UPPER ANTELOPE CANYON
Near Page, AZ
The Antelope Canyons (both Upper and Lower) are a photographer’s playground. The surreal colors created by the reflective sunlight combined with the ever-changing sandstone waves can produce some of the most exquisite abstracts anywhere in the southwest or even the world. I can say without hesitation, these canyons are some of the most incredible places I have ever visited.
The canyons are constantly changing (from flash floods), so the time of year and even the time of day can make the same location look completely different. What makes photographing the canyons so distinctive is the camera often will see a totally different color spectrum than the human eye will. The unequal color temperatures (Kelvin, not Fahrenheit) inside the canyons render reds, purples, blues, and oranges that your eye simply does not see.
There are two separate Antelope Canyons just outside Page, AZ: The Upper and the Lower Canyons are just up the road and across the highway from each other. It is a bit confusing, as the Upper Canyon is south side of the highway and the Lower Canyon is on the north side of the highway. The Upper Canyon is wider and shorter and is home to some unbelievable photographic opportunities. The Lower Canyon is narrower, longer and possesses some of the greatest abstracts anywhere.
The sunbeams in the Upper Antelope Canyon helped to put Page, AZ, on the map, and are home to the Peter Lik masterpiece, “The Ghost.” This short slot canyon has produced some of the most famous images in the southwest. But fame sometimes comes at a price— and that price is the circus of tourists and visitors each day.
The Upper Antelope Canyon is best known for the incredible light beams it produces during the summer months. There are 4 - 5 locations in the canyon where you can get a great light beam shot - but you MUST BE WITH a photo tour to get these shots (as the guides will block other people in the canyon and throw sand from the ground up into the air - to produce the light beams).
I have used serval of the tour companies over the years and highly recommend Adventurous Antelope Canyon for their photo tour. They offer first tier customer service with knowledgable guides that do a great job pointing out the best shooting spots and managing the crowds while in the canyon.
Here is a great example of a light beam shot taken by my good friend and photographer Rick Cassani.
Trail Difficulty - MODERATE
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 3 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). The Upper Canyon is a short ¼ mile from front to back, and it is on level ground. The only reason the trail difficulty is a 3 is the stress of dealing with the crowds. The canyon is fairly wide open, except for a few spot that narrow in places.
If you get anxious around large crowds of people, this may not be the place for you.
The owners of the tour groups are very firm with restrictions on when they allow hikers in the canyons. NEVER, EVER take lightly a flash flood warning in these canyons.
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click link above to view location in Google Earth
CLICK HERE to get driving directions to the Upper Antelope Canyon parking lot
From Page: Head east on AZ 98 for 2.2 miles and take a right on Indian Rte. 222 (just before the power plant). Turn right on a dirt road down to the parking lot.
You can access the Upper Canyon several ways: 1) Drive to the parking lot, pay the Navajo Fee ($8), and join the next tour there, or 2) You can use one of these tour groups that are located in downtown Page (and drive to the canyon).
Adventurous Antelope Canyon
600 Clubhouse Dr, Page, AZ
Antelope Canyon Tours, Inc.
22 S Lake Powell Blvd., Page, AZ
Antelope Slot Canyon Tours by Chief Tsosi
55 S Lake Powell Blvd., Page, AZ
The only way to get to and enter the Upper Canyon is via a tour company/guide.
Best Time of Day to Shoot
For the Upper Canyon, in the winter months, I prefer the early morning for the back of the canyon and mid day to afternoon for the middle and front of the canyon. This is mainly because of the direction of the sun in relation to the direction of the canyon. This is almost reverse in the summer months.
Best Time of Year to Shoot
I don’t really care for large crowds, so I prefer late fall, winter, and early spring to avoid the circus of tourists and photographers. The Upper Canyon during peak season can be very frustrating and unproductive.
