Upper Antelope Canyon is the most famous slot canyon in the world. You may not have known it by name, but chances are that at some point you’ve come across a photo of this iconic place with it’s narrow sandstone orange-purple walls and light beams. Shots from here have been used by Microsoft Windows, Apple and National Geographic to name a few.
It is as beautiful in person as you imagine it to be. The sheer size of the canyon walls are awe-inspiring. However, this fame has unsurprisingly brought crowds by the thousand that flock into this incredibly narrow space. A wilderness experience it isn’t.
What makes Upper Antelope Canyon so special
Upper Antelope Canyon stands above all the other slot canyons in the South-West primarily for its scale. This slot canyon is incredibly deep, which means that little light reaches the bottom. This make the sandstone rock appear various different colours, ranging from a deep purple to a light yellow at the very top. The depth of the canyon also produces all kinds of shapes, formations and waves which look otherworldly.
The summer brings an even more magical phenomenon - light beams that penetrate all the way through to the canyon floor, a beautiful spectacle which led to the creation of the most expensive photo ever taken.
“The Ghost” was taken by Peter Lik in Upper Antelope Canyon and sold for a whopping $6.5 million. Ever since, everyone has been trying to recreate this, and photographing those light beams have become a bucket list shot for many photographers and tourists alike. Even to the point where guides will throw handfuls of sand into the air in the hope of creating breathtaking shapes in the light beams (the story behind the shots isn’t quite as glamorous as you thought, right?!).
How to visit Upper Antelope Canyon
Unfortunately, the only way to visit Upper Antelope Canyon is on a group tour, shudder. There are four companies that operate here and have laughably similar names (we’re assuming for SEO purposes):
There is little to choose between them in terms of price and quality. They are all expensive and the reality of 5,000 people per day being crushed into a canyon only a few metres wide means that politeness and customer service goes out the window.
Tour guides here even admit that it is more about crowd control as they have to ensure that people keep moving to allow other groups to come through behind them. You are not allowed a bag, gopro, tripod or any other item in your hands other than a camera or phone, and this is strictly enforced. On your way out the canyon you are not permitted to take any photos or use a phone, and yes this is enforced (guilty!).
Having said that, the guides will do their best to give information about how the canyon was formed and about the local area, but their main repertoire is in pointing out rocks shaped like American Presidents or animals, and where to get those particularly special shots.
Upper Antelope Canyon Photography Tours
Unlike Lower Antelope Canyon, you can book onto specialist photography tours in Upper Antelope Canyon. They charge double for these tours and you will be also forced to buy a permit for $50 before your tour (I assume to ensure they don’t lose out on a portion of $6.5 million again!). Note that if you have a website or want to post an image of Antelope Canyon online you need this permit anyway even if you are on a normal tour (and regardless of whether you make money from it)!
The photography tours allow you more time in the canyon (around two hours) and the chance to set up a tripod and take photos, but aren’t exactly the kind of leisurely photography tour you might be expecting. In reality you are still in there with thousands of other people, the guides will just hold back the crowds allowing you 60-120 seconds to get your shots before the frogmarch continues. By and large at any time of year, but certainly in peak season (April to October), you will only really be able to shoot upwards if you don’t want other people in your shots.
We recommend checking out FStoppers’ video to see the worst of Upper Antelope Canyon’s photography tours before you book.
The problem with the tours
Our biggest problem with the tours is that in pursuit of making money, the companies are overcrowding the canyon. Unlike Lower Antelope Canyon, Upper Antelope Canyon has the problem of leading to an area that is unreachable by car, so all tours must return back through the way they came, making it two-way traffic. This multiplies the effect of all the crowds as people walk head on towards you as well as from behind.
Best time to visit Upper Antelope Canyon
For light beams
The light beams are generally only seen at certain times of day between April and October, and these time slots come with a premium price tag. In season the tour companies outline on their websites which are the light beam tours.
You won’t get any light beams in the winter months, but we were told the light will be at its best in the middle of the day which is when we visited. If you do plan to go in the summer, book a long time in advance. The Upper Antelope Canyon Tours are so popular that they can sell out months in advance.
To avoid the crowds
Upper Antelope Canyon is never quiet, but a lot fewer people visit during the winter months, especially in January and February. This will give you more space and a bit more time to take the shots you want unobstructed (although it is still majorly challenging to shoot any direction but up).
However, the canyon is a lot darker in winter, so getting a good photo without a tripod is very difficult. You will likely have to use a high ISO which will make very grainy or blurry photos.
Early morning tours also tend to attract fewer people if your main aim to avoid crowds and simply take in the canyon.
What to expect from an Upper Antelope Canyon Tour
We chose to visit in February, a time which is traditionally quieter. It was still pretty busy, but it was a long way from 5,000 people per day! The group size can be up to 40 people, but we were lucky to only have 10 in ours when we visited. Note that there might have only been 10 in our group but there were several groups ahead and behind us.
