Just like an internet ad that follows you from page to page haunting you, the photos of Antelope Canyon were showing up everywhere I looked – my friends Facebook page, online sites I visited and when I was out and about. The universe was basically using a sledgehammer to get me to notice. So when I booked my wellness escape to Red Mountain in Utah, I researched driving from St. George to Page, Arizona to visit Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. It seemed like a lot of driving in 24hrs but the stunning photos that haunted me seemed like it would be worth it. And with that, I booked a night at the Marriott Courtyard and started researching Antelope Canyon tours. What I didn’t know was that there are two Antelope Canyon tours – one for the Upper Antelope (more popular) and one for Lower Antelope (a bit more adventurous with ladders, stairs, tight squeezes). Both are on Navajo lands and require a guide to visit. Which Antelope Canyon tour to pick? Should you do both?
Upper Antelope Canyon Tour
The front desk person at the Marriott Courtyard Page hotel told me that I had to go see the Upper Antelope which was the more popular and easier to visit. I had read that the crowds make the visit not so fun but it was mid-November and I was told it shouldn’t be too crowded. So with a few companies recommended, I booked online with Chief Tsosie Antelope Canyon Slot Tours (Scenic Tour) at 10:30 a.m. for $58 (tour fee + $8 Navajo fee). Their office (old gas station) was a quick drive from the hotel and once I checked in (1/2 hour before tour time) and received my truck number, I waited with the other tourists. On this November Wednesday morning there were five trucks leaving at the same time. Each truck held about 10-12 people on benches in the back and I asked to ride up front with the guide, Eugene.
He was a retired school teacher who talked about his family and recent road trip to California. As we drove out of town (10 mins) and turned onto the dirt road, the off-roading portion of the tour began (sportsbra alert!). When we arrived at the entrance to the Upper Antelope Canyon, there were four other touring companies with their trucks lined up.
We followed Eugene to the entrance of Upper Antelope Canyon where we were told that going in and through we would stop and he would explain the rooms (we were to stay on the right side). He would also take photos for us. However, on the way back (after a wait outside for each group to go) the protocol is to walk without stopping past the other tour groups along the right side of the canyon. Each group abide by the rule and we were lucky that before noon the tourists levels were low.
The tours run all day and it’s really a gamble as to when the best light is for tour time. There is a slight premium on some tour times depending on the light. In winter, I was told it didn’t matter but the light really does affect the view of the Upper Antelope Canyon especially if you are a photographer.
There are a number of chambers/rooms each with different lighting, shadow and views. There is one room that is the dark room without light. The slot canyons continue to change with time and floods, the more recent Antelope Canyon flood was in 2013.
A famous story is that the most expensive black & white photograph ever sold was taken in the Upper Antelope Canyon when it was empty. Eugene told us this story and then explained we had about two minutes of empty room to take photos. We all quickly scattered about to get a good photo and angle with dreams of selling a million dollar photo!
We had just over an hour walking though the Upper Antelope Canyon before we were back on the truck on the way to town. It was a nicely organized and paced tour – I tipped Eugene $10.
Lunch in Page, Arizona between Antelope Canyon Tours
The location of the Upper Antelope tours is in the middle of the road so there are a few food options on both sides of the street. After a failed attempt at a recommended café (limited menu), I remember that Eugene had suggested a good burger place across the street at Slacker’s.
The restaurant was busy at lunch time and offered a good variety of options. I chose grilled chicken with bacon and avocado with a side of fries and a cookie (for the road trip to Zion). The food was delivered to my table and I devoured it quite quickly. It was very good.
Lower Antelope Canyon Tour with Ken’s Tours
My tour of the Lower Antelope Canyon was much different in the afternoon after spending the morning at the Upper Antelope Canyon. I drove myself to the Lower Antelope Canyon location where you have a choice of Ken’s Tours or Dixie Ellis – do make a reservation in advance!.
I chose Ken’s Tours and checked in and paid $33 cash (tour + $8 Navajo fee) in person (the online is reservation only and no credit cards are taken) and waited a few minutes before my guide, Sylvin, arrived. Our group was only five people and we walked outside for a few minutes before arriving at a covered walkway leading down to the canyon.
I was secretly thrilled that it was winter and I wasn’t in a long line that can stretch more than two hours waiting in the hot summer.
Unlike the Upper Antelope Canyon where you can easily walk in the flat terrain with enough room to pass people, the Lower Antelope Canyon is a challenge. It begins with a few flights of stairs down into the canyon and limits the group sizes and timing. If you are afraid of heights, ladders or other, this might not work for you.
Once we were all down on the canyon floor, the guide began telling us more about the Lower Antelope Canyon. One scary story involved the rains and flooding through the canyon (see YouTube). Thankfully no rain was in the forecast today.
As we walked deeper into the canyon, there were tight spaces to traverse, a few steps up using the wall to balance yourself (my foot didn’t fit on the floor space), and more ladders/stairs. I choose to go backward down the ladders instead of forward to keep my balance.
Since I had both parts of the Canyon to compare, I enjoyed the small groups and privacy of the Lower Antelope Canyon vs. the multiple groups in the Upper Antelope Canyon. The Lower Antelope Canyon was more adventurous, the views slightly different as the slots of light above varied in size and location. Our tour was 1 hour and 15 minutes and with the small group was a good amount of time to be adventurous in the slot canyon and enjoy the scenery.
Which is Best? Upper Antelope Canyon vs. Lower Antelope Canyon
If you only have one day in Page, Arizona like I did to see Antelope Canyon, I’d recommend scheduling time to visit both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon to understand the differences. If you only have time to visit one slot canyon, either will suffice to provide the magical photos that seem almost unreal however, if you can do the more adventurous Lower Antelope Canyon, I’d probably lean more toward that.
Visit Antelope Canyon Tips
- Monsoon season is July, August, September and early October so be aware that the tours can be canceled – the same with the temperature – if it’s too hot they will not run tours.
- Important: Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona operates on ARIZONA time – if you are driving from Utah like I did you will need to change your phone for the time difference.
- Bring Cash for tips
- Wear sunscreen, bring a hat and sunglasses, a snack and enough water for the visit. Note that bathrooms are at each tour vendors’ location before/after tours – there are none on the tour of Antelope Canyon.
- If you are a professional, tripod carrying photographer, then look to book a different tour that allows you and others time to explore and set up the photos.