Antelope Canyon has been on our radar for several years; we kept putting it off thinking we needed to do some kind of special preparation before heading out there. Two months ago, on a whim, we decided we were going to do it; we were finally going to visit Antelope Canyon. While information about visiting the canyons do exist, we found that we were not able to get ALL the relevant information in one place. So we decided to do it ourselves! We hope this post will make planning a trip to Antelope Canyon a bit smoother.
Here is everything you need to know and do before heading to Antelope Canyon.
Pick Your Dates
First you will need to decide when you want to visit Antelope Canyon and for how long. The Canyons (both upper and lower) can be done in a single day, but don’t let that rush your trip to Page, Arizona. It’s a great base for several other magnificent landmarks. We recommend 5 days as a comfortable amount of time (including your travel days).
Avoid visiting Antelope Canyon on the weekends if at all possible, especially holiday weekend! We went during Labor Day weekend and it was not wise from a crowd standpoint.
Antelope Canyon is on Navajo tribal land and cannot be visited without a tour guide. Therefore, to see both the upper and lower canyon, you must pre-book your tour(s). There are five upper canyon tour companies and two lower canyon tour companies. Each tour lasts 60-120 minutes, so contrary to what we thought initially, it’s not a place you can spend all day at. You will have your allocated time and other than that, the rest of the day is free.
We chose the most opportune/popular times for our tours because we wanted to ensure our best chances of seeing the sunbeams. In retrospect, it was not a good idea. The tours are done in such a haphazard, rushed manner, that we would have preferred a time slot that was less busy, even if it resulted in seeing less sunbeams.
*denotes who we want went
Upper Canyon Tour(s)
Lower Canyon Tour(s)
We can’t vouch for how Dixie Ellis Lower Canyon is, but we would say skip Ken’s Tour, unless you are visiting on a weekday. Although we booked our lower canyon tour in advance, we didn’t even get to see it. We were booked for a 2:30pm time slot, on a Saturday, over Labor day weekend. We arrived at the venue at 1:45pm and to say the crowd was insane would be an understatement.
After waiting for nearly 40 minutes, we noticed that they were calling people from two time slots ago and even then only allowing a certain number of people to go through. Those lucky enough to go through, were granted access to stand in a ridiculously long line, under the desert sun and await their turn to enter the Canyon (easily adding another 20-40 minutes to the overall wait time).
For those who don’t make it through the glass doors to the other side, a wait time of another twenty minutes are in store, in the HOPES of making the cut the next time around. Since we were already 2 time slots behind, with no real prospect of getting through anytime soon, we decided to give this a skip and ask for a refund.
You’ll be happy to know, the refund policy is a no questions asked policy, which means giving refunds must be a regular occurrence. Having said that, the $8 Navajo Nation fee paid upon entering the premises is non-refundable. So despite not being able to see the lower canyon, we were not going to get the $8 fee back.
We were truly disappointed on missing out on seeing the lower canyon, but recalling our experience from earlier in the day at upper canyon, we knew this too would be a rushed herd like experience.
Should You Book a Photography Tour?
ONLY if you are a professional photographer, can book a tour on a weekday and can afford to do a private tour. Otherwise, it is an absolute waste. It is worth noting that we are basing our feedback on what we experienced on a popular tour time on a holiday weekend. BUT, we were really surprised to see that those on the photography tour had the same time slot as the rest of us. The photography tour is far more expensive, we would expect that if you’re booked on such a tour, you would only be with other photographers. Otherwise, it’s literally a rush to get a shot that you barely have any time to setup for and hope that people from the regular tours won’t block your angle.
Obtain Photography Permit…or Not
There is much confusion about who needs the photography permit and how much it costs. So, let us clarify the whole process in lament’s terms.
Photography permit is required for anyone who wishes to take pictures and use it for commercial purpose, including sharing it on social media (such as Facebook. Instagram, Pinterest, etc.).
- $50 Processing Fee for applications that have all the required information for one person. ($25.00 additional Processing Fee that involves photocopying for more than one person or requests for additional documentation or revisions)
- Note: If you are traveling with a friend/significant other but are not married and/or share the same last name, you will need to do two separate applications with a fee of $50 per person.
- $100.00 Processing Fee for weddings, film companies or photography workshops that involve five or more people
- $200.00 Processing Fee for all After-the-Fact requests for Special Use Permits.
Fill out your application form and submit it at least 4 weeks in advance to ensure receipt and issue of permit.
What We Did
We submitted our application with a money order of $50 per person and mailed it in with ample time. We called and checked on the statuses twice within a two week window. We were advised that our permits were granted and mailed to us, however, 7 days prior to our trip, we still hadn’t received the permits. So instead, we were emailed our permits, which we printed and took with us.
During the check in process at the tour desk, we advised them of our permits. At first, they had no idea why we would have them since we weren’t booked on a photography tour (hint no. 1 that we really didn’t need the permit). Once we clarified that it was because we were going to post them on our site and social media, they went through their paper works, found them and told us to keep it with us at all times as we may need them. “Better safe than sorry” were her exact words.
Don’t bother! No one checks, no one even inquired to ensure we had it. This is only enforced if you are booking a photography tour.
Chances are if you don’t live in Arizona or a neighboring state, you’ll be flying into one of the following airports: Phoenix, Las Vegas or Flagstaff (the closest but often more pricey). We flew into Phoenix and spent the night before making the drive to Page the following morning.
