You cannot visit the American southwest without visiting Antelope Canyon.
Antelope is a slot canyon in northern Arizona. Known to the Navajo as “Tse’ bighanilini” or “the place where water runs through the rocks,” the canyon formed as a result of erosion from flash floods over millions of years.
The area used to be home to herds of pronghorn antelope. It wasn’t until 1931 that the canyon was first discovered. A young Navajo shepherd stumbled across the crack in the grown while out tending her livestock.
Elevation at the top of the canyon is around 4,000 feet above sea level. Once you get to the canyon floor, the walls reach approximately 120 feet above you.
How to get to Antelope Canyon
Antelope is off in the middle of the Navajo Desert, a few miles east of Page, Arizona.
I have never flown into anywhere closer than Pheonix or Las Vegas when visiting Page. It’s about a four-hour drive from each city, but the landscape and the scenery make the drive 100% worthwhile.
You can easily make Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon, and Horseshoe Bend a day trip from either Phoenix or Las Vegas. Plan on spending the night in Page, if you are going to see and do it all.
From Phoenix, take I-17 north through Flagstaff. You can detour through the Kaibab National Forest (one of my favorite national forests!) to see the southern rim of the Grand Canyon before meeting up with US 89 to head north. You’ll want to eventually follow the signs for Page.
From Las Vegas, take I-15 north to St George. From there follow signs to Kanab, Utah. You can either do the minor detour through Zion National Park where you will have to pay the park entrance fee to drive through. If you take the route that doesn’t include a Zion detour, you’ll cross over the Arizona/Utah border a couple times. Once you get to Kanab, take the northern route through Utah on US 89 to get to Page.
Read More: An American Southwest Road Trip Itinerary
Lower Antelope Canyon
Also known as The Corkscrew, Lower Antelope Canyon is for people looking to spend more time in the canyon with fewer people.
Tours of the lower portion run about an hour in length and are offered every half hour from a couple of tour operators.
Starting the tour, you’ll have to climb down a series of ladders. They aren’t too bad unless you’re terrified of heights like me. But I managed to do it and would do it again in a heartbeat to see the canyon! Some parts farther in have small sets of stairs as you work your way to the top of the canyon.
You also won’t get the famous light beams in Lower Antelope. That doesn’t mean there’s no light in the canyon. The light still filters through the top and creates a beautiful glow of the warm sandstone colors.
Read More: Exploring Lower Antelope Canyon
Upper Antelope Canyon
Also known as The Crack, Upper Antelope Canyon is internationally famous for the spectacular light beams and falling sand. Spoiler, the sand isn’t actually falling. Guides throw it into the air for tour guests to get the amazing long exposure shots.
Because of its popularity, the upper canyon is more crowded, but there are some benefits to choosing the upper portion.
Upper Antelope is larger at the bottom than it is at the top. So there’s more room to move around, but it’s still crowded and more difficult to get a decent shot.
This part of the canyon also doesn’t have any stairs or ladders to worry about. So if that is a concern for you definitely choose Upper versus Lower.
Read More: Upper vs Lower Antelope Canyon, Which to Choose?
Slot Canyon Tours
The only way to visit Antelope Canyon is with a licensed Navajo tour guide. Both Upper and Lower Antelope have a couple of tour operators to choose from.
I took a standard tour of Lower Antelope Canyon and thought it was perfect for everything I needed and wanted out of the trip.
Standard tours where you walk through the canyon with other tourists ranges from $40-$60 and this price does go up if you are looking to go midday when you have the greatest chance to see the light beams filtering through the canyon.
Photography tours cost a bit more in the $150+ range. You are also required to have a DSLR camera and a tripod. They will not let you on the tour without one.
Night tours produce the coolest shots and are something I would love to do next time I make it back to Page. They cost somewhere in the $250 range if you wish to use your photography equipment and around $70 if you just tag along and don’t take any pictures.
