Once upon a time, when only the oldest Navajo knew that Antelope Canyon exists, visiting this place was pure joy. There were no organized tours, and entry fee was only 2$. The entrance fee was collected by a bored Navajo sitting in the pick-up truck parked at the mouth of the canyon. Everyone could wander around the canyon as long as pleased, and what was the best – there was nobody there.
The situation changed over the years, as the canyon grew more and more popular Tours started to be organized and the prices significantly increased. In this post I will give you the locations of a couple of canyons, which look very similarly to Antelope Canyon. Some of them are more expensive, some cheaper, but they have one thing in common – very few visitors. Sometimes you can be there completely on your own.
When we first visited Antelope Canyon with our first kid, everything progressed very decently. We went on a tour with no prior reservation, we had a very nice guide, who took us to the canyon with a truck. Everyone was able to find a seat of their own and no one had to hold on to the car, struggling not to fall out. There were quite a few people in the canyon, but the groups were able to efficiently pass each other. You could count on taking some decent .pictures without any crowds. We keep very good memories from this trip.
A few years later the situation changed drastically and we will always remember our visit in 2016 as a nightmare.
In 2014 a photographer named Peter Link allegedly sold a photo of Antelope Canyon for 6.5 million dollar. The photograph entitled “Phantom” was acquired by an anonymous bidder. This information reached people worldwide, causing a huge influx of visitors.
Our last trip was a kind of an experience we would not like to ever repeat. The drive to the canyon alone wasn’t foreshadowing anything good. We were packed into a crowded vehicle, and we had to be pushed in to fit inside. We had to hold on to each other on bumps, so that we wouldn’t fall out, as not everyone managed to get a comfortable seating spot. When we entered the canyon we were struck by the lack of air. The noise there was unbearable and we couldn’t even hear a single word spoken by our guide.
There was over a thousand people crowded inside this narrow canyon at the same time. There was no way of taking pictures and we weren’t even able to see much over a multitude of human hands holding smartphones above their heads. I started counting the people that I had passed. Halfway down the canyon I reached 463 people, and I estimated that about the same number of people was further ahead. The lack of oxygen and amount of carbon dioxide in the air made us feel dizzy. I constantly kept getting hit in my head by someone’s phone, and hordes of tourists kept stepping on my feet. My children, who usually hate shopping, declared that they would rather be in Walmart right now. We couldn’t wait for the end of this nightmare.
We were jumping of joy when we got back to our car. We concluded that this was the worst money ever spent by us, right next to the Crazy Horse Memorial.
But we have to admit, that we were there in the height of the tourist season and it is possible that the situation would look differently at other times of the year However I have heard from other visitors, that they also had experienced such crowds. Some of them even had unpleasant tour guides. I cannot rate our tour guide, as I simply could not hear him at all. The described situation is what we experienced personally, but it is possible that you could get an enjoyable tour here, from which you could have great memories.
This description concerns the Upper Antelope Canyon. Up until recently the Lower Antelope Canyon used to be a nice alternative. Unfortunately it is now crowded as well, but still to a far smaller extent.
Which canyon to choose, Upper or Lower?
Upper Antelope Canyon is usually considered more spectacular, it is thinner at the bottom and wider at the top, and Lower is a bit wider at the bottom and thinner at the top, which gives it a slight claustrophobic feeling.
You will be brought by car straight to the entrance of the Upper canyon. To get to the Lower, just as the name suggests, you will have to walk down some steep stairs. Recently some issues with these stairs emerged. People were walking slowly down the stairs as the next groups kept coming before the previous group had time to disappear in the canyon. The next group sometimes had to wait up to an hour in the open sun before they could enter. Recently a decision to reduce the number of tours was made, thus eliminating the said problem.
Lower canyon is much more kids-friendly, as walking through narrow passages between the walls is a lot of fun for children.
The famous light beams are more common and photogenic in the Upper Canyon. The crowds and the tour guide rushing you will prevent you from taking any acceptable photos. The only chance to get a good photograph is to book a photographic tour. On the other hand it is still possible to get a good picture in the Lower Canyon. It is also more colorful, as more light reaches it.
Lower Canyon is cheaper than the Upper.
So is it worth to visit both canyons? It is not. You should choose one of them, there are so many natural wonders in the vicinity and it would be a shame to waste time on both of the canyons.
A summary of the Upper Antelope Canyon
I recommend the Navajo Tours to visit the Antelope Canyon. When you book a tour with them you do not pay until you show up on site. This gives you a lot of flexibility to change your plans. You ought to be there 30 minutes prior to the tour in order to confirm your reservation.
Address: ca. 2 miles east of Page next to route 89, between 299th and 300th mile.
You have to check the prices every single time as they are subject to constant changes.
The tour lasts around an hour together with the drive.
A photographic tour is twice as pricey as the regular, but you are guaranteed to be in a smaller group (usually ca. 6 people). You are allowed to bring a tripod with you, which is forbidden on standard tour. The photographic tour also offers you 2 hours spent in the canyon. Only children above the age of 13 are allowed to participate. Lately you are also required to posses some kind of photographic gear, as sometimes some “smartphone photography” amateurs used to go on photographic tours when they did not manage to get a spot on a regular one.