You’ll need a car, and if you’re flying into an airport, get a car there. The rates are very reasonable. Beware though, it’s the insurance that will double if not triple your rental cost.
Tip: If flying into Phoenix, we recommend spending the night here. It will make the drive the next day not just easier but more beautiful (we were able to stop in Sedona for a few hours to explore and enjoy a delicious lunch).
Staying in Page is your best bet to explore Antelope Canyon and the surrounding. We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites Page – Lake Powell and loved it. The hotel is the newest in the area (opened summer 2016) so both the rooms and the service were outstanding.
Once you’re in the state of Arizona, here are our suggestions on what to do on your drive to and from Page.
Drive to Page
From Phoenix, the drive to Page is essentially a straight road, and by that we mean you stay on the same highway for majority of the drive. Having said that, it is important to note that the entire drive is not physically straight. They are two lane roads for a vast portion of it, with a speed limit of 75mph and a terrain that changes in both elevation and scenery.
If you are not used to driving onÂ two lane roads for hundreds of miles through windy mountains, valleys, forests, and deserts, then be prepared, it may be a bit difficult for you.
Stops Along the Way
If like us, you spend a night in Phoenix and head out to Page the next morning, then you will have plenty of chances to stop at some beautiful sites along the way.
Our favorite, Sedona! Literally on the road to Page, Sedona is the perfect spot to stop for lunch and spend a couple of hours taking in the majestic mountain views. Some highlights in Sedona include:
- Red Rock State Park (there are a few scenic view point parking lots where you can enjoy a picnic lunch or take in a hike if you have time)
- Sedona airport overlook
- Chapel of the Holy Cross
After continuing on from Sedona, you can choose to stop in Flagstaff. Alternately, you can do one stop on the way to Page and the other on the way back from Page.
In Flagstaff, you have the option of a quick stop (for a bite to eat) or a longer stop to see a portion of the Grand Canyon (about 80 miles from Flagstaff).
Note: Although the Grand Canyon deserves its own separate trip, anyone wanting to do as much as possible on this trip, simply don’t know when you’ll be back again or just can’t pass up the chance to get a glimpse of this world wonder, CAN do a super condensed visit of the Grand Canyon.
We don’t recommend combining the Grand Canyon with a visit to the Antelope Canyon unless your trip is longer than 5 days.
What To See in Page and Surrounding
Antelope Canyon is only one of the highlights of visiting Page. Keeping your base in Page, there are quite a few amazing wonders to see. Below we share the ones we visited. Separate detailed posts on each individual site will be posted on our website.
Just 3/4 mile outside of Page, located on Highway 89 South, was our favorite part of this trip. Horseshoe Bend is a part of the Colorado River that is shaped like a horseshoe. Access to it is a 1.5 miles roundtrip hike from the parking lot. It takes about 45 minutes altogether and while the terrain is not difficult, it does have some inclines and declines and is a mix of sand and sandstones. Be sure to take water, hat, sunscreen and camera.
Stretching from Lees Ferry, Arizona to Orange Cliffs of southern Utah, Glen Canyon has so much to offer. Closest to Page is Lake Powell, where several boat tours are offered to take in scenic viewpoints. We did the Antelope Canyon tour which was beautiful and gave us a different perspective of the canyons. Since the park has an entrance fee of $25 (7 day vehicle pass), you have the option of taking a full day to enjoy the lake and all its water activity offering or spread it out across several days.
Located 104 miles (1 hour 40 min drive) from Page, is Utah’s first National Park. Once at the park, the shuttle buses (which operate very frequently) take you to all the main hiking/scenic sites, making visiting the park incredibly uncomplicated. While easily doable as a day trip, it really deserves an overnight if you can manage it.
122 miles from Page, there is no straight road to Monument Valley, but it is still possible to reach it within a 2 hour drive. Beautiful for a day trip, it is best enjoyed as an overnight as the dark night sky is part of its majestic beauty.
Post Trip Reflection
What We Wish We Knew
We loved our trip through Arizona and it was definitely one of our best road trips, ever. However, in retrospect we wish we knew the following things, which would have made our trip much smoother.
Antelope Canyon is a tourist trap!
This would not have changed our views of visiting Antelope Canyon, because it is absolutely a wonder of the world, but, it would have changed our outlook on the matter. We were incredibly disappointed with our tour and the scope (or lack thereof) we had to enjoy the place. If we had known what to expect, we would have lowered our expectations and would have probably enjoyed the place more as a result of it.
Why a tourist trap?
Because the whole system of how to see the canyon is incredibly commercialized. Lasting about 90 minutes from start to finish, it was like a rush hour madness. You were hurried through the canyon with 30 second intervals at each “photo op place”, where you were told to stand for photos and the guides would take your pictures. The guides are kind enough to tell you the best photo angle for each place and often take your phone/camera and do it themselves, however, not all of us want that. Most of us who are into photography want to take our own shots and want to take our time finding the ideal angle. You have absolutely no time to take in your surrounding and enjoy the moment. There are approximately 200 people going through the canyon at any given time and you are requested to stay with your tour guide and are rushed the entire time.
Expectations are half the battle. Therefore, we hope that you found the information in this post helpful and and knowing what to expect will make your trip to Antelope Canyon much more enjoyable.
Have you been to Antelope Canyon?
Did you have the same experience as ours? or was it completely different?
Please share your views below as we would love to hear from you.
As always, Happy and Safe Travels!