So you’ve seen the incredible pictures of Antelope Canyon but you’ve also heard how busy it can get, with big groups of tourists being herded in and out so quickly that you can’t even get one decent photo without someone else ruining your picture? Wanting to have a more quiet and relaxed experience at the canyon and looking for an alternative tour to the common ones offered? Read on to see how to get Antelope Canyon all to yourself!
Especially over recent years, the popularity of tours around Antelope Canyon has soared due to images of the alluring canyon appearing all over the internet. Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon in northern Arizona, known for its gorgeous red sandstone colour and breathtaking swirling rock formations hundreds of feet high. The canyon was formed over thousands of years by the erosion of sandstone from flashfloods, creating the narrow passageways. Over time erosion caused these passageways to get deeper and created the characteristic flowing shapes of the rocks. These flashfloods still occur every year in the summer monsoon season, and so the canyon is constantly being eroded and the passageways getting deeper.
The canyon is on Navajo land, owned by the Native American tribe and is only accessible with a Navajo guide as flashfloods can whip through the canyon with very little warning here, even if the rain is miles away upstream of the canyons, and sadly people have died in Antelope Canyon this way before.
Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon are the two most popular places for guided tours to start, with Upper Antelope Canyon more famous because of the light beams shining into the canyon from the cracks high above, making the walls glow red (you will need to visit at midday on a clear day to see these light beams). This is an absolute dream for photographers – some of the shots of this place are utterly breathtaking and so it’s no wonder that the most expensive photograph in the world was taken at Upper Antelope Canyon and sold for $6.5 million! I had wanted to visit Antelope Canyon for a long time, but I had heard how both the Upper and Lower canyons get so crowded and you are rushed through very quickly that it kind of put me off. Everyone I have spoken to said they felt they had a rushed experience through these canyons, and with a lot of people in the canyon they often felt claustrophobic. I still had my heart set on seeing this place for myself though.
I remembered a few months back I was in Utah and chatting to a fellow traveller about all the incredible canyons and National Parks in America’s Southwest. We got talking about Antelope Canyon and he had told me he had been, so I asked which part: Upper or Lower, and he said Antelope Canyon X. Antelope Canyon X?? Apparently there wasn’t just two parts to the canyon, it’s just the Upper and Lower were the most famous ones and were discovered before Canyon X! He told me how he had been so impressed with Antelope Canyon X – he had the whole place just for himself and the tour guide, and he was there for a couple of hours so it felt totally unrushed!
This sounded incredible, but I wondered if it wouldn’t be as visually impressive as the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons, so when I got home I read all about it. To my delight, everything I had read and seen on the internet showed that Canyon X still had the same high swirling red sandstone rocks and winding paths, but not as many people know about it, making it a lot less busy, so I decided one day I would have to go to Canyon X and experience Antelope Canyon this way.
Tours of Canyon X
Canyon X is located just a few miles down the road from the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons. Tours are run by Taadidiin Tours and go into a different section of Antelope Canyon. The family run company specialises in small group tours – both hiking tours and photography tours that are a lot cheaper than at Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon! The hiking tours last 1.5 hours long and are priced at $40, whereas the photography tours are 3 hours long and cost $80 (both include the Navajo hiking permit fee).
I booked the photography tour as it meant spending longer in the canyon – I wanted to really enjoy the experience there and take my time. I also figured that as the photography tour was more expensive, there would be less people on the tour, and I was totally right there!
It was super easy to find the place with my GPS when I got there. It was a beautiful sunny morning when I arrived, I registered and waited for the other members of my tour to show up: the lady had told me a party of 5 were also joining me on the tour. I was kind of gutted I wasn’t getting a private tour to be honest, but I thought that would be too good to be true! We waited a few minutes and the others didn’t turn up, so my tour guide Eugene, a really nice humble Native American Navajo, took me in his 4×4 to the top of the canyon. I couldn’t believe I was going to be the only person exploring this canyon, how amazing!
I spent an impressive 3 hours discovering the canyon and all its secret corners and was absolutely mesmerised by its beauty! Eugene had lots of knowledge about the canyon and surrounding area and knew all the best spots to get the perfect pictures. He even showed me why it is named Canyon X: at one part of the canyon there is an opening at the top in the perfect shape of an X – pretty cool! Eugene was very patient taking my pictures and we had a lot of fun! He got me climbing up onto the wall and even threw some sand up against the wall at one point with me under it, and he got this amazing shot (left photo) that I love.
After he showed me round the three separate slot canyons that make up Canyon X and took my pictures, he would often wait just outside the canyon so I could enjoy the beauty and magic of the canyons on my own in peace, which I really appreciated. It is such an incredible natural wonder and I was really glad I chose to go to the Canyon X part of Antelope Canyon: I have seen photos of the crowds at Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon and honestly that is my biggest nightmare! Somewhere so beautiful should really be enjoyed at an unrushed pace and in solitude, instead of with crowds of other people, fighting to get the best shots free of other people.
I read that the Upper Antelope Canyon does offer photography tours that are twice the price of Canyon X’s photography tour, they are still pretty busy AND and they ONLY allow for landscape photography: no people can be in the photos and you can only go on the tour if you have a camera and a tripod! That would cancel me out as I didn’t even have a camera or a tripod – all these photos were taken on my phone! I was more than satisfied with my photos taken on my phone, plus I wanted photos with me in aswell! So Canyon X was an all round winner for me. Visit antelopecanyon-x.com to check them out for yourself!
A couple of tips to bear in mind when visiting the canyon:
– It did get a bit cool in the canyon where the sun’s light beams weren’t shining in, so bring some layers so you don’t get cold.
– They recommend to wear trainers when visiting the canyon, but I think you’d be okay in most footwear to be honest, just be prepared to get down and back up the sandy hill as the 4×4 is parked at the top of the hill!
– If you forget to bring water they will provide it for you.
– Also, don’t forget to tip your guide. Whilst this may be obvious if you’re an American, many other cultures don’t routinely tip, so remember to bring some extra cash with you.
Eugene also showed me how the canyons look from the outside (see pictures below). You would never have a clue what lay underneath all this! Canyon X was actually found by mistake by a farmer when one of his sheep got lost, and then he stumbled upon this underground beauty!
The nearest town to Antelope Canyon is Page, which is about a 30 minute drive away, where there are a few options for accommodation. I chose to stay here the night before (the cheapest room was $80, available at Best Western View of Lake Powell Hotel) so I wouldn’t have so far to drive to get to Antelope Canyon in the morning. There is lots of nature around here, and Horseshoe Bend also isn’t too far away, so make sure to check it out. From here I headed down to The Grand Canyon. CLICK HERE to read my Top Tips for visiting The Grand Canyon.
So there we go, that’s how I managed to enjoy Antelope Canyon to myself! I was more than happy with choosing Canyon X over the Upper or Lower Antelope Canyons, but if you really have your heart on the Upper or Lower Antelope Canyons, just make sure you book your tour well in advance as they often sell out weeks in advance! Whichever part of the canyon you choose to discover, I really hope you have a great experience like I did – the place is absolutely magical and will take your breath away!
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