Check out the Antelope Canyon Tours offered
Manual settings for Antelope Canyon photography
When I took my Lower Antelope Canyon tour, I booked a standard tour and took my DSLR with. I didn’t want or have the extra time to waste with other photographers playing around with their gear trying to get the same shot as me. Lucky for me, my guide that day ended up being one of the photography tour guides.
At the time I was just learning how to use manual settings on my camera and failing miserably at it. Thankfully he adjusted the settings on my camera for me and even taught me something new.
The base settings you want to start with are ISO at 800, aperture or f-stop at 3.5, and shutter speed at 1/125.
Also, play around with vivid and standard picture control if you never have before. If you change it to vivid, the pinks, oranges, and reds in the canyon walls will pop a lot more than if you were to have it on standard mode. I switched mine back and forth throughout the tour and honestly preferred the pictures I took on vivid.
Read More: A Beginner’s Guide to Manual Photography
Best time to visit Antelope Canyon
Being the northerner that I am and preferring the cooler days to the days where I melt as soon as I step out the door, I think the best time to go is in the winter months.
When I went, I visited Antelope Canyon at the end of December and the weather could not have been more perfect. Except for, having to scrap the frost off my rental car that morning without an ice-scraper.
If you are looking to go more for the midday light beams in the upper canyon, you would be better off visiting in the summer months when the northern hemisphere is tilted in a more favorable position for that.
Hotels near Antelope Canyon
The closest hotels to Antelope Canyon are in Page, Arizona. I’ve stayed at a few over the years and for the most part, they’re nothing special. They are only there as a place for you to crash during the night. They are not going to be the five-star place you might prefer to stay at and that’s okay. You are not there to spend your time in the room and be a hotel dweller. You are there to use Page as a jumping-off point to explore to epic landscape of the American southwest.
I have stayed at the Lake Powell Resort once and their breakfast is beyond delicious. And who can say no to a hilltop view overlooking Wahweap Bay on Lake Powell in the morning? One thing to note about the resort is that it is in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and you will need to pay the entry fee even if you are just going to your hotel. And of course, I always recommend getting an annual national park pass for $80.
The other hotel I have stayed at a couple of times is the Rodeway Inn. The brand is apart of Choice Hotels and happens to always have the cheapest reward nights when I go at 8,000 points. Everything about it was fine both times I’ve stayed, except for the shower. I’m tall, 6’1 if we want to get specific, and the showerhead was shoulder height. I managed though.
Other things to know
When I purchased my tour ticket, they said it would also permit me to be on certain Navajo land, much like a national park pass. They said it was valid at any Navajo site for the day. Naturally, I high tailed it out of there once my tour was complete and headed for Monument Valley Tribal Park. I don’t know why I believed the woman at Antelope Canyon, but when I got to Monument Valley they told me what she had said was false and I needed to pay $20 to enter the tribal park.
Of course, me being the frugal person I am, I said, “thanks, but no thanks,” and continued north. I regret that, but I’ll be back again someday!
Things to bring
Bring a road atlas. Cell signal is incredibly spotty in this area and cell phone-based GPS is not reliable. A regular GPS would and does work well, but it’s better to be safe and have a paper map than being lost. Preferably bring one with all 50 states since you’ll be crossing a couple. All the major roads you’ll be on are listed in the 50 state atlas.
Bring at least one gallon of water. My first stop when I go anywhere is a Walmart or Target for a few gallons of water and munchies. Opt for a whole gallon versus a pack of plastic water bottles. You can bring your reusable water bottle and fill it from the gallon.
Bring hiking shoes and good socks. The southwest was made for hiking.
Bring a camera. The southwest was also made to be photographed. From the epic rock formations to the vibrant and vivid colors, you’ll want a couple of pictures to remember your time there.
Read More: Top 10 Things You Need to Bring for a Road Trip
Want more Antelope Canyon?
Check out more photos of Antelope Canyon on Unsplash to fuel your wanderlust.