How to plan an epic self-guided tour of Antelope Canyon

Thanks to amazing images of beams of light illuminating impossible sandstone walls, Antelope Canyon has become a very popular Arizona destination in recent years. On any given day, thousands of visitors flock to see this natural wonder near the town of Page in northern Arizona. As a result, guiding groups into Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon has become big business.

Upper Antelope Canyon
A light beam from above illuminates the sandstone walls of Upper Antelope Canyon. Photo by Annemarie Comes

Those of us who are a little more adventurous can avoid the crowds and take a self-guided tour into Antelope Canyon. In this post, I’ll explain how to do it.

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Is Antelope Canyon open for guided tours?

Check tour status on the official website for Upper Antelope Canyon or Lower Antelope Canyon.

What’s the difference between Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon?

When you see jaw-dropping images of Arizona’s Antelope canyon like the one above, chances are good they were captured by someone on a tour of either Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon that was led by a local tour guide.

Photography pros contend that you’re much more likely to see the iconic “beam of light” in Upper Antelope than Lower.

Upper Antelope Canyon tends to be more popular than Lower Antelope Canyon, due in large part to it’s accessibility. Once you reach the Upper Antelope tour site, you can simply walk right into the slot canyon.

At Lower Antelope, visitors must navigate a series of stairs and ladders to enter and exit the site. Ironically, the Lower Antelope Canyon tour location is easier to access with your own vehicle. To reach Upper Antelope, you have to board a high clearance vehicle for a ride several miles over rugged terrain to the canyon opening.

Comparison of Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon

At either site, you can experience the gorgeous, twisting sandstone walls both are famous for. Depending on the time of year and time of day you visit, the hues will range from brown to orange to red. Lower Antelope is known to also display some shades of purple.

Upper Antelope CanyonLower 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
More affordable tours
Attracts smaller crowds
Requires climbing up and down ladders
Reservations accepted but not required
Tour times are based on capacity and demand
On-site parking for personal vehicles

Drawbacks to guided tours of Antelope Canyon

High cost

If you schedule a guided tour, plan on spending $50 or more. Upper Antelope Canyon costs more than Lower Antelope due to higher demand.

Rigid timelines

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 and 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.

Plot twist: Did you know you can take a self-guided tour of Antelope Canyon by paddling a kayak or stand-up paddle board from Lake Powell?

The image below is not from a tour in either Lower or Upper Antelope Canyon. I captured it while on my own tour of Antelope Canyon by kayaking from Antelope Point Marina on Lake Powell. Keep reading to find out how you can do it, too.

View of slot canyon illuminate by sunlight
This image was captured on a hike up into lower Lower Antelope Canyon from a cove on Lake Powell.

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 or stand-up paddle board from Antelope Point boat launch site to the end of Antelope Canyon cove, then hike up into the slot canyon.

Both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon were carved out by water from flash floods over millions of years. Some flooding still happens every year during monsoon season, yet it’s rare to see standing water in the slot canyon. That means the water drains somewhere, right?

Cropped view of map of Lake Powell
This cropped view of the Lake Powell map shows the stretch of water you can kayak from Antelope Point (red star) to the end of Antelope Canyon toward the south (bottom) of map. The distance is about two miles, one way.

The secret to accessing Antelope Canyon without taking part in a tour is to paddle to the end of that cove in a kayak, then hike up the canyon from there.

If you look carefully at an aerial map of the region, you’ll see that Lower Antelope Canyon drains into a cove on the southern edge of Lake Powell. So, the secret to accessing Antelope Canyon without taking part in a tour is to paddle to the end of that cove in a kayak, then hike up the canyon from there.

Man hiking "upstream" in a red sandstone slot canyon.
If you were to hike about 4 miles “upstream” from where the water meets sand, you would arrive at Lower Antelope Canyon location where only paying guests of a guided tour can go.

It’s about four miles from the water’s edge to the “Corkscrew” feature that Lower Antelope Canyon is famous for. My buddy and I only hiked about a mile up the canyon due to time constraints. 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.

Video slideshow: What you can expect on a self-guided tour to Antelope Canyon on Lake Powell

How to get to Antelope Canyon by kayak or stand-up paddleboard

  • Start at Antelope Point launch ramp and paddle west along the rocky shore
  • 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
  • Beach your craft where the water meets the sand and start hiking into the slot canyon
Kayaking into Antelope Canyon
Kayaking into Antelope Canyon

Once in Antelope 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 if they happen to be traveling quickly around one of the many blind corners. If you stay to the right as you’re supposed to, there’s little chance of getting run over.

Man in kayak paddling through calm water in a canyon
The farther you paddle back into Antelope Canyon, the narrower the cove gets. Eventually, you run into dry sand where you can beach your watercraft and set out on foot up the slot canyon.

After you reach the end of the cove, you can pull your kayak up on dry ground and hike up into 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.