The best time for taking pictures
Light beams start appearing in the canyon around the 20th of arch and disappear in the first half of October. The best months to take pictures are June and July.The best time is between 11:30am up to 1:00pm. But during the summer months you will be able to witness the light beams already around 10:00, so you should consider this option, as sometimes this hour is cheaper to book than those labeled as prime time. Important: before entering the canyon you have to make the decision which camera lens you will want to use. You should avoid changing lenses in the canyon. Constantly airborne microscopic sand pieces are likely to get inside your camera during the lens change. It will definitely negatively affect your gear.
Visit this site to book a tour:
Lower Antelope Canyon
I recommend Ken’s tour to visit the Lower Antelope. They do not charge anything during booking. The fee is paid upon arrival, right before the tour.
Address: 222 Indian Rt. Page, AZ
The best time for pictures
The same rules as in Upper Antelope Canyon apply to Lower Antelope Canyon , however it is worth looking up more frequently in the Upper, as the Lower canyon’s edges create wonderful patterns in various shades of orange, red and even purple. There are no photographic tours in Lower Antelope Canyon.
You can book a tour here:
If not the Antelope Canyon, then what?
There are several canyons in the area of Page that are incredibly similar to Antelope .Some of them ae almost identical and it is hard to find differences between them and Antelope Canyon on pictures. Below, there is a short description of those canyons, together with information on how and where to book a tour.
Canyon X is a very faithful copy of Antelope Canyon. Generally it is a different part of this canyon, located slightly further. There are no crowds here, the tours are cameral and no one bumps into each other or rushes you. You will have to pass through a 40 meter narrow slot in order to descent into the canyon, but for an averagely fit person it should not be any problem, and it usually gives a lot of fun to kids.
Taadidin Yours is the only operator that will take you to the canyon.
Address 10 miles south of Page, by route 98, between miles 307 and 308.
You can book a tour here: [LINK]
Mountain Sheep Canyon
This also is a part of Antelope Canyon, but its walls are not as smooth as in the sister canyon. Its surface is more similar to the Coyote Buttes. This is not an easy walk, there are a few boulders which you will have to climb. There is also a 2,5 meter ladder attached to the canyon wall to climb. I would discourage families with children from visiting this canyon, but for other people this will be an unforgettable adventure, as you will most likely have the whole canyon for yourself. The Canyon belongs to the Bigthumb family, who discovered it on their lands in 1931.
You can book a tour here: [LINK]
Just like the previous canyons, this one is also a part of the same canyon system. The name of the canyon comes from its shape resembling the wriggling of a snake. This is a very comfortable place to visit without crowds, with a series of colors and shapes, you will even find a small stone arch here. You will enter the canyon by a ladder and there are several other ladders further in the canyon, but they are not a hard obstacle to climb. This canyon is also the property of Bigthumb family. I recommend taking a wide camera lens, as it gets very tight in some spots.
You can book a tour to the Rattlesnake Canyon (with a tour to the Owl Canyon included in it) here: [LINK]
Owl Canyon is located near the Rattlesnake Canyon and is very similar, but a lot wider and with more sun reaching the bottom. There are no technical difficulties there, it is a pleasant walk in a nice company of the Big Horn Owls, owl of the eagle-owl species, inhabiting this canyon. The birds are used to visitors and they tend to look bored while watching them from the canyon walls.
You can book a joint tour to Owl Canyon and Rattlesnake Canyon here: [LINK]
Cathedral Canyon is located near LeChee. On the way to the canyon you can enjoy interesting stone formations. The entry to the canyon is very narrow, in some spots there is a little room to place your feet, but in the canyon itself you can feel as if you were really inside a cathedra, with smooth and tall walls surrounding you.
A tour to the Cathedral Canyon can be booked here: [LINK]
This is a true adventure only for the advanced hikers. The name off the canyon itself already suggests that people not fit enough could simply die here. But what the canyon has to offer compensates all the struggles. It is just outstanding, one feels as if they were in a stone palace, the walls seem to be covered in purple cloth with golden threads. There are also light beams disrupting the prevailing darkness in some spots.
The trail to the canyon is not an easy one. It is 6.5 miles (11 km) long through a harsh terrain and with 900 feet (300m) elevation change. You need to have some climbing skills and sometimes the trail leads next to cliff edges, and a sand dune is the hardest part, which you will have to cross both ways.
If you are looking for an unforgettable adventure, you are fit and are not travelling with children, Cardiac Canyon will be perfect for you. The tour guides say that up to this day less than 100 people in total made it to the canyon.
You can book a tour to Cardiac Canyon here:
Those are all of the canyons around Page that I know of, but it is highly plausible that some of you may discover something new here, as slot canyons are not really noticeable on satellite photos. 😉
There is also a very unusual slot canyon in the area of Hanksville. We are planning to explore it in the spring of 2019.