Visiting Antelope Canyon

You’ve probably seen the pictures on your Pinterest feeds or Tumblr. Outside of the Grand Canyon, this is one of the most photographed natural phenomenon in the Southwest.

So what is it exactly? Where is it located? And how do you get there? Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon in northern Arizona nearest to the city of Page, which is created by rushing water, mostly from flash floods in the area. This accounts for the smooth, flowing chiseling visible on the sides of the rock wall. This leaves just enough room for you to squeeze through in some areas of the canyon. Because sunlight can only enter from a very narrow opening at the top, this also creates the visual effects that make the canyon so popular to photograph.

Antelope Canyon in all its splendor.
Antelope Canyon in all its splendor.

The canyon is located in Navajo land, not very close to anywhere you might otherwise be visiting, unless you’re visiting Page, AZ which is a short 15 minute drive Antelope Canyon. But let’s be real: why would you ever be in Page, AZ? So this is the kind of thing you’ll see on a trip nearby.

If you’re visiting the Grand Canyon or Flagstaff, AZ, you’re about 2 hours away. If you’re in Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Moab, UT, you’re about 4:30 hours away. If you’re in Salt Lake City, it’s about 6 hours. I came all the way from Denver, which is 10 hours each way. Of course, I didn’t drive all the way out there just to see Antelope Canyon. The 5-day trip took me through other interesting wonders of the Southwest, including Moab and the Four Corners. The drive through the red rocks and vast desert is worth the 10-hour trek.

The Four Corners Monument, where Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico meet.
The Four Corners Monument, where Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico meet.

Once you’ve seen all that, you have to decide whether you want to see Upper Antelope Canyon or Lower Antelope Canyon. The upper canyon is more popular because it’s a less grueling hike. It is wider at the bottom, giving you more room to move around, and narrower at the top, which is why the famous light beams are more common in the upper canyon. All of these advantages tend to draw more people to the upper side. The lower canyon is V-shaped so it is narrower at the bottom and it widens at the top. Some parts of the lower canyon are much tighter and harder to walk through. As a result, the lower canyon is often less crowded which can be an advantage when you want to get good pictures without all the people in it. There are photographer tours available, as well, which are more costly, but they allow you to take a tripod and you won’t have as many people to contend with.

Of course, if time is no issue, why not both? Each of these provides an extremely unique geological experience. The only downside is that you would have to pay for entrance to each. Whatever you decide, it is important to book in advance to avoid driving all the way over there and not being able to go down into the canyon.

You will always go down into the canyon, upper and lower, with a guide. They will give you helpful advice as you go down and more importantly, they will know the area and the weather to prevent you from going into the canyon when there is risk of flash flooding. This can occur when it rains in certain areas and the rainwater washes violently through the canyon – it’s how the canyon is formed in the first place. Obviously, you don’t want to be caught down there when that happens. But don’t worry. Your expert guides don’t want that to happen under any circumstances and it will be nice and dry in the canyon when you walk down into it.

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