Located east of Las Vegas, about five hours by car, Antelope Canyon has been photographed, uploaded, downloaded and Instagrammed so many times that it’s easy to lose sight of what it is exactly. Beautiful? Astonishing. But terrible, too: a scar scratched into the earth by water and wind; a portal into something beyond the human understanding of time. It’s stoically indifferent to the trivialities of selfies and “likes” and when you enter the rocky void, you step in entirely on its terms – made small and feeble in its presence even as your heart expands at its grandeur.
Here’s how to make the most of a trip to Antelope Canyon.
Where exactly is Antelope Canyon?
There are two main slot canyons near Page, Arizona – Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. Both are within the Navajo Nation and are easily accessible but neither can be visited without a pre-booked guided tour, following the death of 11 tourists following unexpected flooding in Lower Antelope Canyon in 1997.
How can I get there?
Four companies take tours to Upper Antelope Canyon but only two visit the Lower Canyon – the latter is a longer walk and involves climbing metal ladders. Hiking in either canyon is quite simple but the climbing portion in the Lower Canyon means some tours may be too difficult for pregnant women and those with reduced mobility.
How often do tours run and types exist?
All companies offer regular trips and special photography visits for those looking to capture the famed light shafts that pierce the canyons at specific times of day and year. The quality of the guides varies but Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tours (navajoantelopecanyon.com) offers detailed trips with limited group sizes.
How can I get that all-important shot?
There are a few factors to bear in mind when hoping to get ‘the’ shot while exploring the canyons. Firstly, it’s darker than you imagine so you might have to up your camera’s ISO.
Time of day has an enormous effect on the colouring of the canyon walls: early morning or evening tours produce a deeper purple or blue tinge to their curves, whereas tours closer to the middle of the day creates that signature orange hue. If you’re a bit of a pro, be sure to shield your lenses – there’s a lot of dust flying around that could damage your equipment.
When should I plan to go?
The best time to visit depends on how much you want to see the beams of sunlight, which are visible from April to October. Summer is very popular but monsoonal rains late in the season close the canyons. Winter and autumn are less hectic and just as beautiful.
Do I have to stay overnight in Page?
The canyons can be visited from Las Vegas on a day trip that also includes nearby Horseshoe Bend at the Grand Canyon. But, unless a nine-hour return bus trip is your idea of a good time, an overnight stay is recommended. Page is well serviced with motels or you could hire a houseboat. Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas has family-friendly accommodation plus vessels ranging from basic to extravagant 23-metre barges with hot tubs and a private chef.
What do I need to know if I decide to drive?
If you’re driving your own vehicle to Lake Powell, you must pay the $US30 (about $40) national park fee, even if you’re staying at the resort or on a houseboat.