Visiting the Lower Antelope Canyon was initially not part of our family trip to Arizona. We had decided upon renting a car from Phoenix airport and spending a day in Sedona before driving further to Grand Canyon. But what a fabulous experience we ended up having at this natural site with one of the antelope canyon tours!
I was planning the trip to Grand Canyon National Park and realized that even the shortest hike would be more than what we could do with our 7-year-old. And if you are not hiking this natural wonder, then a day is good to walk, bike and explore the rim and the main points.
While researching on what to do on the second day, I stumbled upon the Antelope Canyons. I saw some beautiful images on the net and they created quite an impression. Voila, without overthinking, I had booked one of the Lower Antelope Canyon Tours.
Lower vs Upper Antelope Canyon
Arizona has many slot canyons – the most famous being the Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons. There are many other slot canyons in Arizona that you can visit for free sans crowds. And if your US west coast itinerary includes a trip to Utah, do check out the incredible Utah Slot Canyons there.
What are slot canyons, you may ask?
Wikipedia defines it – ‘A slot canyon is a narrow canyon, formed by the wear of water rushing through rock. A slot canyon is significantly deeper than it is wide.’
The Lower Antelope Canyon is underground. You need to climb down to see this canyon with its soft rocks chiseled by water and wind over thousands of years. The Upper Antelope Canyon is above the ground, much bigger and wider. But the same forces of nature have shaped its colorful soft rocks into the wonder that it is today.
The Upper Antelope Canyon is the more famous of the two canyons. The perfect light beam shots at noon are from the Upper Antelope Canyon. But with its fame comes the crowds.
We chose to visit the Lower Antelope Canyon. Our choice was based on these reasons – it is a shorter trip (the Upper Antelope Canyon takes 2 hours and you need to report 1/2 hour before your slot), cheaper and also with lesser crowds (though I am not sure if it was less crowded if you take into account the difference in sizes).
It is possible to see both the canyons within a day, though that would make for a long day. But either one or both the canyons should be a part of your Arizona itinerary.
Booking the Lower Antelope Canyon Tour
You cannot visit the Lower Antelope Canyon by yourself. It is on Navajo land and there are 2 local tour companies run by Indians that offer a 1-hour tour. We booked via Ken’s Tour and were really happy with our experience.
We had got the 2 pm slot, the earlier ones had been sold out for that day. Though noon is supposed to be the best time to visit the Antelope Canyons because of perfect light conditions, anything around noon or in the evening would be good as well.
To be honest, when we reached Ken’s Tour building – it is in the middle of nowhere in vast Arizona land – we were a bit apprehensive. I already knew that the Lower Antelope Canyon is small and narrow. And when I saw a large group of tourists for the 2 pm tour that we were booked on, my heart sank. I knew we couldn’t expect to be alone for this increasingly popular site but do we really have to jostle amongst so many other people underground?
We queued up 15 minutes before the start of the tour. I felt a bit of relief when our guide separated a large group of people from independent travelers like us and gave them a different guide. So finally there were 3 or 4 manageable sub-groups, each led by a different tour guide. We got a short briefing and the adventure began!
Going down the Lower Antelope Canyon
After the short walk from Ken’s Tour building, there are steps to enter the canyon. It didn’t feel so short though in the blazing dry heat.
In earlier times, people would climb down using ropes!
These steps are steep but nothing that can’t be managed holding the railing on both sides and going down slowly. This Canyon is narrow and a tight squeeze in few spaces. Again, nothing that can’t be managed unless you are very claustrophobic.
At every turn – and there are many twists and turns – the Canyon opens itself to a new vista. Our guide kept the small group together and although we didn’t stop at any point for too long, there was enough time to see the unusual shapes the rocks had taken, the absolutely stunning colors as we went deeper and take some family photos as well in the more open spots.
The guide matters for the Antelope Canyon Tours
We had a very good experience with our guide at the Lower Antelope Canyon tour. I realized that the individual guide does matter to your overall experience here. The better guides will point out interesting rock formations and take pictures for you. The lesser ones are silent and basically, just herd you through the Canyon.
Our guide stopped several times to point out interesting and at times, funny shapes that the rocks had taken. He also pointed out cool spots to take photos of.
At the end, after exiting the canyon, the guide took some sand and water and showed us visually how the natural forces worked to make Monument Valley and the Antelope Canyons.
His visual description was really engaging, I wish I had shot a video of it.
Tips for visiting the Lower Antelope Canyon
- It is quite hot both on the ground and inside the canyon. Make sure you are wearing comfortable clothes and sensible walking shoes/sandals.
- There is no shade outside the canyon. So carry a cap, sunglasses and a bottle of water. You are not allowed to take any bags / large backpacks in the canyon in order to protect the walls of the canyon.
- There is no clean toilet facility around that area. Only pits with no running water. Nothing much can be done but to chin up, stop your breath for a few seconds and finish your job quickly.
- The 2 companies that run the Lower Antelope Canyon tours have stopped their longer photography tours. There is only one option now – the approximate 1-hour tour that allows for hand-held photography.
- You book a spot online but don’t forget to confirm your spot a day before the tour. They advise paying the tour fee in cash although I did see a card machine on the counter. I am not sure if it was working so best to take cash with you.
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Have you visited Arizona? What has been your favorite destination or experience there?
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