Is Antelope Canyon worth it? In a word…yes. In 1000 words, I’ll tell you a bit more ; )
Antelope Canyon is probably the most famous slot canyon in the entire world.
And it’s definitely the most photographed slot canyon in the American southwest. In fact, one of the most expensive photographs ever sold ($6.5 million) was taken in Antelope Canyon by Peter Lik in 2014. And then there was the iconic “wallpaper” from Microsoft’s Windows 7.
But compared to a lot of the sites in the area (Zion, Arches, the GRAND CANYON), it’s been relatively unknown until the age of social media.
And now EVERYBODY wants their chance to photograph those wild, curvy walls and the magical light beams that shine down for only a few fleeting hours each day in the summer months.
Is Antelope Canyon Worth It?
So obviously it’s worth going, why is this even a question???
There are a few factors that might give people a second thought:
- It’s somewhat remote. Even though it’s in the same general area as a lot of big attractions like Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon, and Moab…Antelope Canyon could still be a 2-3 hour drive from wherever you’re staying. Meaning almost a full day spent driving, or a hotel switch.
- You can only go to Antelope Canyon on a guided tour and they book out pretty far in advance so it takes some planning.
- There are a limited number of tour providers and in the last year or so, the price has kind of jumped.
- If you’re hoping to see the legendary light beams, there’s a pretty small window when you can see them.
All of that being said, on my first big trip to see the National Parks in southern Utah and northern Arizona, I carved out a day to visit Antelope Canyon and booked a tour during a time slot when the light beams would be visible about two months in advance.
I didn’t know if it would be worth it, but I wanted to find out.
Here’s What You Need to Know
Antelope Canyon is on the Navajo Reservation, and the only way to see the slot canyon is on a guided tour. This has been Navajo policy since 11 people died at Lower Antelope Canyon during a flash flood in the late 90s.
There are only five companies that offer tours to Upper Antelope Canyon (as well as two that offer tours to Lower Antelope Canyon and a handful of companies that offer tours in other slot canyons in the area). Here’s the full list.
I ended up booking with Tse Bighanilini Tours because they were the ONLY company that had availability for Upper Antelope Canyon at times when the light beams would be visible. And this was almost three months in advance.
So lesson #1…BOOK IN ADVANCE. Especially if you’re wanting to see the light beams.
So here’s how it works…there are five companies that offer tours through Upper Antelope Canyon, but they all run pretty much the same tour.
The launching point for the tours is: Highway 98, Milepost 299.8, Page, AZ 86040
And it’s basically just a staging ground in the middle of the desert. You’ll park your car, get checked in, and then wait under a shelter to be loaded into the trucks to drive to the canyon. There are porta potties onsite, but that’s about it.
The five tour companies stagger their tour times so there’s pretty much constant tours leaving and coming back.
I HIGHLY recommend Tse Bighanilini Tours and seriously could not have been more impressed with our tour guide Mariah (and I go on a LOT of tours). If you’ve got your choice of companies and time slots, go with Tse Bighanilini, you won’t be sorry. BUT like I said earlier…this books out pretty far in advance and especially if you’re visiting when the light beams are visible and you’re wanting to see them, you may just have to take what you can get.
Okay, so here’s what you can expect on the tour:
We arrived about 10-15 minutes early and checked in and then waited under a shade structure for them to load us into the trucks.
On our tour time (11:15 AM departure mid August), there were seven trucks with about 12 people in each truck. We were in truck #7 so we were the last group in our tour time to enter the canyon, and we had to wait a bit at the entrance of the canyon for the groups in front of us to move farther into the canyon.
The ride from the parking area to the canyon is about 15-20 minutes down a somewhat bumpy dirt road. We sat on padded benches in the back of the truck and just FYI you need to hold on to your possessions if you don’t have pockets that zip. More on this later but bags aren’t allowed on the tour so your phone, wallet, etc will just be in your pocket. My mom’s phone actually bounced out of her pocket while we were in the truck and she didn’t realize it until we got to the canyon. Long story short but another tour guide ended up finding it THREE DAYS LATER and mailed it back to her! So hold on to your belongings!
