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Antelope Canyon Alternative Tours

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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.

Canyon X

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.

Secret Canyon

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

Rattlesnake Canyon*

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

Owl Canyon*

“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.

Cardiac Canyon

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

Cathedral Canyon

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.

General Notes:

  • 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.

152 Responses

  1. Alley,
    You seem to have so much great information. I was wondering if there might be any way I could contact you directly. I’ll be in Page 7/19-7/23 and am in some dire need of guidance due to all of the COVID closures. Any help you could provide would be so greatly appreciated.
    Thank you for your time.

    1. Hi Harry,
      I appreciate the sentiment and vote of confidence, but would recommend that you receive the guidance you need from someone who is actually in Page, AZ: the local Chamber of Commerce can be reached at 928-645-2741. The Tourism Bureau might also be able to help, they can be contacted at 928-645-4310.
      Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

  2. Hi Alley,
    I am in Sedona for a week, and can’t find any slot canyons that I can get to without guides. Been to Peek a Boo , used our Atv’s to get there, any other slot canyon options out there you can point me too ? Thanks,
    Koba

    1. Hi Koba,
      Since you seem familiar with the area, I’m curious if you’ve ever been to Wire Pass Canyon and/or the Buckskin Gulch? If not, you should definitely make a plan to visit these slot canyons that offer plenty of adventure and beautiful scenery! Wire Pass Canyon is a photogenic two-part slot canyon that is short enough for intermediate-level hikers to enjoy, yet offers the option to delve further into Buckskin Gulch for those wanting more of a challenge. The walk to the entrance of the initial slot is via a typically dry streambed, which may feature deep sand. An 8-10’ drop a short distance into the slot canyon is one reason why Wire Pass Canyon may not be appropriate for those traveling with young children, the elderly, or individuals afraid of heights. It is possible to walk around this obstacle, but an additional 60-90 minutes of walking might not be welcome when it’s blazing hot outside. As the canyon walls become higher and closer together, they suddenly open up as the second slot connects with the Buckskin Gulch. If you’ve had enough at this point, you can simply turn around and head back to your vehicle. If you’d like to explore further, you can easily make a half-day hike out of the immediate area around the confluence with the Buckskin. Look for some bighorn sheep petroglyphs dating back hundreds, maybe thousands of years! Access to Wire Pass Canyon and the Buckskin Gulch is off US89 between Page, AZ, and Kanab, UT, on the House Rock Valley Road. Hikers are required to pay a self-permitting fee at the kiosk by the trailhead. Fair warning: the House Rock Valley Road is unpaved! While it is accessible to 2WD vehicles much of the time, if recent weather has brought any moisture whatsoever, the HRVR can turn into a muddy, impassable mess. Parties in rental cars should think twice about attempting this road since off-road driving is strictly prohibited by most rental car companies. A guided tour will get your family to Wire Pass Canyon and back in one piece, and turn you onto features you might have missed trying to find your own way. Page, AZ, and Kanab, UT based companies offering guided tours to Wire Pass Canyon and the Buckskin Gulch include:
      – Detours American West, 480-633-9013, http://www.detoursamericanwest.com
      – Paria Outpost & Outfitters, 928-691-1047, http://www.paria.com
      – Grand Staircase Discovery Tours, 928-614-4099, http://www.grandstaircasediscoverytours.com
      Now normally, I don’t recommend Blue Pools Wash to the average vacationer, but you might be up for the challenges this slot canyon presents, namely, a 45-50′ rappel and a few down/up-climbs. It does pass under a major highway, US89, so you’ll unfortunately find a fair amount of trash in the canyon, which you’re welcome to pick up (or not). It’s easy to find, just past Lone Rock Beach between Page, AZ, and Big Water, UT. For detailed instructions on accessing and exploring this slot canyon — which you do at your own risk — visit SummitPost.org Blue Pools Slot Canyon
      Good luck and safe travels, and if you get a minute, do let us know where you went and how you got on!
      Take care,
      Alley 🙂

  3. We will be traveling to the area in mid-October as a day trip from Kanab, UT. What are crowds like at that time, especially for Antelope Canyon (does it still feel likes hordes of people at Disney)? Crowds of people being nudged along doesn’t exactly sound fun, but we don’t know if avoiding the summer would also avoid the crowds.

    We will be a party of 9 (8 adults from 20-73 and 1 child, aged 6). The younger and most of the middle-aged adults are very fit and happy to assist others in the party, as needed, but nobody is interested in a slot canyon where assistance is constantly needed (Cardiac Canyon is definitely a no). I saw that Secret Canyon only allows groups up to 6-7. Are there other tours with similarly small requirements which would not allow our entire group to visit together?

    Also, if we want to do a slot canyon, the Horseshoe Bend Overlook, and perhaps a boat tour, is there an order in which we should do them?

