Pros:lots of great pictures; tour was just the right length
Cons:expensive; cash only
The Bottom Line: Even if you're just staying overnight in Page, or passing through, a slot canyon tour is a must-do activity.
My favorite activity on our Southwest road trip this summer was a tour of the Antelope Slot Canyons near Page, Arizona. Whether you're passing through the area, on the way to Grand Canyon or Monument Valley, or staying at Lake Powell, you owe it to yourself to go on one of these tours. These slot canyons are a photographer's dream, but you don't have to have a fancy camera to still enjoy them.
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What are slot canyons?
The slot canyons here are formed from torrential waters rushing the soft sandstone of the desert Southwest. As winds blow through these narrow canyons, which may be less than the width of your arms span at some points, further erosion and shaping takes place, so that the canyons change from year to year.
Of course, if you've seen the movie "127 Hours," you may be familiar with the narrow canyons and be a little freaked out to travel inside one. But at least here in the Antelope Valley, you'll be with someone, and not alone like James Franco character was in that movie (the actual location of that incident was in a slot canyon in the Horseshoe Canyon Unit of Canyonlands National Park, in Eastern Utah.) Just for the record, I didn't see any loose boulders in the canyon we were in.
As you drive through Page, near the southern end of Lake Powell, you'll notice that there are several tour operators in town that do Slot Canyon Tours. But you can just drive directly to this particular tour operator, as they are a Navajo family and operate on the reservation land and not out of a tour office in Page. They are located 3 miles east of Page, just off Highway 98. Look for the sign "Antelope Canyon Navajo Tribal Park," on the south side of the highway.
The benefit to going directly here rather than use a tour operator in town is that it is a bit cheaper. For adults the cost (including park entrance fee) is $31, and kids over 5 are $16. Tour operators in town charge $32 for adults and about $20 for children, ages 8 and up
Please know that only cash is accepted. I didn't have enough, so I had to drive back to town to an ATM. Fortunately, they put me down for the 10 am tour and I was able to get back in time for it.
Two-hour photography tours are also available, but for the average visitor, the regular one-hour tour is sufficient and still allows for plenty of photo ops in the canyon.
Tours run on the hour, from 8 am to 4 pm. Best hours for photography during the summer are from 10 am to 12 pm. It takes about 10 minutes to ride up to the entrance of the Upper Antelope Slot Canyon in the back of a 4 by 4 pickup. It's very bumpy and dusty, so dress appropriately.
If you're bringing a fancy DSLR camera, considering bringing protective gear for it. My son has a Canon and started to get worried about the sand dropping down from above when we were in the slot canyon.
The ride up to the canyon wasn't exactly pleasant and but I was happy to see only a few pick-ups there when we arrived. Our group of 10 or so people virtually had the canyon to ourselves and only ran into two groups returning. The sun was just starting to come through and create some of the spectacular light shows these canyons are famous for. Our Navajo tour guide told us the best time, in his experience, was right around 11 am.
I was very pleased with our tour guide. He took lots of pictures for us and showed us the best angles, as well as being very knowledgeable on the geological and cultural history of the area. I saw other guides from other tour companies on the way out and they didn't help with photography nearly as much as he did. Perhaps it was because we had the canyon to ourselves and had more opportunity to take pictures at a leisurely pace than some of the later groups did.
The walk up the canyon was pretty short - maybe ¼ mile at the most. It wasn't strenuous or difficult, so this canyon tour is suitable for most anyone, unless you're extremely claustrophobic. It got narrower the further up the canyon we went.
There are lots of fantastic pictures of the Antelope Slot Canyons all over the internet, but seeing it in person is well worth while. Although the price is a little steep, it was an interesting tour and certainly a good experience for my kids.
You can see some of my pictures here: