Exploring Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell
Antelope Canyon is arguably one of the most popular slot canyons in the U.S., and for good reason. The infamous red rock, created from the erosion of Navajo Sandstone, forms a deep crack in the ground that visitors from all over the world come to explore.
Located on Navajo land, the canyon can be accessed from two different sections, Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. The Navajo Tribe made the canyon a Navajo Tribal Park in 1997, so the only way to access the canyon is through a private tour group.
Upper Antelope Canyon, also known as "The Crack," is most frequently visited for its easy-accessibility at ground level and the famous beams of sunlight that permeate down into the canyon.
Lower Antelope Canyon gets its nickname "The Corkscrew" honestly, as the entire slot canyon snakes through the desert in a series of twists and turns that require a bit of climbing and maneuvering to squeeze through. Before stairways were installed, climbing and repelling gear was a necessity. Now anyone can access the canyon without gear after purchasing a tour through one of the private tour companies.
Lower Antelope Canyon
A typical day at Lower Antelope Canyon on the last weekend in May is the picture of chaos. After checking in for your tour you could wait several hours to then start a several hour wait at the back of the line to enter the canyon. Large tour groups from all over the world pile into the parking lot on busses while groups of families crowd into the small building to escape the heat.
At 10:00 am on May 27 it was 100 degrees and rising as we stood in the heat to wait our turn for an 11:00 tour. By noon we were herded outside to a pavilion at the entrance of the canyon where we waited for the groups ahead of us to begin their tour.
At 12:45 our tour guide, a member of the Navajo tribe, signaled for us to begin the descent down the steel stairs into the canyon. After a couple steps down, the weight of the intense heat lifted, and the cool air from the deep canyon rose to greet us. I dragged my hand along the smooth canyon wall as I climbed down the uneven stairs to soak in the coolness. The group was quiet with anticipation except for the melody of clinking boots on metal and backpacks slapping against bodies with each step. When the stairs ended, the last big step down was onto cool sand, and the tour began. With one look up, all the hassle was worth it.
It takes about an hour, give or take, to make your way through the canyon. Along the way, our guide stopped us frequently to look at different "faces" in the rock. Fascinating as it is that millions of years of wind and water erosion carved out a beautiful slot canyon, just as fascinating are the many shapes and stories that were created in the rock. At one point in the canyon, a "woman in the wind" emerges from the wall, hair blowing back in the breeze. Other faces include a chief and a buffalo, among several other images such as the "Rocky Mountain Sunset" pictured below. Our guide pointed all of these out amidst the crowded shuffling of bodies as we inched through the canyon.
The day we visited, hundreds of visitors toured the canyon, making the experience a bit hectic compared to the serene image I held in my mind from photographs I'd seen prior. Regardless, the twists and turns through Lower Antelope Canyon only build your anticipation, making for an experience I will never forget and recommend as a must-see in the southwest.
Kayaking Through Antelope Canyon
Another way to see Antelope Canyon is to rent a kayak and make the 2.5 mile trip into the canyon until the water ends and head in on foot.
You can rent a kayak at several different outfitters in the town of Page, Arizona. From Page, the public boat ramp is only a few miles away, just west of the Antelope Point Marina. You can park your car in the lot and launch your kayak into Lake Powell from the public boat ramp.
The red marker on the map below shows the public boat ramp location. From there, head west (left) until you reach the entrance to Antelope Canyon, about a half-mile away. Make a left to enter into the canyon and begin the 2.5 mile kayak trip through the narrowing slot until you reach land. From there, leave your kayak and head into the canyon on foot for as long as you want!
Antelope Point Launch Ramp
Camp on Antelope Island
If you want to camp, there is no better place than on Antelope Island. We rented our kayaks overnight, so we were able to kayak with all our gear to Antelope Island and set up camp right on the beach.
The best part about Antelope Island--other than the fact that it's a sandy beach on Lake Powell-- is that hardly anyone camps there. At the height of tourist season, only two other tents were on the beach with us that night. A couple houseboats were parked nearby, but they only added to the experience with their dark silhouettes bouncing gently in the water under a bright, starry sky.
A Little Bit of Everything
Antelope Canyon is unique in its geological features, wondrous landscapes, and colorful history of the Navajo tribe, but perhaps the most appealing aspect of its existence is that it offers a little bit of everything to its visitors. Whether you are looking for a history of the Navajo tribe depicted through vibrant stories of the past, a hike through an unparalleled, intricate slot canyon, or to jump in the cold water of Lake Powell with the canyon walls rising around you, Antelope Canyon offers it all. Antelope Canyon is the slot canyon of the southwest, and arguably the country. This one has to go on your bucket list because there is nothing quite like it.