    1. Dear A-L:
      Hope you don’t mind my addressing your inquiry in reverse order: there is no preferred “order” in which to visit Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and/or a boat tour. However, the best time to visit Horseshoe Bend for the sake of convenience tends to be just after sunrise. That way, you have fewer people to compete with for parking, and temperatures tend to be cooler. As for doing a slot canyon tour and Antelope Canyon boat tour, simply book where and when you can find space. Just be sure you have enough time in between tours to transit from one to the other.
      If some members of your party may require “assistance” navigating stairs and ladders, you’ll probably want to avoid slot canyons such as Lower Antelope, Waterholes, and Cardiac, but you would probably be OK in Secret Antelope (formerly Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon) since it has no stairs. Since your party is larger than what their reservation system will allow you to book, I’d recommend contacting them by phone to see if they can accommodate your group. Their phone number is (435) 275-4594.
      As for how busy it will be, October typically doesn’t sport crowds up to summertime levels, but this year may be a different story due to COVID-19. The Antelope Canyons, and nearby parks such as the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, and Monument Valley are closed, which is forcing many people to postpone their vacations until later in the year. This could result in higher numbers of people traveling than usual at that time of year. What will actually happen obviously remains to be seen!
      Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

      1. Hi Alley,

        Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply! It appears as though the Secret Canyon tour group size is now 25, so I guess there wouldn’t be a problem for a group of our size. I saw in the comments you mentioned the Ligai Sii Anii tour. How would the Secret Canyon compare to that one or the Wind Pebble Canyon tour offered by the same company? Also, have you seen the Peekaboo/Red Canyon slot outside of Kanab? How does it compare to the slot canyons around Page?

        I’m sorry for the multitude of questions, but I appreciate you sharing your expertise!

        A-L

        1. Hi again A-L!
          The alternate slot canyons all have their own unique attributes. Most people find them to be as enjoyable or comparable to the Antelope Canyons, but you might not be one of them. My advice would be to Google the different slot canyons you’re thinking about touring and browse the reviews submitted by past visitors. Since, IIRC, you have someone age 70+ in your group, any physical limitations they may have should be a primary determining factor as to which slot canyon you choose to tour.
          As for Peek-a-Boo/Red Canyon, it’s lovely, but the drive there can be tricky. For that reason, and to get the most out of your visit, we recommend that you go with a licensed tour guide. Dreamland Safari Tours is a good one!
          Hope that helps. Feel free to write in again if you need to bounce other ideas off us!
          Alley 🙂

  4. Alley,

    Very interesting and informative site, glad I stumbled across it. So here’s the same question, worded slightly different, that you’ve answered a hundred times already: I’ll be in Page in early June of this year. I definitely want to experience one or two slot canyons, but like everyone else I’m somewhat put off by the crowds at Upper and Lower Antelope. What I’m looking for ideally is something that is somewhat challenging as far as hiking/experience but also has the opportunity for some nice pictures. From reading your ‘post’ it seems like Upper and Lower are really the best spots for taking pictures, with the other canyons, while still nice, having less opportunity for great pictures. I’m by no means an expert photographer so I don’t need ideal conditions but I’d for sure like to get some spectacular shots if at all possible. I also consider myself (and my S.O.) relatively fit so the idea of doing a bit of scrambling in and around the canyons is also appealing – nothing major but enough to make it interesting. So with that in mind, do you have any specific recommendations for canyon(s) that combine better than average photography with some mild scrambling. We’re looking to probably do two tours max, ideally close enough to each other. Thanks so much for the info!

    1. Hi David!
      In light of the fact that you are a. averse to crowds and b. relatively fit, I have a few suggestions:
      1. Antelope Canyon X and/or Cardiac Canyon – Antelope X is kind of like Upper and Lower in that it consists of two slots, one fairly flat, the other a little more rugged. Cardiac Canyon, as the name suggests, will give you a work-out, but you’ll get some incredible photo ops in exchange for your exertion! For more information on these, visit http://www.AntelopeCanyon-X.com
      2. Rattlesnake, Mountain Sheep, and Owl Canyons: a 5-hour tour to three alternate drainages of Antelope Canyon, Rattlesnake and Mountain Sheep will challenge you physically, while Owl is more of a straightforward hike. For more information on this tour, visit http://www.NavajoAntelopeCanyon.com
      ..and last but not least, an option not listed in this article:
      3. Ram’s Head Canyon: a newly opened slot canyon on the Navajo Indian Reservation that require navigating stairs, ladders, and even cables in some instances; for more information, visit http://www.HikingSlotCanyons.com
      Hope that helps! Feel free to write in again if you need to bounce more ideas off us.
      Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

    1. Jessica, do you live in page? I have family in page who I haven’t seen for many many years. My grandfather was a Christie.

  5. Hi Alley, I just came across the article where you mention these other canyons. I like to avoid crowds too. Would you suggest skipping Antelope canyon all together and just going to some of these ones instead? It is the sun beams that I will see at Antelope but not at the others right? I am planning to be there around March 27th. Is it really busy then?

    1. Hi again, Dana!
      Late March is Spring Break for some schools, so the Antelope Canyons will be busy. Not quite as crazy as summer, but you should still book your Antelope Canyon tour or alternate slot canyon tour well in advance of your arrival.
      As to whether you should skip Antelope Canyon altogether, the fact of the matter is that many Page, AZ, slot canyons are part of the same multi-faceted creek drainage that formed the main branches of Antelope Canyon. For example, if you should opt to tour Antelope Canyon X, Mountain Sheep Canyon, Owl Canyon, Waterholes Canyon, Wind Pebble or Mystical Antelope Canyon, you would still be exploring Antelope Canyon, just a part of it that is maybe more remote or recently opened up to tourism (like Mystical Antelope Canyon or the Antelope Valley Slot Canyons).
      If you choose to tour any of these other slot canyons, you will still have a wonderful time, but you won’t see those famous light beams in any of them.
      Hope that helps!
      Alley 🙂

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