I’ve spent most of my life marveling at photos of Antelope Canyon. I can remember seeing these awe-inspiring images featured on computer screen savers, magazines and Instagram feeds. But it wasn’t until recently that I even knew where the canyon was located. After discovering that the canyon was just a mere 290 miles away from my front door, my wife and I began to plot out a road trip to Page, Arizona.
To my surprise, I learned from some quick internet research that you can’t just take a leisurely self-guided stroll through the canyon. The canyons (there are actually 2- an upper and lower section) are located on Navajo grounds. There are only a few Navajo owned companies permitted to give guided tours. Tours will run you about $25 per person, and you are also charged an $8 (per person) parking fee. All and all, it’s a fair price for the opportunity to look upon the most beautiful collection of rocks on earth.
My co-pilot and I embarked on our road trip at 4:30 AM on a cool late November morning. A cooler filled with Red Bull, snacks, and a bagged lunch stayed within arm’s reach. The Hamilton the Musical soundtrack filled the space between conversation for most of this 4-and-a-half-hour drive. At that hour, the highways were dead, and the frequent changes in elevation caused the Honda Fit’s thermometer to dip south of 32 degrees periodically. Around 6:30 AM the desert landscape awoke with a vivid pastel sunrise. Hues of cotton candy pink and purple painted the sky. I regret not stopping to take a photo, but we were on a relatively tight timeline.
We booked a 10:00 AM tour with Ken’s Tours. I recommend booking your tour as far in advance as possible since whole days sell out quickly. Two people in line in front of us did not have reservations, and they were told the next available time for a tour was in 5 hours. I also suggest booking the earliest time slot available. As the day grows so does the line to enter the canyon. We waited about an hour to enter the mouth of the lower canyon. Our guide told us that during the spring and summer on the weekend, afternoon wait times could be just shy of 2 hours.
Once in line, time moved quickly. Our knowledgeable tour guide filled the minutes with stories of rats, giant snakes, and cougars that he as personally encountered in the depths of the canyon. He then gave all 14 of us in our tour group a quick impromptu photography lesson. He had specific instruction for the ideal camera settings for an iPhone or Samsung smartphone. He also had some advice for slightly more complicated cameras. If your goal is to leave this experience with some highly likable Instagram photos, you can rest assured that your mission will be accomplished.
At 11 AM we entered the lower Antelope Canyon by descending a winding metal staircase that took us five stories below the earth’s surface. I was immediately overwhelmed by the majestic rock wall formations illuminated by beams of light trickling in through the canyons surface. Millions of years of rush water currents have sculpted countless beautiful soft edged nooks and crannies in the rock’s face. Every surface of the canyon is wallpapered with tiny endless horizontal lines leading you deeper into the canyon. The experience was somewhat like venturing through a giant wrinkled corduroy blanket in the middle of the desert. The total length of the lower canyon trail is less than a half mile, and with stopping to take photos and admire a multitude of different rock formations, it took us about an hour to walk the distance of the canyon.
After exiting the Canyon and taking a moment let our eyes adjust to the daylight we then embarked on the short 8-mile drive to Horseshoe Bend. No trip to Page, AZ would be complete without also visiting Horseshoe Bend. This destination is also an iconic natural wonder that’s located less than 10 minutes away from the canyon.
No tour guide needed for this spot. We parked in the dirt lot which is free of charge for the time being (rumor has it there will soon be a fee to access this national treasure) and we next followed the crowds up a loosely packed dirt trail. It’s about a quarter of a mile mostly downhill walk to reach the brim of this canyon. By this time of day, the temperature had reached the mid-80s, and the skies were clear blue. There were hundreds of people gathered at the edge of the bend to gaze upon this geological wonder.
Looking down the 4,200 feet to the turquoise ribbon of the sparkling Colorado river will take your breath away. As I approached the edge of this mammoth gorge to execute the mandatory selfie, I became keenly aware that there are no fences, guardrails or safety nets to interrupt an unwanted plummet. This canyon is best-observed mid-day due to the harsh shadows cast by the early morning sunrise and late afternoon sunset.
We found that 45 minutes was enough time to take in the beauty of Horseshoe Bend adequately. We then set off for the quarter mile uphill trek back to the car.
Similar to the small towns surrounding the Grand Canyon, the town of Page offers little to no thrills. We were hard pressed even to find a restaurant located close to any of the main roads we were on. Page, AZ is the perfect one day adventure. If you are attempting to make a weekend out of this road trip, I suggest securing lodging in Flagstaff or Sedona, AZ. These towns may be a couple of hours away but offer much more in regards to dining and nightlife.
Regardless of where you live, I strongly recommend planning a trip to one of the most majestic locations on the planet. A journey through Antelope Canyon will never be forgotten. My only regret was not embarking on this adventure sooner.
-AZ Survival Guide