Antelope Canyon is located on Navajo land in Page, Arizona. It is important to note that Antelope Canyon comprises Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon – these are NOT one and the same. Both are breathtakingly beautiful and often, the major debate is deciding which one to visit if you cannot visit both.
The wave patterns etched deep into Antelope Canyon’s sandstone were formed by erosion from flash flooding during monsoon season when rainwater carved a path into the narrow slot canyon. Over time, the rushing floods smoothed canyon walls to form characteristic wavy lines.
When to Visit
If your main goal is to photograph ethereal light beams, then you must visit in the summer when the sun radiates light high in the sky. However, the summer will bring about large crowds. Light beams begin to taper off by early October as do the tourists.
The time of your visit is also worth considering. Visit at noon to capture these light shafts in the summer months. During morning hours, the canyon yields yellow and red hues; while afternoon hours yield cooler blues and purples.
Tour Groups & Entry Fee
Since 1997, individuals have been unable to visit Antelope Canyon in the absence of a Navajo tour guide. In other words, the only way to visit Antelope Canyon is to join a tour. Tours to Upper Antelope range from $40-$45 for a group tour and upwards of $120-$250 for a small group photographer’s tour. Lower Antelope tours are much cheaper at $20. On regular group tours, expect about 25 people in a group. Photography tours have less people and at 2.5 hours, it’s an hour longer than the regular group tour.
There is also a Navajo Parks & Recreation permit fee of $8 per person that must be paid in cash upon entering Navajo archeological sites. If you visit both Upper and Lower Antelope, the fee only needs to be paid once.
Time Zone Differences
The Navajo territories operate on a different timezone than the rest of Arizona, as Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings time. I flew from Toronto to Vegas, then drove to Page and into Navajo land – needless to say, I had no clue what time it was. Check the local and Navajo times with your hotel to make sure you don’t miss the start of your tour.
Upper Antelope Canyon
Upper Antelope is shaped like an “A”, meaning it’s more cavernous at ground level and narrows as you look up. As such, you can simply walk right into Upper Canyon. In the summer, when the sunlight shines through a particular part of the canyon around noon, the sought-after light beam becomes visible.
Upper Antelope tours are usually booked much faster than Lower Antelope. Make your reservations as soon as you know your travel dates, so you can reserve a good time slot to see the light beam.
Lower Antelope Canyon
Lower Antelope is shaped like a “V”, with a narrow canyon floor that widens up towards the sky. Some areas are so narrow that you have to walk single file, taking one step at a time. Unlike Upper Antelope, the noon-time “ray of light” effect doesn’t happen in this canyon.
Lower Antelope is approached from above and you have to climb a series of steep metal ladders to access the canyon. Entering the canyon is all part of the fun! There’s nothing to worry about if you climb slowly. One of the best parts is the flow of the traffic is going one-way, so you don’t have many people crossing back in your shots.
What to Expect
All tour groups to Upper Antelope will begin at the tour operator’s office. From there, everyone hops on an open-air truck to the canyon area, which is about 5 minutes outside of center of Page. It will be a wind-blasting and bumpy ride once you hit the sand for about about 10 minutes or so. I joined Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours, located inside Navajo Tribal Park, which is closer to Upper Antelope than other tour companies.
Lower Antelope is located across the highway (Hwy 98) from Upper Antelope. There are two tour companies located right on site at the lower canyon. You can drive right up to the entrance and spare yourself the bumpy wash in sand.
Photography in Antelope Canyon
Upper Antelope shares the same entrance and exit. When you reach the end of Upper Antelope, your tour group will turn around. This means that it’s difficult to get a photo without people in it since there will always be a flow of people entering and exiting. If you’re not on a photo tour, it’s almost impossible to get a clear photo. Try to be creative in how fast you can to set up the shot when the right opportunity arises.
There is one way into Lower Antelope and another way out. This one-way traffic flow will allow you many opportunities to get some stunning photos with clear backgrounds since the path snakes and bends, hiding groups of tourists in the turns.
If you have the time, visit both canyons. But if you only have time to visit one, keep in mind: In the lower canyon, you will need to climb steep metal ladders, but it’s much easier to take clear photographs. If seeing light beams is the purpose of the trip, head to the upper canyon, where you can just walk right in. No matter which canyon you choose, you won’t go wrong!