The section of the canyon that appears in many professional photographs is about 4 miles “upstream” from where the water meets the sand in the canyon. It would be quite a task to get that far and would take a lot of time. Plus, since there’s no clear boundary where Glen Canyon National Recreation Area ends and Navajo Nation Park begins, you run the risk of trespassing onto Navajo land.

Tip: the opening to Antelope Canyon cove is not really visible until you’re a couple hundred feet from it.

Where to start your self-guided Antelope Canyon adventure

Antelope Point boat launch ramp
Antelope Point boat launch ramp at Lake Powell

The best place to begin this paddling and hiking adventure is Antelope Point Launch Ramp. As of July 2021, the bottom end of the ramp was a couple dozen feet out of the water, so it’s closed to power boats until the water comes back up. You can drive to the bottom of the long ramp and unload your gear, then take your vehicle back to the large, paved parking lot near the top of the ramp.

Sample itinerary of a half-day (5 hour) kayaking and hiking tour of Antelope Canyon without a guide

  • 8:30 a.m. – Arrive at Antelope Point Launch Ramp to rent or launch your craft
  • 9:00 a.m. – Begin paddling toward Antelope Canyon cove
  • 11:00 a.m. – Beach your kayak where the lake meets the dry wash of Antelope Canyon and begin hiking up the canyon
  • 11:30 a.m. – Turn around and begin hiking back to your kayak
  • 12:00 noon – Start paddling back to the launch ramp
  • 2:00 p.m. – Return your kayak to the rental outfitter

What you need to know about renting a kayak at Lake Powell to explore Antelope Canyon

There are several kayak and stand-up paddle board rental companies based in Page, AZ that make it convenient for you to kayak to Antelope Canyon. Most of them will deliver kayaks directly to the shore of the lake for you. You just jump on and go, then return it by the agreed upon time. All will require a security deposit to make sure you bring the craft back, and a signed indemnification form, so you don’t sue their pants off if anything bad happens.

These rental companies will deliver a kayak or paddleboard to the lake shore for you:

Guided tour operators:


Stay away from Antelope Point Marina

The first time I experienced this awesome adventure, I rented a kayak from Antelope Point Marina and paddled to Antelope Canyon from there. When I wrote this post originally, I suggested that others do the same.

Based on an experience had by a member of my immediate family, I can no longer recommend Antelope Point Marina for kayak rentals. I’ll save you all the details but suffice it to say, they knowingly rented my brother a two-person, sit-on-top kayak that took on water. I was on the excursion with him that day and we had to stop and drain water from the kayak six times to prevent it from sinking. Then the marina balked at refunding his money for the rental. The five kayaks he rented for others in the group presented no issues.

Small group walking into Antelope Canyon
Three young men walk into Antelope Canyon
Sandstone walls of Antelope Canyon shaped by years of erosion
Sandstone walls of Antelope Canyon shaped by years of erosion

Be mindful of time zone changes

If you rent a kayak for a half day (5 hours), it’s very important to understand a quirky nuance about time changes in the Page area. Although many Indian reservations 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’d 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 be 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’d arrive 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 the winter 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 to 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 (or more) per person
  • Snacks, lunch or energy bars
  • Water shoes, not hiking shoes (read why below)
  • Sun block, sunglasses, hat, wind breaker
  • Waterproof smartphone case or camera

If you’re renting gear, check with the rental company ahead of time to see if they’ll loan you a dry bag to keep all your valuables and snacks in. Most kayaks have a water bottle holder built in.

Hiking shoes are not needed for this hike and I discourage you from bringing them. That’s because you may pass 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. Even if there’s no standing water, most water shoes that cover the entire bottom of your foot are good enough to protect your feet from the sandy surface.

View of slot canyon illuminate by sunlight
Images of Antelope Canyon like the one above have driven demand to all-time highs.

Pay close 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 quickly 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.

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.

11 people died in 1997 when water flushed through the canyon

Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon attract thousands 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.

11 Comments

  1. I wonder about rattlesnakes in the canyon and puddles? I’ve seen snakes in puddles at Fry Canyon, south of Flagstaff. Thanks again for a great article!

    1. Thanks for encouraging feedback. I too have seen snakes in puddles gobbling up bugs. Thankfully we didn’t encounter any on this outing. 😎

  2. Love it, thank you for sharing! I took the upper tour and felt very rushed. Would Kiev to go back and explore without a tour!

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I’m a little claustrophobic and don’t do well with crowds in tight spaces, so this self-guided tour was right up my alley. I hope you get to check it out some time.

  3. Thank you so much for this informative article. Maybe you can answer this question – if we were to hike the whole 4 miles to the Lower Antelope Canyon, would we be able to get inside?

    1. I’m sorry I can’t answer definitively since I did not go the whole way. Nevertheless: there are two reasons I would suggest you not attempt it: 1) There’s an invisible boundary you’d be crossing from public land to tribal land (not ethical). 2) Others I talked to said that the rock formations form natural barriers that prevent you from hiking into the Lower Antelope section of the slot canyon
      I hope that helps.

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