It’s safe to say that we’ve never seen anything like Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. These slots canyons are simply incredible and look like works of art carved out of the desert. Once you begin to walk through these narrow, winding canyons, you’ll feel like you’re entering another world.
However, you won’t be alone. These slot canyons in Arizona are insanely popular and we’ve heard horror stories about how busy they can get (have a look on Youtube and you’ll see the carnage). If you go in high season (April to October) you may have to book your tickets up to four months in advance.
With their huge surge in popularity has inevitably come an equally huge price increase, so you may not want to spend over $100 per person to visit them both. We decided we did want to see both so here are our thoughts on Upper vs Lower Antelope Canyon to help you make an informed choice.
Upper vs Lower Antelope Canyon
What is Upper Antelope Canyon?
Upper Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon carved out of the Navajo Sandstone rock and was the place where the most expensive photo ever sold was taken – (Peter Lik’s “The ghost”) – for over $6 million. It is the most famous of the two canyons because of the highly distinctive light beams and the incredibly high canyon walls, which are very photogenic.
What is Lower Antelope Canyon
Lower Antelope Canyon starts about three miles away from Upper Antelope Canyon and used to be the less popular canyon to visit but lately its visitor numbers have dramatically surged. It is pretty similar to Upper Antelope Canyon in many ways except the canyon walls aren’t quite as deep (high). You won’t get such vivid light beams as at Upper, but there are plenty of positives that make this canyon well worth visiting.
Which is the most picturesque canyon?
If you have never seen a slot canyon before, you will love either Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon. Both are incredible places to explore and we really enjoyed them both. However, that’s not why you’re reading this blog!
Upper Antelope Canyon
Upper Antelope Canyon blew us away – it is truly unique, even among all the other slots canyons in Arizona. There’s something about this place that feels so special and has been attracting professional photographers for years.
As Upper Antelope Canyon’s walls are a lot higher than Lower Antelope’s this makes it the most awe inspiring. There are patches that are really, really dark, but this adds to the mystery and allure of the place. Plus the lighter sections are stunning and create all kinds of shapes and formations to enjoy.
Light beams in Upper Antelope Canyon
If light beams are what you are looking for, then head to Upper Antelope Canyon. In the words of a Lower Antelope tour guide Upper’s light beams blows Lower’s out the water. Note that you will only see those famous shafts of light, during April to October and only at specific times of day. Consult the tour companies for when this will happen and prepare to have to pay more for it (yep, it gets a whole lot more expensive).
Lower Antelope Canyon
Lower Antelope Canyon is a beautiful place to enjoy, but it doesn’t quite match Upper. The canyon has some incredible formations and places where the light struggles to get in, but it isn’t quite on the same level as Upper Antelope Canyon.
We also loved the sections where you had a bit more space than Upper Antelope Canyon, so you almost had a corridor of slot canyon.
Sadly, Lower Antelope Canyon doesn’t get very dramatic light beams as it isn’t deep or dark enough. You may get some depending on time of year and day but it won’t be in the same league as those at Upper Antelope.
Upper vs Lower Antelope Canyon picturesque
We would say that Upper Antelope Canyon is the more picturesque of the two and will take your breath away (especially if you visit in the summer and get those light beams). However, both are very beautiful so remember we are comparing two exceptional slot canyons!
Walk length and difficulty
Upper Antelope Canyon Difficulty
It doesn’t get much flatter than Upper Antelope Canyon! You start the walk at ground level and there’s not a step, ladder or slope for the entire tour. At no point does it get especially narrow or require any manoeuvring.
Simply put, you won’t have any problems whatsoever with Upper Antelope Canyon. The entire walk is 0.5 miles and is extremely easy going.
This can be a positive or negative depending on what you are looking for, this is not an adventurous canyon which will please some and disappoint others.
Lower Antelope Canyon Difficulty
We wouldn’t say Lower Antelope Canyon is hard, but it requires more effort than Upper Antelope Canyon. The tour starts by going down a 75 foot (25 metre) set of stairs and also has a few ladders along the way. There are sections which get a little narrow, but on the whole it shouldn’t be anything to worry about.
The entire canyon is 1.5 miles long, but unless you are worried about ladders or have mobility concerns, we think you won’t have a problem with Lower Antelope Canyon.
Upper vs Lower Antelope Canyon Difficulty
Neither canyon is difficult, but if you are concerned then go to Upper Antelope Canyon. This is completely flat, short and has no ladders or narrow sections. If that all sounds a bit too easy for you, you will prefer Lower Antelope.