The rock formations are stunning and as soon as you arrive you’ll notice this huge cave like opening. From here you’ll immediately see how high and impressive the walls are.
There are endless rock formations to study and the canyon is unique at every turn. It is hard to know where to look at the formations, as every direction you turn is stunning.
Upper Antelope Canyon Hike
The hike through Upper Antelope Canyon is more of a stroll as the walk is completely flat - no stairs and no ladders. At only 0.25 miles in each direction, you’ll find that you wish the canyon was longer! It is an easy walk and one which is suitable for anyone.
Should you still visit Upper Antelope Canyon?
Despite the crowds, we still loved visiting Upper Antelope Canyon. This is a truly special place where you just have to accept the annoyances and make the most of it. A trip to Arizona isn’t complete without visiting Upper Antelope Canyon. If you don’t mind missing the light beams we’d say go in low season and whilst the canyon will be far from empty it also won’t be hideously crowded.
Overall this is one slot canyon that deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful in the world.
Upper Antelope Canyon Tour Cost
Four companies operate in Upper Antelope Canyon and we went with Antelope Slot Canyon Tours. They were ok but nothing special.
Prices are correct at time of writing.
Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tours - this is the company I would have used if it wasn’t so expensive! Adult tickets are $66, children under 8 years old are free. Tours at prime time (light beams) are $77 per adult, children under 8 are free.
Photography tours are $158 per person and you must be over 13 years of age and have a tripod.
They also run tours to other less busy canyons but again these are very expensive.
Antelope Slot Canyon Tours - this is the company we used. Winter prices are $58 per person plus processing fees. Children are $48. All other times of year adult tickets are $68 per person and children are $58.
Prime time (light beam) tours are $78 per person, children are $68. It doesn’t mention young children being free but double check.
Antelope Canyon Tours - The sightseers tour prices are - Adult $60.00 (ages 13 & up), Child $50.00 (ages 8-12 years), Child $42.00 (ages 0-7 years).
Prime time (light beams) yours are -Adult $75.00 (ages 13 years & up), Child $65.00 (ages 8-12 years), Child $57.00 (ages 0-7 years).
Photography tours are $125 per person and no children are allowed on the tour.
Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours - I spoke to this company on the phone and sadly got someone who was both rude and seemed not to know what they were talking about so ruled them out as a company to go with. Adults are $60 and children $30. I expect young children are free but it doesn’t mention this online. Photography tours are $160 per person, you must have a tripod.
Alternatives to Upper Antelope Canyon
Lower Antelope Canyon
Lower Antelope Canyon is a pretty short distance from Upper Antelope Canyon and both tours can easily be combined in a day. Historically, Lower Antelope Canyon was known to be cheaper and a lot quieter, but the differences between the two (especially in peak season) aren’t as great as they once were.
Lower Antelope Canyon doesn’t have such vivd light beams or the depth of Upper Antelope Canyon, but the tour guides here are nicer (they have time to be guides and not just crowd control) and it is a more relaxed affair. It is a stunningly beautiful slot canyon and as you do the canyon one-way, there are no groups walking towards you head on. If you visit in off-season and early morning, you can still have a really quiet and relaxed tour.
You can read a full comparison of the two on our post Upper vs Lower Antelope Canyon.
If you can’t get on either Antelope Canyon tour (as happened to our friend who didn’t know to book in advance) - or just fancy a much quieter slot canyon - then head to Waterholes. This slot canyon has only just introduced a mandatory guide requirement (grrrrr) but the benefit is that a lot fewer people know about it.
When we visited, we were literally the only people on our tour and the only people visiting all day. This means you can enjoy it without the crowds, pressure or hassle of a tour guide watching the clock. We were given 1.5 hours to do the whole canyon which was very generous. The canyons are stunning and the trip is a lot of fun with a touch more adventure than either Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon.
You can read all about it in our Waterholes Canyon article.
Getting to Antelope Canyon
Page to Upper Antelope Canyon
Page is the nearest town to Antelope Canyon and only 10 minutes away. The tours start from town, so check the location of yours when you book.
Las Vegas to Antelope Canyon
Las Vegas is a long way away from Antelope Canyon and takes about 4.5 hours each way to get to. There are tours that operate from Vegas taking you to Antelope Canyon and can add on Horseshoe Bend and/or the Grand Canyon. You can check them out using Get Your Guide through this link or below.
Grand Canyon to Antelope Canyon
Upper Antelope Canyon is only 2.5 hours away from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The roads are pretty quiet and fast between these two locations.
Hotels near Antelope Canyon
CountryInn & Suites by Radisson
If you prefer hotels then CountryInn and Suites by Radisson is currently getting rave reviews. It’s in a central location, very close to both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon.
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Are you planning a trip to Page? Which is your favourite slot canyon? Let us know in the comments below!