While we were in the canyon it was kind of stop and go, wait for the group in front of us to move on to the next area so we could move into the next room, but we were also a bit attached to the group in front of us and most of the time both of our groups would gather to watch one of the tour guides throw sand into the air to make the light beams appear.
We were in the canyon for about 40 minutes and it’s definitely more of a slow moving shuffle than a hike.
This tour (at least the light beams tour) is all about photography and it’s not a strenuous hike at all.
I was prepared for pretty brutal conditions because it was almost 100 degrees and our tour was midday, but as soon as we stepped into the canyon, it was actually pretty cool. You’re in the shade the entire time plus the canyon is completely flat.
Once you leave the canyon, you have to do a short hike up and around the canyon to get back to the truck. It’s about 10 minutes (or less) and there’s a bit of a climb up a rocky trail then a walk up an inclined covered ramp and then a staircase back down to where the trucks are waiting. It’s not really a difficult walk, but there is a bit of an incline and parts of it are in direct sunlight. If you’re not up for it, they’ll let you reverse your path and walk back through the canyon to get back to the trucks.
What can you take on the tour? I’m so glad you asked ; ) There are NO BAGS allowed on the tour unless they’re clear. Apparently they had some problems with people bringing ashes into the canyon so that’s the reason for the bag rule.
So you’ll need to just have everything in your pockets. I carried a bottle of water and wore my neck fan but honestly I would’ve been fine without either one. You’re only away from your vehicle for about 1.5 hours and it’s not hot inside the canyon.
All About the Light Beams
OKAY, let’s talk about the light beams! That’s the whole reason for coming, right??
Like I said, we were inside the canyon for about 40 minutes and everything really revolved around photography. Note: This wasn’t a photography tour. When I was booking, there weren’t even options for photography tours and I’d read that they weren’t offering them anymore.
Honestly, you don’t need a professional camera and tripod to get AMAZING photos in Antelope Canyon. With a newish iPhone, you’ll get STUNNING photos of the canyon walls and the light beams. And our tour guide Mariah was soooooo good about taking photos of each group but also giving allllll kinds of tips about exactly what setting to use on your phone and ideas for angles and whatnot. Honestly, I felt like I’d gotten a bit of a photography class by the time the tour was over.
During our tour time as we moved through the canyon, there were a handful of different spots where the light beams were coming down to the floor or making shapes on the walls. Before we entered the canyon she gave us a bit of a game plan and told us at the first light beam she would take a photo of each group and at the second she would take photos of individuals who wanted solo photos and then we could do whatever we wanted at the rest of the spots.
We were kind of in a line just because the canyon is so narrow so we naturally just kind of moved through taking turns, but Mariah was so good about noticing who seemed to want more specific photos and making sure it happened for them.
Honestly, like I said in the beginning of this post, I didn’t necessarily have super high expectations about seeing the light beams in Antelope Canyon. I knew I wanted to do it but I was just open to it being whatever it was going to be (mostly because I didn’t want to be disappointed), but it 100% exceeded my expectations.
It was magnificent and I couldn’t believe that I was able to see what I saw and get the kind of photos I got. This seems like the kind of thing a National Geographic photographer would have to camp out for days with special gear and equipment just hoping for the perfect conditions for the light beams to appear.
But here we were being shuttled through the canyon like they do it every day, all day long (they do : ) and seeing the most special sites and snapping memories on our iphones. I really was so blown away…and that’s coming from somebody who’s made it her job to see and do spectacular things while traveling ; )
FAQs about Antelope Canyon
Upper Antelope Canyon vs Lower Antelope Canyon
Maybe you’ve noticed by now…there are actually TWO sections of Antelope Canyons: Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon.
