Antelope Canyon is the most famous and arguably the most beautiful slot canyon in the United States. Located in Arizona on Navajo tribal land, the canyon has a bunch of different sections that are split into separate tours, and visiting any of them requires a Navajo local guide. The main Antelope Canyon tours are Upper Canyon, Lower Canyon, and X Canyon. They’re all beautiful, but which is best?
We traveled through the little town of Page recently, which is where you’ll normally base yourself for this experience, and we tried all of the Antelope Canyon tours to see which one is best. We started with the Lower Canyon, then did Upper Canyon the next day, and finally ended with Canyon X. It’s hard to believe these are natural formations!
Each of these slot canyons are amazing, with a variety of rainbow colored walls, sunbeams, and beautifully twisting passageways. However, there are definitely some big differences between each of these canyons, and the overall experience you’ll have at each. There are also several companies offering the tours, so finding the right company can be another challenge of visiting Antelope Canyon.
In this travel guide, I’ll compare each of the Antelope Canyon tours (Upper, Lower, and X) in terms of photography, crowds, duration, availability, accessibility, and prices. Then, I’ll explain which Antelope Canyon is best in my opinion, and why!
This is one of the first things you may be wondering. Which Antelope Canyon is the most beautiful? Which one has the best colors and scenery? Which one is best for photography? Of course, that’s subjective and a bit hard to answer, because they’re all exceptionally nice.
Upper Antelope Canyon is mainly known for its dramatic light beams, which can be seen in the summer months when the sun is high in the sky. During this time, beams of light shine through the roof of the canyon, illuminating the dust in the air. It’s a spectacular effect that’s great for pictures, although it’s a little overrated since it can only be seen in the summer during the middle of the day.
Lower Antelope Canyon has a shallower ‘V’ shaped chamber, which means it lets in more light than the Upper Canyon. Because of this, it’s best seen at times when there’s less ambient light, such as in the morning hours. The Lower Canyon has wonderful colors, and it’s full of twisting passageways and interesting rock features that are great for photos.
Antelope Canyon X has both A-shaped and V-shaped chambers, so it’s good in a variety of lighting conditions. Even if some sections are dark when you visit, others will be bright and colorful. Like the Upper and Lower Canyon, the Canyon X has great potential for photography. Since it’s a longer tour, you have more time and opportunities for photos. In fact, I took more pictures in Canyon X than I did in the other two Antelope Canyons combined!
Overall, it’s a toss-up in my opinion. All three of these slot canyons are very beautiful and great for photos. Upper is best if you want to see sunbeams, otherwise Lower and X are better choices.
So which Antelope Canyon is less crowded? Which one is the least touristy?
Unfortunately, Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon are the losers here. They’ve become victims of their own popularity, and the tourist crowds nowadays are so bad you’ll often find it hard to move around or take photos. Forget about ever retracing your steps for a picture — everyone is shuffled through quickly in a line and this is strictly enforced.
In our experience, the crowds were worst at the Lower Antelope Canyon, because it’s a bigger chamber and they’re able to run more tours through it every day. More tours also means more people. You’ll be in the middle of a crowd at all times.
The best one for escaping the crowds is Antelope Canyon X. It’s far less crowded than the Upper and Lower Canyon, and we found it much easier to take pictures without other people in them. The tours here are also a lot less strict and almost have a private vibe to them.
Winner: Antelope Canyon X
So what about tour duration? How long are the Antelope Canyon tours?
Once again, the Upper Canyon is the big loser here. Although it’s normally advertised as a 1.5 hour tour, much of that time is spent in transit to and from the slot canyon.
In my experience, less than 40 minutes were actually spent inside the Upper Canyon, and it felt even shorter than that because you can never pause for more than a few seconds. The tour was extremely rushed, and we passed through one of the main chambers so quickly I didn’t even get to take a photo.
In contrast, the tours at the other canyons are longer and more relaxed. This is especially true at Antelope Canyon X, where we spent more than 1 hour inside the slot canyon sections. We were able to walk slowly and take lots of pictures while also chatting with the guide about some of the history of the canyon. It was a much better experience and we felt like we got more value for our money.
The results speak for themselves. I took hundreds of photos in Lower Antelope and Canyon X, while I only managed to take a handful of photos in Upper Antelope Canyon because I was so rushed and limited on time.
Winner: Antelope Canyon X
So which of the canyons is the most fun to explore? I know, this one is totally subjective, but it’s still important because after all, the main reason most of us are visiting Antelope Canyon is to have fun!
I have to say, my wife and I had the most fun by far at Lower Antelope Canyon. Our Navajo guide pointed out a bunch of different rock formations with unique shapes, including a dragon, an eagle, and a tribal chief. The narrow twisting corners were also fun for peekaboo type photos, and although not everyone might agree, we even had fun climbing the stairs and ladders!
Winner: Lower Antelope Canyon
So which Antelope Canyon is best in terms of access? Which one is the least strenuous? Which one is most suitable for young kids, pregnant women, and older folks?
