visit between late March and early October. Otherwise, the light won’t be strong enough, and the sun won’t be in the right position for the desired effect. The light is usually strongest in the summer (June, July, and August), but the crowds are densest then, too. A shoulder-season visit means cooler conditions and fewer crowds; however, the rays of sunshine striking the canyon walls may be less intense.
Don’t discount the possibility of visiting Antelope Canyon in winter. In fact, many people prefer it. Crowds are thinner, tours are often a little less expensive, the climate is much cooler and hiker-friendly, and the gentler light will create its own beauty on the canyon walls.
Upper Antelope Canyon is considered, in many ways, the more visitor-friendly of the two canyons. You don’t have to climb to get into or out of the canyon, and the ground is flat. You just enjoy a gentle stroll -- perhaps the most beautiful walk in the world!
The highly photogenic beams of sunshine that radiate from the top of the canyon down to the floor are most prevalent here. Chances are, if you’ve seen a gorgeous photograph of Antelope Canyon, it’s of the sunbeams in the Upper Canyon. To enjoy them, make sure you visit between late March and early October and that you’re there in the middle of the day. The sun has to be high in the sky to create this natural visual effect.
While nothing can match the crowds at the Grand Canyon, the easy walk and the amazing light make Upper Antelope Canyon a popular attraction. At peak times, it can have 10 times the visitors that Lower Antelope Canyon does. Imagine 100 people in a canyon that’s just 300 feet long!
You can avoid the crowds by visiting in April or May instead of July. However, you run the risk of missing the sunbeams if it’s a cloudy spring day. Choosing a tour provider who specializes in small groups can help.
Lower Antelope Canyon is considered more challenging to visit. You have to climb into and out of the canyon via sturdy but steep stairs and ladders. Then the real fun begins! The path through the Lower Canyon is longer, narrower, and more uneven than the path through Upper Antelope Canyon. The sunbeam phenomenon is more difficult to capture here because of the narrowness of the Lower Canyon.
In addition to being less visited, Lower Antelope Canyon is also better when it comes to crowd control. You don’t exit the same way you came in, so there are no groups turning around and doubling back into your path.
These limitations in no way mean that Lower Antelope Canyon is inferior. It’s particularly prized by photographers, who are in love with the shifting shadows, the mutating colors, and the spectacular light playing on the canyon walls. In fact, there are photographers-only tours of the Lower Canyon.
Good ol’ supply and demand. Tours to Lower Antelope Canyon are usually about $10 less expensive than tours to Upper Antelope Canyon. If you’re an average Joe traveling on a budget, Lower Antelope Canyon is the way to go. However, the professional photography tours at Lower Antelope are the priciest of all and top out at about $50 (plus transportation).
Whether you want to visit Upper Antelope Canyon, Lower Antelope Canyon, or both (yes, please!), note that you won’t be doing it alone. You must visit the canyon with a tour guide. Don’t even think of trying to sneak in for a bit of independent exploration. The road is gated by the Navajo Nation, and they won’t let any daredevils sneak in. The rules are enforced to protect the land’s spiritual and environmental significance and to keep all visitors safe.
It’s important to take more than the usual precautions when you’re exploring isolated locations in nature. Antelope Canyon is prone to flash flooding, and there have been fatalities in the past. A new system of safety procedures, equipment, and warnings was implemented about 10 years ago, but exploring the canyon still carries a risk. For this reason, it’s important to choose a tour provider with a long and reliable record of bringing groups to Antelope Canyon -- and to always heed their safety instructions.
Looking up different companies on TripAdvisor is a valuable way to narrow down your list of providers. Look for reviews that mention safety briefings, organization, the friendliness of the staff, the size of the group, and the quality of the amenities. Did the tour include drinks, snacks, or lunch? If so, how was it? Do past participants feel they got a good bang for their buck? As always, be a discerning reader to separate the unreasonable complaints (it isn’t the tour company’s fault that you can’t bring backpacks into the canyon) from the valid ones (such as a complaint about a crass tour guide constantly dropping hints about tips).
The majority of tour providers are based in the nearby town of Page; however, there are a number of outfitters based in Las Vegas who offer whirlwind day tours of Antelope Canyon (or even Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon!). Personally, I think Page and the surrounding areas are beautiful and well worth a leisurely visit. However, if you’re based in Las Vegas and can only spare a day outside of the city, Antelope Canyon is a worthy day-trip destination.
Day-trippers from Vegas should expect to spend a lot of time in the tour vehicle (nearly 10 hours, when all is said and done!). A small-group tour that offers onboard phone charging, Wi-Fi, snacks, and drinks will go a long way toward enhancing your comfort. Your trip will likely also include short visits to Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell, but Antelope Canyon will be the star of the show.
There’s nothing like seeing the wonders of nature through a child’s eyes! For school-age kids who are steady on their feet and able to follow instructions, Antelope Canyon is a great place to explore. However, if you’re traveling with babies, toddlers, or small children, there are some important considerations to be mindful of.
First, note that not all tours welcome children, and this is primarily because of transportation concerns. Those that do welcome children require you to notify them in advance so that you can make arrangements for car seats and booster seats (which, in general, you’ll have to supply). Second, know that the drive to Antelope Canyon is a rough and bumpy one. Some kids might love it. Others, not so much.
There are very limited facilities around Antelope Canyon. Any hope you might have for a washroom with a changing table will soon be dashed! You’ll have to leave diaper bags in the tour vehicle when you’re out exploring. If you’re reading between the lines here, you’ll realize that you’ll have to change the diaper before the tour and hope for the best until the tour concludes!
Strollers and backpack carriers are not permitted in Upper Antelope Canyon. Backpack carriers are permitted in Lower Antelope Canyon, but you are operating at your own risk. This helpful blog post details important information parents and/or grandparents should know before planning a trip.