How to visit Antelope Canyon in the north of Arizona has fast become one of the top asked questions among travelers to the USA. It is one of the most popular natural attractions in the state because this spectacular slot canyon is one of the most photogenic and breathtaking spots in the USA.
The sandstone rocks of the canyon form unusual patterns and shapes and are perfect for exploring and for photography. This is sacred land though, and when you visit Antelope Canyon, you are visiting the land of the Navajo Tribe. It is important to understand and respect the local history and traditions that surround this otherworldly place.
With things getting ever busier, it’s also important to know the best way to visit Antelope Canyon, which is why we’ve put together this handy guide on traveling to this beautiful destination in Arizona.
Don’t leave home without: DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Arizona and the Grand Canyon
Where is Antelope Canyon located?
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First things first, Antelope Canyon is found within the Navajo Tribal Park, in the deserts of the southwest USA. It’s close to the state border with Utah, however, this land belongs to the Navajo Nation, and covers a large area within the surrounding states.
This is a rather remote part of the country, and the nearest city is Page, Arizona, which has a population of just 7000 people, in Coconino County.
How did Antelope Canyon form?
Antelope Canyon is the product of intense flash flooding over many thousands of years, and the exceptional shapes and patterns of the sandstone rocks have quite literally been carved out by the impressive power of the water.
In the desert-like landscapes of Arizona, this is not an unusual formation, because it’s flooding from plateaus that led to the creation of unique natural features such as the Grand Canyon, and other famous sights in the region too.
Over many thousands, and thousands of years, water forcing its way through the sandstone created the unique rock formations you find today.
The Navajo name for Antelope Canyon translates literally into English as ‘The place where water runs through rock’, and for the Navajo Nation, this has always been a place of importance, so much so that it was only first opened up to tourism in the 1990s.
How to Get to Antelope Canyon
Being fairly remote, the best way to visit Antelope Canyon is either as part of a wider road trip covering the southwest states of the USA or even as part of an organized tour, as public transport here is difficult to come by.
The nearest large cities to visit Antelope Canyon from, are Las Vegas and Phoenix. Both are at least a five-hour drive away. Both cities also have busy international airports with connections to Europe and further afield, and more connections domestically with the United States of America. You can rent a car in either city, to make the drive to Antelope Canyon.
If you are self-driving, then rather than just making the trip to Antelope Canyon, if you have the time it’s worth putting together a full-on itinerary for the region, because some of the country’s best natural attractions are found nearby.
No matter how you shake it, you’re going to find yourself in Page, Arizona if you want to visit Antelope Canyon. Depending on your goals for the site, it is recommended to plan at least one night staying in Page, Arizona. Especially if you want to combine your visit with a stop at the equally famous Horseshoe Bend.
For a comfortable option, we recommend staying at the Best Western Plus Lake Powell, located right in the heart of Page Arizona. The hotel offers a huge buffet breakfast, nice pool, spacious rooms and is conveniently located for easy access to both Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon.
We spent one night in Page. Our itinerary had us arriving in the evening, meaning we slept and then woke up in Page ready to take on both sites.
How to Visit Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon is actually split into two distinct sections, and you can visit one or the other, or if you have time, you can visit both. Within the slot canyon system, you have the Upper Antelope Canyon and the Lower Antelope Canyon, and to visit either, you will need to be in the company of a Navajo guide.
A common misconception is that you can visit either of these canyons independently. You cannot. With the canyons being located on tribal lands and holding sacred value to the Navajo people, attempting a visit outside of an organized tour will result in being arrested and fined.
I strongly encourage that you do your research ahead of time so that you can choose a tour that not only fits your budget but also your interests for your visit. This will ensure that you have the best experience. Remember, not all tours are created equal, nor provide the same opportunities for viewing the canyons or taking photos.
Tours of Antelope Canyon
Because you need a local Navajo guide with you to visit Antelope Canyon, you do essentially need to join a tour to see this natural attraction.
You pay an entrance fee for the canyon, and also a fee for the guide, and while it’s advisable to book these guides in, or to book onto a guided tour before you arrive, you can also show up and hope there is a free slot available on the day.
If you are interested in photography, then it’s also possible to join a guided night time photography tour, as well as dedicated day time photography tours. Something to note – in 2020 the Navajo nation will be discontinuing daytime photography tours in all of the canyons.
While they are much more expensive, and spaces fill up quicker than any standard tour will, these are perfect for photographers who want time and space to work in the canyon. You’ll avoid the worst of the crowds and be able to capture the swirling rock formations in your own time.
