If you are debating whether to visit the Upper or the Lower Antelope Canyon, you are at the right place. Both of them are amazing and well-worth visiting but one is a clear winner in our opinion. This guide will help you to decide which one to visit if your time is limited. Antelope Canyons are very popular and always crowded. This guide also includes important visiting tips helping you to avoid the crowds, book tickets, take amazing photos, and plan a full day with a suggested itinerary. If you have a full day in the area, this guide will help you to time both visits ideally and may even catch a beautiful sunrise or sunset at the Horseshoe Bend within the same day.
Why are Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons so different?
Both canyons are amazing slot canyons formed by the force of moving water. But they are very different due to their shape.
Upper Antelope Canyon is A-shaped. It is narrower on the top and wider on the bottom. This shape lets in less light into the canyon but more space on the canyon floor to roam around. This more spacious canyon allows a lot more tourists through so you would probably shoulder-rub with some here. The best lighting in the canyon is at noon when the sun directly shines over the top opening.
Lower Antelope Canyon is V-shaped. It is narrower on the bottom and wider on the top. Because the bottom is so narrow throughout, the traffic only goes in a single lane in one direction. This is great because you won’t bump into other tourists like the Upper canyon. The wider top opening allows the sun to shine into the canyon for a longer period during the day. Therefore, lighting is much better here, and visiting window is longer as a result. Better lighting is also better for photography which we will give more tips later in this guide.
How to book tours and purchase tickets for Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons?
Because both canyons are very popular and only allow a limited number of visitors in per day, it is important to plan and book in advance.
Upper Antelope Canyon: There are multiple tour providers for the Upper Antelope Canyon. We used Chief Tsosie’s Tours. Another one is Antelope Canyon Tours. The 10:30 AM and 1 PM tours are considered prime time tours so cost a little more than other time slots. We were lucky to get on the 1 PM tour. To reserve slots between 11 AM and 1:30 PM or the photographer’s tours, we highly recommend booking online far ahead of your visit. Antelope Canyon Tours offers better time slots but all tickets were sold out when we booked online.
The tour lasts around 2.5 to 3 hours. It includes a ride on the tour provider’s open-air truck to the entrance. The tour provider will give you directions to meet at a public parking lot most likely. Everyone then hops onto their truck for a 20-minute ride on a very dusty dirt road. You would really appreciate a face cover and big sunglasses for this ride.
Lower Antelope Canyon: The visiting time is much less picky at the Lower Canyon. As long as the tour hours are offered, it is good to visit. We recommend late morning or early- to late-afternoon to avoid the heat. Ken’s Tours is the only tour provider authorized to take visitors into the Lower Antelope Canyon. Their service was great. Our guide was informative and helped us with photos. It’s a short walk from Ken’s Tours office to the canyon entrance. Park your car in Ken’s parking lot and the tour guide will gather the group in their lobby and then walk to the canyon entrance. We booked a general tour online. Again, we highly recommend booking ahead.
If you plan to visit both, allow some slack between the two tours, because delay is often experienced, especially at the Lower Antelope Canyon.
There is a Navajo Parks fee for Antelope Canyons. Pay at the first canyon you visit and present the proof of payment to the next canyon to avoid paying twice. Tips are highly recommended for these tours if you receive good service.
When is the best time to Visit Upper vs. Lower Antelope Canyons?
The best time to visit the Upper Antelope Canyon is between 11AM and 1:30PM but as close to noon as possible. You will be riding the tour provider’s open-air truck to the entrance. The ride is dusty and about 20 minutes. A bandana and sunglasses to cover your face are essential to bring on this tour.
The best time to visit the Lower Antelope Canyon is pretty much all day as long as the tours are offered. We recommend late morning or early to mid-afternoon to avoid the heat. See our suggested itinerary below.
How to take beautiful photos in Antelope Canyons?
Upper Antelope Canyon: Unless you can take the extended and much more costly Photographer’s Tour, you are not allowed to bring a tripod into the canyon. So your DSLR functions cannot be leveraged in this low-light environment. Surprisingly, a good phone camera is much better off here.
Lower Antelope Canyon: Our guide pointed out the best photo spots along the way (yes, you are fully guided in a small group). They will help yo to set your camera or photo settings for the best effects. Again, our iPhone did a pretty impressive job.
We were first disappointed about the tripod situation, but we ended up taking so many great photos. Set your phone camera in Chrome Mode to capture the most vibrant colors. Be ready to impress your family and friends with photos taken by you with your phone camera!
Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon if I don’t have time for both?
We think both canyons are worth going and doable in one day. But if time is limited and you can only visit one, Lower Antelope Canyon is better than Upper Antelope Canyon because:
- Photo quality turned out to be much better from the Lower Canyon;
- Our tour guide at the Lower offers much more interaction and better service;
- The cost is almost half at the Lower comparing to the Upper Canyon;
- A longer window to visit and more flexibility to plan your visit;
- No dusty and somewhat dangerous truck ride to the Upper Canyon;
- Less shoulder-rubbing with other tourists;
- And, the surreal experience existing the Lower Canyon;
Our Experience and A Suggested Itinerary for Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons + Horseshoe Bend
9AM-10:30AM: The Horseshoe Bend.
10:30AM-1:30PM: Upper Antelope Canyon. Aim for tours starting between 10:30 to noon so you will get into the canyon 30 minutes later.
1:30PM-4PM: Lower Antelope Canyon. Aim for 2PM instead of 4PM for better lighting. If you arrive Ken’s Tours earlier than your reservation, ask them to fit you into an earlier tour. If your group is not very large, they can accommodate most likely.
Alternatively, if you are not a morning person and couldn’t catch the sunrise at the Horseshoe Bend, you can now head over there to enjoy the sunset.
More Tips for Your Visit to the Antelope Canyons
There are a few ladders to use throughout the Lower Antelope since the Lower canyon is “underground”. You will enter the canyon from the ground-level via a long and fairly steep steel stairway (“ladder”) down into the canyon. We experienced some delay to wait for some elderly folks and people afraid of heights in front of us to descend slowly. Now, we understand why the Lower Canyon tours run a higher risk of delay.
A cautionary note: For people with close-phobic or fear for height, the Lower Antelope Canyon may not be a good choice for you. The Upper Canyon should not present similar problems.
Things to wear: comfortable walking shoes especially if you do the Lower Antelope Canyon and the Horseshoe Bend.
Things to bring: sunscreen, water, sunglasses, and a bandana.
As crowded as the Antelope Canyons are, they are still amazing to visit. Because they are just unique!
Feeling more adventurous? Check out our An Ultimate Guide to the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Day Hike here.