Antelope Canyon is nestled in a neighborhood of natural wonders. To the south lies the Grand Canyon. To the west, you have Lake Powell and Zion National Park and to the North is the expansive Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
It’s a hot spot for nature lovers, adventurers and tourists alike. Although Antelope Canyon is an incredible natural wonder, it’s somewhere that should come with a “buyer beware” warning.
Don’t get me wrong. Antelope Canyon is absolutely gorgeous, but in order to see it, you have to pay for a guided tour. For me the canyon itself is stunning, but the tour was spectacularly underwhelming.
What is Antelope Canyon?
Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon (formed from sandstone erosion by flooding and rain water) located on the Navajo Reservation. It’s important to note is that there are two separate sections of the canyon — Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon.
The upper canyon is the most popular with tourists and is where I’ll focus this review. The canyon’s entrance is at ground-level and therefore requires no climbing or physical exertion. The lower canyon is a V-shape and requires you to climb down steep ladders to visit. Although I’ve only visited Upper Antelope Canyon, I have heard that the lower canyon is much less crowded.
What’s the deal with the tours?
You can’t visit Antelope Canyon by yourself because the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department protects it. The only way to visit Antelope Canyon is through a guided tour — and there are five authorized tour companies in the area. Although companies limit the size of each tour, it quickly becomes overcrowded.
During your tour, your guide will lead you through the canyon which is about 200 meters — 660 feet — in length each way. Along the way, they will give you ample time to stop and take photos at designated points.
In fact, your tour guide will help you take photos, showing you the best ISO/exposure/filter to use, where to stand and point your camera and at what angle. The tour guides even have flash-cards of what certain rocks resemble — think Abe Lincoln’s face, a heart and angel wings to name a few.
Although you will be told the basic history of the canyon, the primary focus of the tour is photos and photos alone. This was my experience on a regular tour — there are tours offered specially for photographers.
I know that taking photos is a main reason people go to see the canyon in the first place, but the format of the tour irked me nonetheless. It was very much, “Line up. Stand here. Point this way. Got it? Okay next.” And then you were shuffled forward, out of the shot but not far enough that your tour guide could lose sight of you.
When should you go?
If you find yourself tempted to see this wonder with your own eyes, then I suggest you choose an early morning tour.
We went in the middle of September at 8am. The canyon still felt overcrowded, but I soon realized, as we made our way back to the entrance point, that my idea of overcrowded was empty compared to the later tours.
Our group had 10 people in it, and there was one group ahead of us and another behind. On our way back through the canyon, we passed half a dozen other tours attempting to make their way through. People were shoulder-to-shoulder at some parts and their tour guides yelled at us for trying to take photos on our way out.
I have since spoken with other travelers who also visited Antelope Canyon. One of whom said they had to wait in line for three hours before they could to go in. Although the best suggested time to see the canyon is around 11:30 a.m. — that’s when the light beams shine directly down into the canyon — I don’t think I could justify waiting that long for a few photos, even if they are stunning.
If you’re going to go, go early. Make this your first stop of the day!
Is Antelope Canyon for you?
If you want guaranteed amazing photos to dazzle on Instagram, then Antelope Canyon is 100% a must-see place. But for people who want to really experience the wilderness this area of the U.S. offers, then I would not suggest adding Antelope Canyon to your list.
In fact, if you:
- Dislike crowds
- Can’t stand overpopulated national parks/natural environments
- Hate not being able to take your time while observing/experiencing things
- Are somewhat claustrophobic
- Have limited funds or money
Then I recommend a pass on this canyon.
Although the photos you take may show scenes of serenity through the contrast of light and shadow, the photos sadly offer no more than the illusion of peacefulness.
How much does it cost?
The price of the tour is not outrageous (we paid $50 each and went with Antelope Canyon Tours) however, it’s not exactly budget-friendly either.
Compared to the cost of visiting the Grand Canyon — $15.00/person or $30.00/vehicle — then the difference can add up rather quickly, especially if you’re traveling in a group. Not only is Antelope Canyon more expensive, but you also get much less bang for your buck. For $50, you spend just under one hour in the canyon. Whereas the Grand Canyon entrance fee is valid for seven days and allows you to go in and out of the national park at will.
Is Antelope Canyon worth it?
Ultimately, I think it comes down to what you want to get out of an experience and what you can afford — both time and money wise.
Antelope Canyon has a lot to offer that the Grand Canyon (for example) does not. The beauty of the Grand Canyon is in its vastness, while the beauty of Antelope Canyon is in its details. You can see the nature’s effects from an up-close perspective at Antelope Canyon.
I’m glad I went, but I was disappointed with the amount of people the tour companies try to squeeze into this slit in the rock.
I’m one of those pricks who doesn’t want to feel like a tourist when I’m being a tourist. And the structure of the tours at Antelope Canyon allowed me no room to pretend like I’m a local. Instead, the tours made me feel as if I was exploiting, rather than appreciating, the canyon.
Having said that, if you can afford it and it’s something you really want to do, then do it. It’s commercialized and overcrowded, but at the end of the day Antelope Canyon is stunning and will leave you with an Instagram feed to die for.
Things to know before you go.
You can’t take backpacks into the canyon with you.
- Any food or water you think you’ll want must be hand-held or fit in your pockets. Many of the tour companies suggest purchasing a hydration pack or a special clip to attach to your bottle. We only discovered this the night before our tour, so didn’t have time to purchase anything before we went. Instead we just took two water bottles each and put them in our hoodie pockets. This worked fine.
The canyon is short and requires little exertion.
- You’re not hiking when you visit Antelope Canyon. The ground is flat and the whole walk is about 200 meters — 660 feet — in length each way. There is nothing particularly strenuous about the tour, especially because you get plenty of stops along the way. The only concern could be the amount of time you have to spend on your feet — especially if you have to wait three hours to get in! Aside from that, the canyon is accessible for all ages and fitness levels.
It can get cold.
- We visited in the middle of September on what happened to be a particularly overcast day. The forecast threatened rain, and although we managed to avoid this, we did face a bitter wind — particularly during the drive to and from the canyon. The tour we went on met at the company’s office which was about a 25-minute drive from the canyon. This drive was on an open-aired truck which left us vulnerable to the wind. Although the canyon itself was a fine temperature, that drive was something wicked. From my understanding there are tours that you can take that meet at the canyon itself. This may be something worth considering, particularly if you’re not visiting in the peak of summer.
My final thoughts
Do it for the photos, not for the tour.
Plan accordingly and consider sacrificing the best photos by going early and sparing yourself the midday rush.
Just my luck, my phone died mid way through the canyon so I had to share some of my friends’ photos. However, for the most part, they are all the stock-standard photos the tour guides instructed us to take.