Upper Antelope is probably the winner here. The entrance to the slot canyon is at ground level, so you don’t have to climb any steep stairs or ladders to reach it, and after exiting you just walk up a short slope to get back to the car. It’s very tame.
Getting in and out of Lower Antelope is a bit harder, and requires climbing down a steep metal staircase. You still don’t need to be very fit to do it, and I think a pregnant woman could do it as long as you’re slow and careful.
Canyon X is probably the most strenuous in terms of hiking distance and elevation gain, although it still won’t be hard at all for most people. There is a fair amount of walking in the heat, and older people might have a hard time walking back up the slope at the entrance of the canyon.
Winner: Upper Antelope Canyon
So which Antelope Canyon is best in terms of availability? In other words, how easy is it to get a tour on short notice and choose any time and date that you want?
Upper Antelope is the hardest canyon to get a tour, and you may have to book months in advance to get the date you want. There are a couple of reasons for this. Since the Upper Canyon is smaller than the Lower Canyon or X Canyon, it fills up easier and they aren’t able to run as many tours per day. It’s also very popular because of the sunbeams, which makes it even more sought after.
Lower Antelope is also highly popular, but it’s a bigger canyon and they can accommodate more tours every day. We booked ??? in advance, and had no problem getting a date that worked for us, although your experience may vary.
In general, Antelope Canyon X is the easiest canyon to visit. You can generally book a tour at the last minute and still get a spot. Of course, that may change someday as it gets more popular, but for now I’d say it’s a really underrated gem.
Winner: Antelope Canyon X
So what about cost? Which Antelope Canyon tour has the best prices?
Obviously the tour prices will vary a bit depending on where and when you book them, but in general the most expensive tour is the Upper Antelope Canyon, followed by Lower Antelope and Canyon X, in that order.
Prices for the Antelope Canyon X tour can be as low as $50 USD per person sometimes, which is well worth it! I consider that a great bargain for what you get to see and do there.
Winner: Antelope Canyon X
So which Antelope Canyon is best — Upper, Lower, or X?
I would have to say the winner for best value (and overall experience) goes to Antelope Canyon X. While it lacks some of the features that are great for photography in the Upper and Lower canyons, it’s a much longer tour, meaning you have more time to take pictures and get creative.
On top of that, Canyon X is also much less crowded with tourists compared to the others, and you don’t have to worry about being badgered and rushed through the slot, like at Upper Canyon.
Last, but not least, it’s cheaper and easier to get a tour of Antelope Canyon X without booking it months in advance, which is important if you’re traveling on a budget or going to Arizona without much notice.
I have to admit I didn’t really enjoy Upper Antelope Canyon much at all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful slot canyon and the sunbeams were amazing, but the entire tour was so rushed I could hardly enjoy it.
The Upper Canyon was also expensive, and I actually left feeling like it was a waste of money. Lower Antelope was definitely a better experience, and worth the cost of entry, but it still suffers from the same crowds as the Upper Canyon.
Overall, I think the Antelope Canyon X is a fantastic tour if you’re looking for a beautiful slot canyon without the crowds, cost, and hassle of the main canyons. Enjoy it before it gets too famous!
The best time to visit Antelope Canyon is generally from the end of March to the beginning of October.
This is especially true for the Upper Canyon, that way you can see the famous light beams. These are best seen between 10:30 AM and 1:30 PM, on a cloudless summer day when the sun is high in the sky.
For the Lower Canyon, the opposite is true. This canyon gets a lot more ambient light from the sun, so the best time of day to visit it is actually in the morning or late afternoon, when there’s not too much light. However, we went to Lower Canyon in the middle of the day and I have to say most parts of the canyon were still very nice even at that time, so don’t write it off completely.
For Canyon X, any time of day is good to visit. We went in the afternoon. The slots have some areas that are deep, and others that are shallow, so it can be beautiful and photogenic in a variety of lighting conditions.
For all of the slot canyons in Arizona, if you want to avoid the crowds, the best time to go is from November to March. However, the lighting and colors won’t be nearly as dramatic or beautiful at this time, so it’s not quite the same experience. I wouldn’t even bother with the Upper Antelope Canyon at all in the winter months, because it’s too dim at that time.
The main Antelope Canyon tours are Upper Canyon, Lower Canyon, and X Canyon. These are the ones normally visited by tourists, and they’re arguably the most beautiful sections of Antelope Canyon.
However, there are also a bunch of other slot canyons in the same drainage system:
Each of these are nice slot canyons, and they’re all worth a visit if you have time, especially if you aren’t able to snag a tour for one of the main Antelope Canyons. Unfortunately, just like Antelope Canyon, these slots are all on Navajo tribal land, so you can’t visit them without a guided tour.
Most people still don’t know about these slot canyons, and they haven’t been discovered by mass tourism yet. As a result, they tend to be the most quiet and underrated parts of Antelope Canyon. Check them out!
Arizona also has several slot canyons that are outside of the Antelope Canyon complex, which means they’re free to visit without a Navajo tour guide.
If you’re interested in seeing more slot canyons in Arizona, bookmark this travel blog and check back later as I’m planning to write a guide for that soon!
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