Antelope Canyon…you’ve “been there and done that.” Even if you haven’t, second-hand accounts of teeming hordes of people being herded along, reminiscent of the lines at Disneyland, are enough to turn you off to this attraction completely. A recent review on TripAdvisor even went as far as to say that “Wal-Mart on Black Friday isn’t this chaotic!” Still, you know that a vacation to the Page/Lake Powell area wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of these “small wonders” that make Northern Arizona and Southern Utah like no other place on Earth.
So the question is this: are there any other slot canyon tours in the area that bear even a slight resemblance to Antelope Canyon, without all the people? Happily, the answer is “absolutely yes!” Read on to learn which Antelope Canyon Alternative Tour would be most appropriate for your family to explore on your Grand Canyon or Lake Powell vacation.
Also known as “Antelope Canyon X” because it is “technically an upper segment of the same canyon” (DesertUSA.com), Canyon X brings back memories of how Antelope Canyon used to be: a quiet, relatively unknown crack in the ground whose narrow, convoluted walls have been carved into soft, swirling shapes by wind, water and time. Its ever-changing colors, determined by the angle of the sun overhead, make the visitor feel like they’re in another world. A few days of the year, you can even experience the shaft of light that Upper Antelope Canyon is so famous for!
So why aren’t more people here? For one thing, getting to Canyon X isn’t entirely a walk in the park. Like so many canyons in Arizona, what goes down, must come back up. In the case of Canyon X, a descent down a 150-foot fissure in the riverbed is required to access the “tiny but stunning” (American Landscape Images) canyon, followed by a similar climb back up to exit. While it is manageable for most people, a recent review on TripAdvisor cautioned that “if you, like me, are middle-aged, overweight, out of shape, or not used to the altitude, you may have trouble, but I considered it part of the adventure!”
Canyon X is situated on Navajo Indian Tribal Lands. You must travel with a licensed tour outfitter. Sightseeing and photographic tours to Canyon X are offered by Taadidiin Tours. Tour groups of no more than 9 passengers per departure meet 10 miles southeast of Page, AZ on Highway 98 at milepost 307.8. For pricing and other information, visit www.antelopecanyon-x.com.
We love Antelope Canyon. We wouldn’t have named our site after it if we didn’t! But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s on the verge of being loved a little too much. A Yelp reviewer even dared to say that “you shouldn’t even waste your time or money on the overcrowded, photo bombed, rushed through Antelope Canyon tour just because it may be ‘cheaper.’” Ouch. So where should you go instead? To a place so obscure, so off-the-beaten-path and seen by so few eyes that only one name comes to mind for it: Secret Canyon!
OK, so it’s also called “Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon” due to its relatively close proximity to the world-famous Colorado River overlook, but it’s actually a branch of the upper drainage of Waterholes Canyon (more on that in another post) that “rivals Antelope Canyon for nicely lit, swirling formations” (American Southwest.net) A unique feature of Secret Canyon is walls that gradually rise as you navigate the 450 foot length of the slot. Unlike Antelope Canyon, however, “there are no chambers here – just one long, narrow canyon requiring some minor rock scrambling.” (Sedona Monthly) Some sections of Secret Canyon are a mere 8” across. The trail through the canyon is relatively flat, with a few notable exceptions, it is quite sandy, which can be difficult to walk through for those unaccustomed to such conditions. Access to Secret Canyon requires an 8-mile drive down an unpaved road, which is an adventure in and of itself, but with tour groups limited to 6-7 people at a time, you’ll feel as though you’ve been let in on Northern Arizona’s best-kept secret!
Secret Canyon is located on the Navajo Indian Reservation. A licensed tour outfitter is required to visit this area. Tours to Secret Canyon are offered by Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon Adventures. For tour and pricing information, visit www.horseshoebendslotcanyonadventures.com
Mountain Sheep Canyon*
What’s your idea of adventure? One thing’s for certain, jockeying with busloads of people in a narrow slot canyon for the perfect photo op isn’t it. You don’t mind going a little further, expending a little effort and getting a little dirty in exchange for a more intimate and personal slot canyon experience. If this describes you, then Mountain Sheep Canyon is your kind of place!
Like Canyon X, Mountain Sheep Slot Canyon is also a part of the Antelope Canyon drainage system, but unlike Upper Antelope Canyon, it’s no leisurely 100-yard stroll. At 1.5 miles in length, this slot canyon is aptly named as it requires a fair amount of scrambling, scaling and “high-stepping with 30-40 inch climbs at times and one ladder climb of about 8 feet or so.” (A Kona Hawaii Scuba Diver Blabbers On) While that may sound a little nerve-wracking, most hikers report feeling perfectly safe, and that “a visit to Mountain Sheep Canyon is a great way to round out your slot canyon experience and add a bit of photographic diversity to your experience.” (The Outbound) Indeed, another hiker observed that “there are a few sections in the canyon that are really amazing though you won’t find those light shafts everyone seems so fond of. The patterns and textures in one spot reminded me of a mini Coyote Buttes.” (Photo.net)
Like other slot canyons in the Page, Arizona area, access to Mountain Sheep Slot Canyon requires some off-road driving and is limited to just a few people a day traveling with a licensed guide or tour company. Tours are offered by Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tours, owned and operated by the Bigthumb family, who are direct descendants of the Navajo girl who first discovered Antelope Canyon in 1931. For more information, visit https://www.navajoantelopecanyon.com
If we lost you at “snakes,” relax. Rattlesnake Slot Canyon is named for the serpentine pattern carved by the intermittent creek that flows through it, and the striations in the colors of the rock layers. A smaller slot canyon in the Antelope Canyon drainage system that bears resemblance to both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, Rattlesnake Canyon has been described as having “dizzying swirls of color — purple, orange, red and hues that don’t even have a name…as though a large can of mixed paint has been hurled into the canyon by some mystical hand.” (“A Hiker’s Sample of Southwest Slot Canyons,” Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2016)
Like Lower Antelope Canyon, a TripAdvisor reviewer advises potential visitors to “be prepared to do some climbing on ladders and squeezing through tight spots.” Yet another hiker asserts that “it looks more difficult than it really is. There are some gorgeous spots in this canyon!” (A Kona Hawaii Scuba Diver Blabbers On) Another visitor reports that “after the crowds of Upper Antelope Canyon, the solitude is wonderful!” (Outdoor Project) As for the rattlesnakes, well… they’re around, but you’re not likely to encounter them on your tour. See, they don’t want anything to do with you, either!