Upper Antelope Canyon is the famous one with the light beams. It’s the one that the majority of people want to tour, it’s the one you’ve seen the photos of, it’s the one where you can see the light beams. The canyon is narrower at the top and wider at the bottom (A shaped) which is why you get the light beams. It also makes it darker (and cooler) at the bottom of the canyon plus the pathway is fairly wide and flat.
Lower Antelope Canyon is also very beautiful but a bit different. There are no light beams here, but it’s easier (and cheaper) to get a tour. It doesn’t book out in advance like Upper Antelope Canyon does. Lower Antelope Canyon is narrower at the bottom and wider at the top (V shaped) so it might trigger your claustrophobia more but it also lets more light in so the color on the canyon walls can appear more dramatic (it’s also why there are no light beams). Because it’s narrower you also have to scramble about a bit more. More climbing, squeezing through, a few places where you need to use a ladder…more challenging but also maybe more fun and adventurous.
When to See the Light Beams?
Upper Antelope Canyon is beautiful year round, but the chance to see its famous light beams is what draws so many people.
Here’s what you need to know about the light beams: 1) You can only see them at certain times of the year, and 2) Within those months, you can only see them at certain times of the day.
And that’s why tours book up so far in advance. There’s just a limited number of hours in the day/season/year when you have a chance to see the light beams.
It’s all dependent on the exact angle of the sun and the light beams start to become visible in March and last pretty much through the end of August. Throughout that window, the light beams will change in size (from being wider to thinner) as the sun moves with the seasons.
Within those months, the light beams are visible mostly during the peak sun of midday. 11ish to 1ish in general, but each tour company will have the time slots market on their booking calendars so you’ll know if the tour you’re signing up for is peak light or not.
If you’ve planned it all perfectly and you’ve timed your dates (and time of day) to coincide with peak times for seeing the light beams…you can still be derailed by a cloudy/rainy day. It is nature after all ; )
Is It Worth It If You Can’t See the Light Beams?
If your trip is during the summer months, you 100% want to plan this well enough in advance so you’ll be able to book your tour during peak light.
I think the question is if you’re coming in the fall and there is no chance of seeing light beams, is it still worth it?
Well first off, they offer pretty good discounts in the fall so the price isn’t as high. Second, it’s much less crowded so your tour will likely be a lot more intimate, and third…Antelope Canyon is STUNNING no matter when you see it. Unless you’ve a slot canyon pro who’s regularly hiked through the world’s best at peak times, I think you’re going to be impressed with Antelope Canyon whenever you see it.
But, if you’re visiting during the fall, you may also want to weigh your options with touring Lower Antelope Canyon instead (especially if budget is the primary factor).
Is It Worth the Price?
This is where I’m starting to see some chatter. For a one hour tour, it’s not an insignificant price tag. Especially considering how it was priced before the pandemic (it’s almost double the price from pre COVID).
My tour during peak light hours in mid August ended up being $130/person. I get it…if you’re paying for a whole family, that’s a lot!
Here’s the thing…if you want to see it, this is what it costs. There’s not another place you can go and see this for cheaper. Also, you’re never going to catch me complaining about what the Navajos decide to charge people for coming to visit their land. It’s their land ; )
When I left the canyon I felt like my expectations had been so exceeded that it was 100% worth the price. And besides the memories, I have photos that are priceless to me.
What Else Is There to Do Around Page, AZ?
Besides Antelope Canyon, definitely carve out some time to visit Horseshoe Bend.
There’s an incredible viewpoint that you can pay $10/vehicle to access. It is a bit of a walk to get down to the viewpoint from the parking lot and there’s very little shade so definitely plan at least an hour so you’re not having to rush. Also, go at sunset for the most spectacular views if you can time it that way.
And if you need a spot to eat, I really liked the Grand Canyon Brewing in Page. It’s a huge space and they’re obviously known for their beer, but their food was very good as well.