Our Top Recommended Tours:
- Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend Day Tour
- Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend
- Antelope Canyon Day Trip
- Unbelievable Antelope Canyon Tour
Should I Visit Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon?
When planning your visit you will be tasked with deciding which of the two canyons to book your tour for. This will depend entirely on the experience that you are after. For ease of information and to assist you in choosing the best way to visit Antelope Canyon, we have broken down the main differences between the two areas below.
Visiting Upper Antelope Canyon
Upper Antelope Canyon is the most popular of the two slot canyons to visit, and so it’s generally the busiest. Also known as ‘The Crack’, Upper Antelope Canyon is busy because it’s more accessible than the lower areas.
To get to the upper area, you are driven along a dirt road, and then you hike into the entrance of the slot canyon itself. This is where you are most likely to see the beautiful light beams crashing through the gaps in the rock if you are here in the summer months too.
The path in and out of Upper Antelope Canyon is used by people going in both directions, which means that unfortunately, in peak season, it can get congested fairly quickly at midday!
Our Top Recommended Tours:
- Upper Antelope Canyon Ticket
- Exclusive Upper Antelope, Horseshoe bend tour from Las Vegas
- Day Trip to Upper Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Zion National Park
Visiting Lower Antelope Canyon
Lower Antelope Canyon is also known as ‘The Corkscrew’, and in general, this canyon is less busy than the upper. The main reason for this is that Lower Antelope Canyon is set below ground level, which entails visitors climbing down long metal ladders to actually get to the canyon floor.
Once you are down there though, the canyon itself is much wider and longer than Upper Antelope Canyon, and you’ll find there’s much more room, and you can actually appreciate the attraction for what it is.
Because it’s below ground though, the canyon doesn’t experience the light beam phenomenon on the same levels as the upper levels, which for many, is a reason to brave the crowds of Upper Antelope Canyon.
Tours to the lower levels won’t book up as quickly, and can often be cheaper than a tour to the upper level too, given the lower demand.
Our Top Recommended Tours:
- Lower Antelope Canyon Ticket
- Lower Antelope Canyon Tour Ticket
- Lower Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend Tour
What is the Best Time to Visit Antelope Canyon?
It’s important that you pick the best time to visit Antelope Canyon because conditions here vary throughout the year.
In peak season, the canyon becomes busy with tourists, and you might need to book tours and guides well in advance to avoid disappointment. With an increasing presence on Instagram, this situation is only going to get worse in the coming years.
April to September is peak season, when it’s summer and light conditions are perfect for exploring the canyon. The canyons are known for their intense light beam displays when sunlight literally bursts through the caverns to illuminate the rocks.
This only really occurs in summer, and especially so in June, July and August. The best time of day for the light beams is from 11 am to 2 pm.
Summer is also the monsoon season in Arizona though, and between June and September, you can expect frequent thunderstorms, which can potentially cause a visit to Antelope Canyon to be called off if there is a danger of flash floods.
Outside of the summer high season, winter is when you are best visiting if you want to avoid the crowds. You might not get the mesmerizing light shows within the rock formations, but you’ll appreciate a quieter side of Antelope Canyon, while there’s no danger of flash floods because there’s no rain.
We visited Antelope Canyon in mid-March, during the week of Spring Break, and it was crazy busy. As more and more people are traveling, I think most popular sights will find it increasingly harder to find ‘off peak’ seasons.
Dangers of a Visit to Antelope Canyon
While this might be one of the most spectacular places in the country, there are also a few dangers to be aware of when you visit Antelope Canyon. In the past, the canyon has claimed several lives, both tourists and guides, and it’s important to travel safely when you are exploring.
This is one reason why you must take a Navajo guide with you in the first place, to ensure that you follow safety procedures and to ensure that all trips are as safe as possible.
The biggest danger in the canyons comes after rainfall because this is prime territory for flash flooding. The canyons themselves are the product of flash flooding, so floods here are a very real threat.
While the area will be closed during rainstorms for safety, not everything can always be predicted, so bear this in mind when you are visiting.
There are escape exits if the worst does happen, and metal staircases are installed to facilitate a speedy emergency exit from the slot canyons.
If your guide cancels your tour, then respect their decision, because they know the conditions and the weather systems better than any tourist could.
You also need to ensure that you stick to the designated areas, not only for the preservation of the canyon itself but because the canyon and the rock formations can be a maze for the uninitiated, and there is a lot of potential for falls if you start venturing off the paths.
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