I never cease to be amazed by the many geological gems that are hidden in plain site throughout the southwest of the United States, from White Sands in southern New Mexico to Canyonlands in Moab, Utah. Antelope Canyon is another awe-inspiring site that is a bit off the beaten path, but the reward is well worth the extra effort.
Located in Page, Arizona, the area that does not have the same magnetic draw as other nearby destinations like the Grand Canyon or Arches National Park, but punches well above its weight in terms places to explore. We found it to be a great homebase for a long weekend filled with hiking and other outdoor adventures, with the crown jewel being Antelope Canyon.
The canyon is divided into 2 sections, Upper Antelope Canyon is shaped like an “A” with a wider opening at the bottom and more narrow opening at the top, whereas Lower Antelope Canyon is shaped like a “V” so is much narrower to walk through with some steep staircases. And since its on private land within the Navajo Nation, a guided tour is mandatory to visit. We booked a 10:15am tour at the end of February through Dixie’s Lower Antelope Canyon Tours, which would take us on a 1.5 hour journey through this remarkable slot canyon.
We arrived early and departed promptly at the time of our tour, and after a short walk to the entrance, our guide TJ led us down a series of metal stairs 85 feet into the canyon. Almost immediately we were surrounded by the breathtaking swirls of orange sandstone illuminated by the narrow patches of light that Antelope Canyon is know for.
TJ explained that originally the area was a big sand dune and that over time mud was hardened by the sun, which was then cracked by water and smoothed by wind. This interplay of the elements continued for many years, forming the layered slot canyon that can be seen today. And depending on the time of the day, light beams from the narrow openings above can been seen in parts ofthe canyon. It’s a visual feast to say the least.
To our surprise, organized tours to the public have only been offered since the early 2010s, which have only soared in popularity in recent years, thus constant “maintenance” is required. According to TJ, when it rains the canyon floods and washes out much of the sand, so guides have to scoop out the excess water and mud and then shovel more sand in from the top to preserve the canyon floor, making it all the more impressive.
TJ lead our small group with warmth, sharing his knowledge and offering to take phots along the way. When we reached the end of the canyon we reemerged into the daylight, only to see a discrete narrow crack in the earth behind us with no indication of the beauty and magnificence that lie below. Antelope Canyon was such an incredible experience, unlike any other place we’ve discovered (at least this far) in the southwest.
Also Good to Know
As mentioned above, Antelope Canyon is located on private land and is only accessible via a Navajo-led guided tour. It’s considered a sacred place, thus its essential to observe the guidelines set forth by the tour companies. Temperatures inside the canyon are about 10 to 15 degrees cooler than outside, so dress accordingly with layers as needed. May through September is often the most popular time to visit Antelope Canyon when light beams are at their most visible (and other activities on the nearby Lake Powell are in full swing). While both temperatures and crowds soar during the summer months, off-season visits offer milder weather, less wait time and an overall more enjoyable experience.