A visit to Upper 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.

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.

Upper Antelope Canyon

Upper Antelope Canyon is considered the more open and accessible of the two (all flat ground, no stairs) and it was our first stop in town. Our group of 12 piled into the back of a pickup truck and drove the few miles in to the mouth of the slot canyon to start the hour-long exploration inside. The space is crowded with visitors from the multiple operators running tours inside. We were waylaid a couple times as special photo tours (they were allowed to bring camera bags and tripods; we weren’t allowed to bring anything that wasn’t in a pocket) took over some of the rooms but overall the hour-ish we spent inside moved smoothly. And it was incredibly beautiful.

See the heart in this formation? Every turn in Upper Antelope Canyon offers a different take on the gorgeous rock formations.
See the heart in this formation? Every turn in Upper Antelope Canyon offers a different take on the gorgeous rock formations.

The canyons are 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. Detritus was visible overhead in some areas and our guide pointed out where large chunks of rock moved during a recent storm, widening one of the chambers.

We stopped many times along the walk, taking photos and listening to our guide describe certain formations as animals or people. It was interesting enough, I suppose, but the real draw was the natural beauty, not the conversation. We reached the end of the canyon and emerged into the light for a quick break before returning inside to make the quick walk back to the front; photos are STRONGLY discouraged as you walk back through.

Our visit was too early for most of the sunbeam activity (11a tour May-August is ideal for that according to our guide, and for heat exhaustion based on my guess) but as we reached the entry chamber we got lucky and were treated to a single beam of light coming down from the sky. It was incredible.

The infamous slot canyon sun beam shining through into Upper Antelope Canyon just before our tour finished.
The infamous slot canyon sun beam shining through into Upper Antelope Canyon just before our tour finished.

At the end of the tour we were given a souvenir calendar from the site. I’ve got an extra so if anyone wants one leave a note below and I’ll pick someone to mail it to this week.

Logistics for a tour at Upper Antelope Canyon

There are five tour operators at Upper Antelope, most offering similar services at similar prices. In April 2017 it was ~$40 for a tour + $8 for Navajo land access fee per person (same fee can cover you at Lower Antelope, too) for the normal tour. The photo tour is notably more expensive. Advance booking is recommended to secure a slot at peak times but not necessarily required if you’re willing to wake up well before sunrise and take your chances with getting in. We didn’t have one and we all got in around the same time, though it was not guaranteed.

More from this trip:

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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.


  1. Great article! Heading out in June and saw this! Now I’m even more excited. Would love the calendar!

  2. I was so excited about Upper Antelope Canyon when we went in 2012, but ended up being fairly disappointed. The crowds, and the way they rushed you through (especially considering the cost!) really took away from the experience. And we even went at an off-peak time (mid-October). However, my goodness, Lower Antelope Canyon was just GORGEOUS! Practically no crowds and we could take all the time we wanted. Wondering what your thoughts were on Upper vs. Lower!

    1. We spent about an hour in the canyon so I don’t think we were rushed. It was crowded though.

      Story about Lower is coming tomorrow but I did not find it spectacularly uncrowded or quiet. It was similar IMO. Helps that it is a one-way walk to keep things less bunched up, but still a queue to get in an plenty of people around. Also an hour in the canyon there.

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