What Lens(es) Do You Need
Most shots in the canyons are with ultra wide to standard lenses. My recommendation is to carry only 1 zoom lens (16-35 or 24-70) so you are not tempted to change lenses while in the canyon. The micro sandstone dust in the canyons is very destructive to photography equipment. If you must change lenses, do so outside the canyon.
There are no permits required, but a Navajo guide must escort you while in the slot canyons. The guides are usually good folks and provide great insight to the best locations, angles, times of day, and compositions. And some play a pretty good Navajo flute.
Direction of the Shot
The whole time you are in the canyon you will out of the sun.
Special Nuances of Shot
Photography inside a slot canyon is different than any other place you have ever been. The canyons are much darker than the outside and usually require a 2-10 second exposure. The abstract formations are often seen differently through a viewfinder compared to your eye. I usually take a lot of test shots (at a very high ISO with a fast shutter speed) to scout for unique formations and colors. If I find one I really like, I reset my camera, place it on a tripod, and use the lower ISO and longer shutter speed.
Special Equipment Needed
There are two schools of thought on equipment inside the Antelope Canyons. Most photographers (including me) shoot at the lowest ISO and optimal aperture to produce the best image possible. The other option is to use a camera that can produce great images at a very high ISO’s (3,000 and above) and only hike with your camera/lens. Remember, the Lower Canyon is very narrow in many places and the large crowds can make it very difficult to set up a tripod and compose.
Regardless of which camp you are in, you will need the following: protective lens filter (UV or Polarizer), micro lens clothes and blower (to clean the dust from the filters), snacks, and water/Gatorade. Limit the liquid as much as possible as there are no facilities in the slot canyon. You also need to bring something to put your camera/lens in to keep it away from dust when not in use.
If you plan on using a tripod, you may also want to bring a shutter release cable.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
The only way to describe the crowds in the Lower Antelope Canyons is a madhouse. Depending on the time of day and the time of year, there can be between a sea of people and an ocean of people. Just think Zantac
Page, AZ is an arid climate at over 4,000ft. above sea level. The temperatures range from 95° in the summer to below freezing in the winter. The slot canyons are below ground and can be 10°-15° below the temperature outside. Make sure you bring the appropriate gear.
I use Verizon, and there is NO cell service in the slot canyons. There is cell service once you get back to the parking lot.
Page, AZ, is nice town with plenty of lodging and places to eat. The only campground/RV park in Page is the Page Lake Powell Campground. It is a very nice facility with good Wifi, laundry, and showers.
Camping - click on the campground below for directions
Page Lake Powell Campground - Page, AZ
Lodging - click on the lodging below for a TripAdvisor review
Hampton Inn & Suites
294 Sandhill Road, Page, AZ
Holiday Inn Express
643 S Lake Powell Blvd, Page, AZ
600 Clubhouse Dr, Page, AZ
I really enjoy the town of Page, AZ. It is a nice place with friendly people along with some good restaurants and watering holes. My two favorite places to eat and relax after a long day in the canyons are the Dam Bar & Grille and the Fiesta Mexicana. The Dam Bar & Grille has a good menu, tasty food, cold brew, and a fun sports bar. Fiesta Mexicana is a nice family restaurant with excellent mole enchiladas and yummy margaritas.
Nearby Restaurants - click on the restaurant below for yelp review
Dam Bar & Grille
644 N Navajo Dr, Page, AZ
Into the Grand
148 6th Ave, Page, AZ
Other Photography Opportunities Around
The closest international airports are McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, NV (345 miles west) or Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) in Phoenix (390 miles south).
There is a small regional airport in Page: Page Municipal Airport (PGA / KPGA) that services: Great Lakes Airlines, Frontier Airlines, United, and Scenic Airlines.
Area Guides and Workshops
For photo tours, I would recommend Adventurous Antelope Canyon (928) 380-1874. I have used Lionel Bigthumb's company for many years - they don't disappoint.
Lionel's family owns the land where Upper Antelope Canyon resides and was Peter Lik's guide when he photographed "The Ghost".