Tours/Amount of people
Sadly you can only visit Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon with a guide and you’re likely to be joined by many other people (some groups can get as high as 40 people and multiple operators are taking tours through at the same time).
Upper Antelope Canyon Tours
Tours to Upper Antelope Canyon last for an hour and are by far the most popular of the two. There are four companies operating here and even in February (low season), we saw a lot of tour groups here being squeezed through the canyon. This made the canyon feel really crowded at points and hard to get photos without someone walking into it. No matter what time of year you go, Upper Antelope Canyon will be busy, there is no avoiding it. However at least in low season we did have some moments where if we kept to the front of our group there was no one in front of us and you could snatch a moment of peace in this exceptionally beautiful place.
We were told that in peak season Upper Antelope Canyon has as many as 10,000 people a day! That’s nearly 1,000 people an hour cramming into 0.25 miles of slot canyon….
What makes this worse is that you start and finish at the same place, so there is two-way traffic all the way through. As it gets pretty busy, the tour leaders will start shouting for people to move on, stop taking photos and become more like crowd control than a guide. For someone who likes taking their time (especially in a place as beautiful as Upper Antelope Canyon) this was a real let down.
The tour wasn’t very personal or friendly. Our guide did point out some features and pictures to take, but was more mindful about getting us moving. We actually can’t imagine how it would be in high season!
Lower Antelope Canyon Tours
Lower Antelope Canyon only has two tour companies operating (Dixie Ellis and Ken’s Tours) and isn’t quite as popular as Upper Antelope Canyon. Our tour guide said that in January (the time he believes is the quietest) he took a tour where only one person was booked on it! That lucky guy was able to have the whole canyon to himself!
Tours here last 1.5 hours, mainly because the canyon is longer. When we visited in February we were in a group of eight (with four others) and the canyon was quiet enough for our tour guide to give us a lot of freedom to go ahead and find places for ourselves. It was considerably quieter and we only saw people around every 10 minutes, so we were able to explore on our own and get plenty of photos without anyone else in them. Now this isn’t common and we were told how lucky we were. If you can visit in January or February you should hopefully also experience this and believe us, it is magical! Once you’ve seen those Youtube videos you will truly see how fortune you are.
As Lower Antelope Canyon runs as a one-way system, you don’t have the same struggles as Upper Antelope Canyon. In peak season it will be very busy, but you won’t have people walking head on towards you.
Our tour guide for this trip was the best we’d ever had, anywhere in the world. He took into consideration our desire to get photos and have independence, so he let us go ahead and organise ourselves whilst making sure we didn’t miss a single epic spot or interesting angle to shoot. He was enthusiastic, helpful, considerate and allowed everyone to get what they wanted from the tour. Plus a bottle of water at the end was a nice touch.
Upper vs Lower Antelope Canyon Tours
Lower Antelope Canyon is far better for a more relaxing tour. Upper Antelope Canyon is smaller, runs a lot more tours and has a two-way system that exacerbates the problem.
The tours guides in Lower seemed to be friendlier and got a lot better reactions from the groups than Upper. While people on an Upper Antelope Canyon tour were getting shouted at for moving too slowly, the Lower Antelope tours were playful and more enthusiastic.
Upper Antelope Canyon Photo opportunities
Upper Antelope Canyon is undeniably picturesque and a photographer’s dream. If you’ve seen slot canyon screensavers on Windows or full page images on National Geographic, it is likely that it was taken in Upper Antelope Canyon (although Apple did use one from Lower!).
However, you will need a tripod to get these kinds of photos and these are banned on anything but a photography tour (more on that later) . Upper Antelope Canyon is a very very dark place and is incredibly frustrating if you plan on taking photos handheld. I was lucky to ever get a shot under 1,000 ISO and sometimes it struggled to get a shot at 12,800 (which is a grainy and blurry setting)! You can’t use a flash either to make things easier.
When you add all the crowds, Upper Antelope Canyon can be a very very frustrating place to photograph as even when you have nice light you’ll probably get someone standing in your shot just as you get shouted at to keep moving. You may be able to get a chance to shoot light beams in the summer, but without a tripod it will be a very difficult task. I spent a lot of the time shooting upwards, praying that some of them weren’t grainy or out of focus.
You are only allowed to take photos in one direction for Upper Antelope Canyon as they don’t allow you to shoot on the way back. This meant we only had 30-40 minutes to take photos of an hour long tour. Hardly ideal.
