Antelope Canyon near the town of Page in the northern part of Arizona has become a very popular tourist destination. On any given day, visitors to the Grand Canyon State flock to Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon in huge numbers.
As a result, multiple tour companies have set up shop to guide groups into the canyon by the dozen. The tours are now big business and very much in demand. They’re fairly pricey, too.
Plot twist: The image above is not from a tour in either Lower or Upper Antelope Canyon. I took it while on my own self-guided tour of Antelope Canyon by kayaking from Antelope Point Marina on Lake Powell.
Keep reading to find out how you can take a self-guided tour of Antelope Canyon.
What’s the difference between Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon?
Upper Antelope Canyon tends to be more popular than Lower Antelope Canyon, due in large part to it’s accessibility. Unlike at Lower Antelope, where visitors must navigate a series of stairs and ladders to enter and exit the site, you can simply walk right into a slot canyon at Upper Antelope.
The irony is that Lower Antelope Canyon is easier to access with your own vehicle. For Upper Antelope, you have to board a high clearance vehicle in town for a ride over rugged terrain to the canyon opening.
At either site, you can experience the gorgeous, twisting sandstone walls that both are famous for. Depending on the time of year and time of day, the hues will range from brown to orange to red, regardless of which one you visit. Lower Antelope even displays some shades of purple.
Photography pros contend that you’re much more likely to see the iconic “beam of light” in Upper Antelope than Lower.
Upper Antelope Canyon:
- Costs more to tour
- Draws bigger crowds
- More accessible to people of all abilities
- Advance reservations required
- Tours start at specific times
- Personal vehicles not allowed in parking lot
- Google map for Upper Antelope >
Lower Antelope Canyon:
- More affordable tours
- Attracts smaller crowds
- Requires climbing up and down ladders
- Reservations encouraged, walk-ups are welcomed too
- Tour times are based on capacity and demand
- On-site parking for personal vehicles
- Google map for Lower Antelope >
Drawbacks to guided tours in Antelope Canyon
If you schedule a guided tour, plan on spending $50 or more. Upper Antelope Canyon is in greater demand and costs more than Lower Antelope.
When I read online reviews about Antelope Canyon tours, a common complaint is how rushed everything feels. One person said she felt like a cow in herd being prodded along in the stockyards.
Big groups, long lines
Antelope Canyon tours are now so popular that they’re almost always sold out. Since the lighting in the canyon is best around midday, those time slots are most in demand, especially in the Spring, Summer and Fall months when the sun is higher in the sky.
Video slideshow: Self-guided tour of Antelope Canyon
What you need to know if you’re considering a self-guided tour of Antelope Canyon
If you want to see Antelope Canyon in person but want to bypass the guided tour experience, you have a great option: Paddle a kayak from Antelope Point Marina to the end of Antelope Canyon cove – about 2 miles one way. Then hike up into the slot canyon.
We know that both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon were both carved out by water from flash floods over the years. Some flooding tends to happen every year during monsoon season, yet it’s rare to see standing water in pictures of the slot canyons. That means the water drains somewhere, right?
If you look carefully at an aerial view of the region, you’ll see that Upper Antelope Canyon drains into Lower Antelope Canyon, which drains into a cove on the southern edge of Lake Powell. The secret to accessing Antelope Canyon without joining a tour is to paddle to the end of that cove, then hike up the canyon from there.
The distance from the water to the “Corkscrew” feature that the Lower Antelope tour is famous for is about four miles. My buddy and I only hiked about a mile up the canyon due to time constraints. Even at that point, we began to encounter sections blocked with boulders and waist-deep pools that made it challenging to continue.
Advantages of self-guided tour in Antelope Canyon
- No reservations or advanced planning needed
- Smaller numbers of people in the canyon with you
- More flexible timetable; take as much, or little time as you want
Notice I did not say it is cheaper, or takes less time. The truth is, unless you own a kayak and have a National Parks Pass already, the self-guided option could cost you more than a guided tour.
Sample itinerary for a half-day (5 hour) kayaking and hiking tour of Antelope Canyon without a guide
- 10:30 a.m. – Arrive at marina and rent a kayak
- 11:00 a.m. – Begin paddling toward Antelope Canyon cove
- 1:00 p.m. – Beach kayak where the dry section Antelope Canyon meets the water and begin hiking up the canyon
- 1:30 p.m. – Turnaround and begin heading back to your kayak
- 2:00 p.m. – Start paddling back to the marina
- 4:00 p.m. – Check your kayak back in at the marina
What you need to know about renting a kayak from Antelope Point Marina
- Antelope Point Marina is located within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, so you’ll need to buy a National Parks pass at the gate if you don’t already have one.
- Rent kayak(s) from Antelope Point Marina for half day ($30 plus $100 deposit) includes life vest and dry bag; a full day is $45.
- Reservations not accepted for less than a full-day rental
- Kayaks will likely be available to rent if you arrive before noon
- Get everything you need ready for your adventure at your car and let one of the cart shuttles take you all the way down to the water (saves time and energy)
Where to launch your own kayak
If you have your own kayak(s) to paddle to Antelope Canyon, you can save yourself some time and energy by putting in at the Antelope Point Launch Ramp. It’s about half mile west of the location where kayaks are rented at Antelope Point Marina, and puts you that much closer to the destination.
As of May 2019 the low end of the ramp was several feet out of the water, so there were no trailered boats to contend with at this launch site. Most people using that site when I visited simply parked their vehicles on the edge of the ramp and walk down to the lake.
How to get to Antelope Canyon by kayak
From the marina, paddle directly west along the rocky shore to your left. You’ll see a bunch of old tires strung across the marina entrance to serve as a wave break. There’s a very narrow opening between the tires and the shore that will save you some unnecessary paddling and keep you away from larger boats. Soon after you pass the tires, you’ll see the boat ramp to your left.
From here, stay close to the left side of the channel (waterway) and follow it for about a mile (1.6 km) until you see a buoy with a sign indicating the entrance to “Antelope Canyon”. Take a left into the canyon and continue paddling for approximately another mile. This is where the water gets glassy calm. It’s very relaxing.
Tip: the opening to Antelope Canyon cove is not visible until you’re a couple hundred feet from it.
Once in the canyon/cove observe the “rules of the road” by keeping to the right. Although few motorized boats travel very far into the cove, they can catch you by surprise coming quickly around one of the many blind corners. If you’re on the right side of the cove as you’re supposed to be, there’s little chance of getting run over.
Once you reach the end of the cove, you can pull your kayak up on dry ground and hike up into Lower Antelope Canyon. If you hike in about 30 minutes or so, you’ll see plenty of awe-inspiring rock formations that will confirm you are indeed inside Lower Antelope Canyon. Then you still have time to return the kayak to avoid late fees.
The section of the canyon that appears in many professional photographs is about 4 miles “upstream.” It would be quite a task to get that far and will probably take more than the hour you can afford in order to return the kayak to the marina on time. Plus, it’s unclear where the boundary is where Glen Canyon National Recreation Area ends and the Navajo Nation Park begins.
Be mindful of time zone changes
If you rent a kayak for a half day (5 hours), it’s very important to understand this quirky nuance about time changes in the Page area. Although Indian reservations located in Arizona acknowledge Daylight Savings Time, the rest of the state does not. This presents a challenge in keeping track of time, especially if you rely on your smartphone.
Example of how it gets confusing: If you leave at Antelope Point Marina at noon and paddle for two hours, you would expect your phone to tell you it’s 2 o’clock. More than likely it will tell you its 3 p.m., since you’ll pinging off of towers located on the Navajo Reservation when you get to Antelope Canyon.
If you’re like me, you might start to panic thinking that you won’t get your rental back in time. My friend and I paddled our pecks off and thought we were arriving back at the marina 15 minutes late. In reality, we were 45 minutes early. Doh! We could have hiked further up into the canyon.
If you happen to be taking your adventure during months when Standard Time is in effect, your cell phone clock should show the correct time, regardless of where you’re at.
The best tip I can give is rely on a watch that doesn’t get it’s time from a cell tower. Or, use a stopwatch on your phone to keep track of the total time you spend on your adventure.
Recommended packing list for your self-guided Antelope Canyon adventure
If you follow an itinerary similar to the one I provided above, you won’t need to bring much with you; however, these items are essential:
- 2 liters of water per person (or more)
- Snacks, lunch or energy bars
- Water shoes, not hiking shoes ( (read why below)
- Sun block, sunglasses, hat, wind breaker
- Waterproof smart phone case or camera
If you rent a kayak from the outfitter at Antelope Point Marina, they’ll loan you a dry bag to keep all your valuables and snacks in. Most kayaks have a water bottle holder built in.
I’ve found the Performance Fishing Gear by Columbia to be perfect for adventures like this. It protects you from the sun and keeps you cool, plus dries quickly if it gets wet.
Hiking shoes are not needed for this hike and I discourage you from bringing them. That’s because you’ll probably be passing through a few sections of the canyon with water over the top of your shoes. We saw several people heading back toward the lake in bare feet and carrying their hiking shoes in their hands.
Pay careful attention to weather
Although Antelope Canyon is in the desert, the biggest threat to your enjoyment (and your life) on this adventure is heavy rain. Since the ground in this region is so rocky, rain water rushes into washes and slot canyons. The rapid movement of water through Antelope Canyon can be and has been deadly to unsuspecting sightseers. Along with rain often comes high wind; a very tough element to fight if you’re paddling a kayak across the lake.
11 people died in 1997 when water flushed through the canyon
Keep in mind, it doesn’t need to rain directly over the Antelope Canyon area in order for it to flood. As chronicled in the book Breathe for Me by Pancho Quintana, a crew of 11 people died in 1997 when water flushed through the canyon after storm clouds dropped a lot of rain several miles away.
Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon attract throngs of tourists from around the world with its incredibly beautiful and alluring views and photo opps. If you embrace adventure and aren’t a fan of crowds, consider taking a self-guided kayak and hiking tour of Antelope Canyon. Follow the tips above and you’re sure to have an experience you’ll cherish for years.