Visit Antelope Canyon near Page, in Arizona, to enjoy one of the most exciting experiences in the heart of the Navajo Nation and to discover two among the most suggestive and famous Slot Canyons of the South West USA, better known as Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon.
Down here you can find a post rich in tips and info about these incredible beige and red brownstone formations – a sort of rock known also as Navajo Sandstone – and about the erosion that made them Slot Canyons over time, about their history and about how recognize them and visit them, experiences, cues and practical tips included.
Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon are both Slot Canyons.
What is it?
They are simply very narrow canyons, originated over hundreds of thousands years from the erosion of water that flowing through the rock dug and shaped (and it’s still doing it) the frames and the insides, creating proper natural artworks. By definition, a Slot Canyon is significantly deeper than it is wide.
Mainly, they can be 1 meter large and 30 meters’ deep.
The Slot Canyon of the South West USA are made mostly of red and beige sandstone and calcareous rock, even if it is possible to bump into other typologies of canyons originated by the usury of rocks like granite and basalt.
The Navajo name for the Upper Antelope canyon is “Tsé bighánílíní”, that is “where water runs through the rocks”. That one for the Lower Antelope Canyon is “Hazdistazí”, “spiral rock arches”.
They are two separated formations inside the same canyon, at a short distance from each other – about 7km – and physically divided by the passage of Route 98.
The Upper Antelope Canyon is the most crowded by tourists for two reasons.
First, its entrance and its whole length are at the ground level, consequently it can be entered definitely more easily with an effective 300 meters’ distance.
Second, the direct sunlight spreading from the openings in the upper part of the canyon are much more frequent. Anyway, it is a phenomenon that occurs more frequently in Summer, when sun reaches its apex in the sky. Not by chance the most crowded times for the visit are about Midday. The winter colors generated by the light are less evident, but suggestive as well.
The Lower Antelope Canyon – until some years ago literally unknown to tourists – becomes rapidly famous even if for the many people it is (wrongly, in my opinion this canyon is suggestive and surprising as well) still the second choice when the availability for the Upper tours cannot be found.
It is certainly a harder excursion because it is necessary going down through proper stairs fixed in strategic points to get access to the proper canyon. Besides, the stretch of route is definitely longer and bumpy. Unlike the Upper one, here the effect of lights, reflexes and shadows tends to give its best early in the morning.
Both the Slot canyons were opened to tourists only in 1997, when the Navajo – owners of the land – made it a Navajo Tribal Park. All tours are guided tours, organized by local Tour Operators run exclusively by Navajo. So, it is absolutely not possible to visit the two canyons alone by far.
In order to visit the Upper Antelope Canyon, it is necessary to book the tour well in advance – reckon a remarkable advance if you are going to be in the area in the high season, July and August I mean – at one of the Navajo tour operator.
My tip – since I have experienced it personally – is to relay on Antelope Canyon Tours: the guides are extremely prepared about and passionate with the history and the legends tied to the site and they are able to help you very well in taking suggestive photos with a perfect (almost always) light.
There are other two typologies of tours: the standard one (1 hour about) and that one specifically dedicated to photography (2 hours and half about). The best times to admire the perpendicular lights crossing the canyon are between 11am-1pm. For this reason, the most requested – and so more expensive – tour is the 11:30am one.
All tours leave from the seat of Antelope Canyon Tours at 22 South, Lake Powell Blvd, in the near Page.
In the low season – if you haven’t booked in advance – it is possible to reach the entrance of the Upper Antelope (Highway 98 Road & Milepost 302, Page, AZ), pay for the admission to the Navajo Nation (already included in the typologies of tours quoted above) and try to get the remained vacant seats paying however the service of the Navajo guides. You can save a bit, but availability is not granted.
Also for the Lower Antelope Canyon is necessary to book the tour well in advance at one of the Navajo tour operators.
My tip in this case is to rely on Ken’s Tours Lower Antelope: in this case, too, you’ll find prepared and passionate guides ready to help and support you with explanations and photographs.
It is possible to choose between two different typologies of tours. The general tour – 1 hour with a group of 10 people max – and the deluxe one – 1 hour with a group of 4 people max. The best times to admire the beams of lights crossing the canyon are between 9am-2pm.
If you didn’t book and you are not travelling in the high season (in this case it becomes almost impossible to be able to get a last minute tour) however you can try and check the availability of the remained seats going directly to the site. Indian Route 222, Page, AZ. Also in this case you’ll pay the admission to the Navajo Nation (only one-day validity) and the service of the Navajo guides.
Despite Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon are in all rights among the most visited and photographed places of the South West USA, I must admit – above all after had the chance over years to visit other wonderful slot canyons – that they remained among my favorite ones by far for beauty and magic. And in spite of the lines to enter, the necessity of having to wait the passage of the previous groups and then leave space to the following ones, they deserve to be visited at least once in lifetime. Even only to understand their real beauty.
Trust my word if I tell you that the photographs convey only a part of it.
They are one-of-a-kind site in the world and those few minutes spent walking between an inlet and the other one to study its perfect geometries, it worth it the wait and the expense, in my opinion.
It’s good to know that both the canyons – above all in the rain season – can be subjected to the flash flood phenomenon: sudden and violent floods that then can generate unexpected and dangerous water flows filling the canyons with no warning, making impossible to get out.
For this reason – following also the tragedy suffered by 11 tourists in August 1997, killed by an unexpected flood while they were in the Lower Antelope – the Navajo can decide to close Upper and Lower Antelope canyon at the first sign of storm or also rain in traits for all the necessary time (sometimes also days during the rainy season).
It is advisable to use for both excursions comfortable clothing with tennis shoes, preferably trekking shoes for the Lower Antelope. In case of strong wind, get a cap and a foulard to cover your mouth and ears and also a fit protection for your camera: the sand that usually goes down the opening from the top arrives in a major quantity due to the wind and so it enters practically everywhere.
As already suggested, if you are going to have the tour in the high season, it is more than recommended to move well in advance booking the tour, above all if you are interested in having the excursions in the highlight hours – early in the morning for the Lower, close Midday for the Upper.