Upper Antelope Canyon Photography Tours
If you really want to get a clean shot without a high ISO, then an Upper Canyon Photography tour is the only way to go. You will be able to bring your tripod along (but we don’t think you’re allowed a bag) and the tour is twice as long to give you more time to take the shots you want. You will have to pay over double for this privilege, but if you get that perfect shot it’s worth it.
Sounds good right?
Well, apart from you’re in there with every tour group. The photography tours don’t get special treatment, so you will have hundreds of people squeezing past your tripods and trying to get their own handheld photos. We felt sorry for the poor guys who would compose a shot and then have a gap of a couple of seconds to shoot. Every photography group we saw ended up shooting the sky as this was the only shot they could get uninterrupted (well, they still had to constantly make way for the groups).
If I had a choice again, I would have taken a photography tour, but it wouldn’t have been the peace and tranquility you’d normally get on a photography tour. Essentially you are paying for double the time and the right to bring a tripod. We have heard sometimes the guides hold groups back to give you a few moments to shoot but that’s as good as it gets.
If you want to get a person in your shot this will be extremely difficult as you will be mainly with landscape photographers who do not want you standing in their frame!
Lower Antelope Canyon Photo opportunities
You’re not allowed tripods in Lower Antelope Canyon either, but the great news is that you won’t need one! As Lower Antelope Canyon is a lot lighter, you can comfortably take handheld photos and not have to worry about your ISO going through the roof and getting grainy/blurry photos.
Added to this, the less people in the canyon and you have a much easier time. We were able to find space to get some shots and have time to think about what we wanted to shoot. As it is a one-way route, you can also shoot for the entire 1 hour 30. We didn’t feel rushed, pressured and panicked into getting a shot in Lower Antelope Canyon and even had plenty of time to put the camera down and enjoy the canyon.
Our experience was made better by going in February, things are more rushed in peak season.
Upper vs Lower Antelope Canyon Photos
This is a tricky one to judge as I know the photos from Upper Antelope Canyon would have been a lot better on a photography tour and during the light beam season. I fully admit, that the dream shots are from the Upper Canyon.
However, I struggled to enjoy it on a normal tour. The Upper Canyon was very dark, crowded and the pressure of the tour guides shouting at you made it hard to enjoy. Add in the policy of only being able to take photos in one-direction and I would have to say it was a disappointment.
This is why Lower Antelope Canyon is our favourite for photos. You don’t need a tripod and have more space and time. You don’t need to be an award winning photographer with a tripod to get a great shot here! We just simply enjoyed the photo taking process here more.
Which one should you visit?
The cop out answer is both! We loved both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon as both are unique and slot canyons are just amazing places to explore.
However, if you were to only do one then we’d side towards Lower Antelope Canyon. As there are fewer people who visit, you get a lot longer in the canyon and better conditions for handheld photography, we enjoyed this more than Upper Antelope Canyon. The guides were better and it was just a nicer experience all round.
If you can cope with crowds and are desperate to get that million dollar photo, then hop on a photography tour and pray the crowd gods are in your favour at Upper.
Alternatives to Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon
If you can’t get on either Antelope Canyon tour – or just fancy a much quieter slot canyon – then head to Waterholes. This slot canyon has only just introduced a tours only requirement (grrrrr) but the benefit is that a lot fewer people know about it.
When we visited, we were literally the only people on our tour and we’re quite sure the only people visiting all day. This means you can enjoy it without the crowds, pressure or hassle of a tour guide watching the clock. We were given 1.5 hours to do the whole canyon which was very generous. The canyons are stunning and the trip is a lot of fun with a touch more adventure than either Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon.
Getting to Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon
You can only access either canyon on a tour which can sell out a long way in advance, so book as early as you can – don’t expect to be able to rock up and hop on the next tour. Both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons are best accessed from Page which is a 10 – 15 minute drive away. All the other major areas to stay are at least 2 hours + away. While in Page you can also visit the stunning Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, the Toadstools and a couple of walking trails, making it worth staying for at least a couple of nights.
Warning – Are you a blogger or photographer?
If you want to publish a picture of either Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon on your website or even on a social media channel you must have a photography permit. This is the case whether you make any money from your blog or social media or not.
These permits cost $50 if you order it ahead of time or $200 if you order it retrospectively.
You can pick up the permit in person in their office in Page (location is 337 North Navajo Drive – you can see it on the map below)or you can apply in writing.
We were able to get our permit immediately on going into the Page office but they said applications made in writing can take up to a week to process. You must have a tour booked to apply as they send the permission ahead to your tour company.
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