Rattlesnake Canyon is also one of the slot canyons accessed exclusively by Carol Bigthumb’s Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tours. For more information, visit https://www.navajoantelopecanyon.com
“Who” is looking for a slot canyon adventure that’s “more of a hike than a photography experience?” (Lucas J. Pols Photography) You? Then you’ll love Owl Canyon!
While it doesn’t possess quite the range of colors and shapes of Antelope Canyon, Owl Canyon is still worth the trip according to many visitors who have had the privilege to venture to this remote corner of the Navajo Indian Reservation. With a wider topside opening, Owl Canyon is more exposed to the sun than its sister slot canyons, but at a few hundred yards in length, it’s relatively easy for most people to navigate. There are a few tight spots to shimmy through, but otherwise, this is one of the “less slotty” of Page area slot canyons.
Of course, the highlight of a visit to Owl Canyon is a sighting of its namesake: a family of Great Horned Owls that make their home here. Though wary by nature, they have become somewhat comfortable with people in their domain. Adventurous Antelope Canyon Tours, the authorized outfitter for this slot canyon, suggests a zoom lens for photographers wishing to capture the feathered residents of this memorable Antelope Canyon alternative slot canyon!
For more information on Owl Slot Canyon Tours, visit https://www.navajoantelopecanyon.com
*Owl Canyon, Mountain Sheep Canyon and Rattlesnake Canyon are usually toured as a package, or in combination with Upper Antelope Canyon. Ask about photographic tours or hikers’/sightseeing tours.
So far, all of the Antelope Canyon alternative slot canyons we’ve discussed have evocative and sometimes cryptic names like “Canyon X,” “Secret Canyon,” “Owl Canyon” and “Mountain Sheep Canyon.” But there’s one slot canyon whose nomenclature is literally as subtle as a heart attack: Cardiac Canyon.
Named for the 90’ sand dune that one must hike down to enter the canyon, then back up to exit, Cardiac Canyon’s name suits it to a tee. Its physical degree of difficulty is such a deterrent to the sedentary, it is thought that less than 100 people have set eyes on this slot canyon. Indeed, finding a first-hand account of a trip through Cardiac Canyon is like the proverbial “needle in a haystack” undertaking, but this hiker makes no bones about it: “this route is not for the un-athletic, or generally out of shape, as some serious scrambling and contorting, as well as chimneying up to ledges are required. The rewards are worth it, however. The narrow, convoluted walls are magic in the morning light, and the vertical waterfall face is amazing.” (HikeArizona.com)
If you think you’re up for it, you must visit Cardiac Canyon with a guide service authorized by the Navajo Indian Tribe, which in this case is Taadidiin Tours. Tours meet daily at milepost 307.8 on Highway 98 10 miles South of Page. For pricing and other information, visit www.antelopecanyon-x.com
Many visitors to the canyon landscapes of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah report feeling as though they have set foot on hallowed ground. They’d be right. Many slot canyons in the Page/Lake Powell area are spiritual places to the Navajo people, whose tribal lands surround these geologic formations. Cathedral Canyon is definitely at home on that list.
A secluded slot canyon located near LeChee, Arizona on the Navajo Indian Reservation, a visit to Cathedral Canyon requires a 20-minute drive through several river washes. The entrance to the canyon itself is quite narrow and visitors report “having to place our hands and feet on either side of the wall, which were about 4 to 5 feet apart, about 6 feet off the ground.” Your tour outfitter may opt to supply a ladder. Once in the canyon, you’ll find it “very impressive, towering nearly 100 feet over your head.” (Garth’s Travels) In addition to classic slot canyon scenery, you’ll have ample photo ops of formations such as Four Sisters, Thumb Rock, and Pucket Rock.
Tours to Cathedral Canyon are offered from Page, Arizona by Chief Tsosie’s Antelope Slot Canyon Tours. For more information, visit www.antelopeslotcanyon.com
So there you have it! There are all kinds of Antelope Canyon Alternative Tours ranging from easy to excruciating and everything in between. Stay tuned for information on slot canyon experiences where you may not need a tour or a guide to go in them, but you may need a little more courage and upper body strength to enjoy them.
- All the slot canyons featured in this article are located on Navajo Indian Tribal Lands. No admittance is allowed without an authorized guide or tour company. Your tour price includes your Navajo Tribal Park entrance fee. Retain this receipt if you opt to tour other Navajo Tribal Park areas such as Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, or the Little Colorado River Overlook during your trip.
- This is a remote desert environment. There is no running water or restroom facilities at these locations. Bring water and use the toilet before your tour.
- Wear comfortable clothing and appropriate shoes for walking. The interiors of most slot canyons remain cool year-round, so a light jacket or sweater should be brought even during the summer months.
- Backpacks, camera bags and purses may be prohibited in some slot canyons. Carry important items like ID’s, cash, etc., in pockets.
- Some tour outfitters take advance reservations; others operate on a first-come/first-served basis. For the latter, be prepared to pay for your tour in cash.