Exploring Lower Antelope Canyon

The Grand Canyon may be located in the middle of “fly over” country but if you only ever see it by flying over the top that’s a terrible mistake. A couple weeks ago we were at a wedding in Phoenix and the bride helped arrange a post-ceremony excursion northward into the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon. It was my first visit to the area after flying over many times and it was incredible.

A beam of light at the entrance to Lower Antelope Canyon
A beam of light at the entrance to Lower Antelope Canyon

The grandeur and majesty of the Grand Canyon is hard to argue with but getting up close and personal with the rocks at Antelope Canyon is an experience that is hard to oversell. After a long day of hiking we were up before sunrise and headed north into Navajo land to explore both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon.

Lower Antelope Canyon

The overall concept at Lower Antelope Canyon is similar to Upper, with the caveat that the paths are more narrow and involve several ladders as one hikes from the bottom to the top, eventually emerging from a small slot in the rock that belies the massive cutout below.

Much like at Upper Antelope Canyon the natural beauty is the attraction, with the curves and lines creating beauty all around. The canyon is carved by years and years of wind and rains eroding the rocks. And the interior continues to change, with occasional flash floods reshaping parts of the canyon. Those same floods can be incredibly dangerous to visitors as well. In 1997 a group of visitors was killed when they became trapped inside Lower Antelope Canyon during a flood.

Lower Antelope Canyon often has sky visible, unlike Upper Antelope Canyon
Lower Antelope Canyon often has sky visible, unlike Upper Antelope Canyon

The shape of Lower Antelope Canyon is such that more sunlight reaches the bottom and sky is visible more frequently. That means fewer chances for the infamous spot beams of light but overall better lighting inside to capture the color of the rock walls.

One interesting quirk of those colors is what different white balance settings on a camera can do to skew what is recorded. For a SLR camera our guide suggested recording in “shade” mode; on an iPhone the Chrome tonal filter is recommended. At one point in Lower Antelope Canyon I snapped the same shot with two different white balance settings. The difference is stark but both are real.

Same photo, different white balance setting, VERY different results
Same photo, different white balance setting, VERY different results

Once inside Lower Antelope Canyon expect to spend about an hour moving through the space. But also don’t necessarily expect to be inside right when your tour scheduled time hits; fortunately there is now some shade provided over the area where visitors wait; we spent about 30 minutes in queue and that would’ve been a nasty sunburn.



Logistics for a tour at Lower Antelope Canyon

There are two tour operators at Upper Antelope (Ken’s, Dixie’s), offering similar services at similar prices. We went with Ken’s but my understanding is there is no material difference in the offering and we eventually overlapped with the others while in the canyon. In April 2017 it was $25 for a tour + $8 for Navajo land access fee per person (same fee can cover you at Upper Antelope, too) for the tour. While Lower Antelope is historically less crowded than Upper Antelope they were both very full during our visit at the beginning of April so advance booking is recommended to secure a slot at peak times. We didn’t have one and we all got in around the same time, though it was not guaranteed.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.