Are you trying to decide whether to visit Upper v. Lower Antelope Canyon? You can’t go wrong with either choice!
Antelope Canyon is a singular and sacred place located in Arizona. It’s a world famous destination in its own right but also makes the perfect add-on destination to a Grand Canyon or Zion National Park road trip.
When I started on my year of adventure, Antelope Canyon was high on my list of must-sees. I was drawn in by the unique topography and sweeping red curves I’d seen in photos. I wanted to capture the sunbeams shining in through the canyons and feel connected with nature.
I couldn’t believe a place like this actually existed, let alone in the United States. I found a $200 fare to Las Vegas and crafted an Arizona/Utah/Nevada 5-day itinerary around my visit to Antelope Canyon. When you find somewhere you want to go, don’t call it a dream, call it a plan.
“Don’t call it a dream, call it a plan.”
Want to know how to turn your slot canyon dreams into a reality? Read on to find out more about Upper v. Lower Antelope Canyon.
Where are Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon?
Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon are both located in Page, Arizona, about 2 hours east of the Grand Canyon South Rim and 4 hours north of Phoenix by car. To get there, you can fly into Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, like I did, or fly into Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport. Both cities allow you to reach Antelope Canyon within a day.
You will need to rent a car since there is no bus or public transportation that can take you to Antelope Canyon. If you do not want to drive yourself, the only alternative is to take an organized tour. Note that rental cars in Phoenix are slightly more expensive than cars in Las Vegas, since most people renting a car in Phoenix do so with the intention of taking a road trip around the state. In contrast, the whole point of Vegas is to safely get around while inebriated, so rental cars aren’t in high demand and incidentally cost less here.
Arizona is filled with fascinating destinations to include in your road trip, but you won’t find another place quite like Antelope Canyon. Photographers fly from all over the world to capture scenes from here so if you’re local and can skip the flight, take advantage!
Distance Between Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon
The two canyons are distinct but are both located inside Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park, within a 15-minute drive of each other. They are both accessed by Highway 98, a long, straight road that heads east out of Page.
You will not be able to drive your car straight to the entrance of the canyons, since the canyons do not have an official parking lot and the entrances are somewhat remote. Instead, you will drive to your tour provider, park at their shop, and then your tour provider transports you to the canyon, either by car for Upper Antelope Canyon or by foot for Lower Antelope Canyon.
Do You Need a Guide?
You absolutely need a guide to visit either Lower or Upper Antelope Canyon. This is Navajo land and visitors are not allowed to wander about unaccompanied. There is no ticket line at the entrance of the canyons and guests cannot hike there on their own.
There are only two tours that service Lower Antelope Canyon: Ken’s Tours and Dixie Ellis’ Lower Antelope Canyon Tours. They’re similar in price and service. I went with Ken’s Tours and had a phenomenal experience. Our guide was very helpful in taking photos and told us myths and stories surrounding the rock formations. You need to descend into Lower Antelope Canyon on steep steps, so this is not a wheelchair friendly location. Upper Antelope Canyon, by contrast, is level and you do not to take any steps or change elevation to enter.
There are at least a dozen different tour providers that service Upper Antelope Canyon, with packages varying from a simple walk-through to private photography tours. Upper Antelope Canyon tours sell out months in advance because you can only see the legendary sunbeams at Upper Antelope Canyon.
Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon in One Day
You can choose to do both Lower and Antelope Canyon in one day, and even fit in Horseshoe Bend for a Page highlights tour. Aim to be at Upper Antelope Canyon for the sunbeams between 11am and 2pm. Visit Lower Antelope Canyon either first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon to accommodate both places.
A good sample timeline would be to visit Upper Antelope Canyon between 10:30 and 11:00am, finish by 12:30-1pm, head to Lower Antelope Canyon and enter around 2pm, then finish the day at Horseshoe Bend around 4:30pm. This allows you to photograph sunbeams in the morning, escape the sun in the afternoon by descending into the ground at Lower Antelope Canyon (it is naturally cooler here) and finish the day with picture perfect views of Horseshoe Bend. Avoid visiting Horseshoe Bend in the morning since the light is not ideal for photos and casts unwanted shadows.
You’re not allowed to bring bags into the sites but you can bring water. You won’t find water bottles readily sold in the area despite it being a desert, so come prepared.
Best Time to Visit Lower Antelope Canyon
In order to see the sunbeams at Upper Antelope Canyon, you have to go in the spring and summer months, though both sites are open year-round. I’m told the colors at Lower Antelope Canyon change with the seasons so this is a site that’s worth visiting more than once.
The sunbeams in Upper Antelope Canyon can be seen beginning after the spring equinox in March, and ending around the fall equinox in September. Prime sunbeam season is between June and August, since the higher the sun the more light comes in. If you’re visiting between September and March, Lower Antelope Canyon might be the better option.
Comparing Upper v. Lower Antelope Canyon
In comparing Upper v. Lower Antelope Canyon, there are several differences to note. First, Lower Antelope Canyon requires descending on a series of stairs/ladders. Guests enter from one location and it’s a straight walk through to the exit on the other side. Upper Antelope Canyon is level once you disembark from your guide’s vehicle, and groups enter and leaving from the same entrance. This makes Upper Antelope Canyon feel slightly more crowded since you have hoards of people inside one set space moving in all directions.
Upper Antelope Canyon is a mix of warm colors–reds, oranges, yellows and browns–while Lower Antelope canyon has cooler colors and boasts hues of blues and purples (pictured above).
I talk about this extensively in my Upper Antelope Canyon photography guide, but you should come prepared to take plenty of photos here. If you’re bringing a DSLR camera, which is required in order to take a photo tour, you don’t want to change your lens in the canyon due to all the sand. You’re also going to want to bring something to help blow the sand off your equipment.
If you’re an iPhone user, make sure you have your flash turned off and try experimenting with the chrome filter in Upper Antelope Canyon to highlight the red hues. Also, take panoramic photos not side to side, but up and down to better capture the walls of the canyons.
Make sure your guide knows you want to take plenty of pictures, since they walk these canyons every day and can help direct you to the best spots. Tip your guide accordingly after the tour, 20% is always standard for good service.
The Verdict: Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon?
If pressed to chose one, I would say Upper Antelope Canyon when you can see the sunbeams only because it’s such a famous photograph and as you can see, every shot you take here comes out fantastic.
However, photographs aside, the experience at Lower Antelope Canyon was much more relaxed and mystical, providing the connection to nature that I had been seeking.
Of course, if you have a day, the best idea is to see them both.
Till next time, safe travels!
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