Public Service Announcement: Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona, is a shitshow. The slot canyon itself is beautiful—deep, undulating sandstone that changes colors with each passing hour. If you point your camera upward, you’ll capture the same rainbow hues documented by many, many, many, many people before you.
But what magazines, travel guides, and Instagram junkies leave out is what the canyon looks like when you don’t tilt your camera skyward. The pictures throughout this post depict the reality of visiting such a poorly run attraction: thousands of people queuing up in the hot sun, waiting hours to enter the canyon. Your pre-booked “reservation time,” by the way, marks the time you start standing in line, not the time you tour the canyon. Once inside, you’ll be herded down stairs and through 400 meters of winding passageways with throngs of selfie-snapping tourists, many of them behaving like sugar-crazed devil spawn.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter which part of Antelope Canyon you visit (Upper or Lower), what tour company you use (Ken’s, Dixie Ellis, etc.—they’re all the same), or what time of day or week/month you choose to visit. The guides confirm: It’s always like this. Admission for an average adult is $28—that’s $20 for the “tour” and an $8 fee to access tribal land. This is the definition of greed. Don’t fall for it.
There are many unspoiled slot canyons throughout the American Southwest. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in Cochiti, New Mexico, is one of our favorites. It’s about 40 miles from Santa Fe and phenomenally pretty. In three hours of hiking we encountered, oh, maybe a dozen people. You wend your way through the slot canyons and then climb more than 1,100 vertical feet to take in terrific 360-degree views of the hoodoos. Entry is $5 per vehicle or free if you have a parks pass.
Closer to Page, we’ve heard good things about Water Holes Canyon but cannot personally vouch for it. The sandstone narrows, located on Navajo land, are billed as “top secret”—despite regular visits by Hummer-driven tour groups. So, you know. Use your judgment.
Elsewhere in Arizona and Utah, there’s Hindu Canyon in the Grand Canyon and Buckskin Gulch in Paria Canyon/Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. Buckskin is the longest slot canyon in the world, but best tackled by serious hikers, who often combine it with a slog to the spectacular (and sometimes deadly) The Wave/Coyote Buttes. Advance permits are required and flash flooding is always a concern. There’s also Kanarra Creek and Sand Wash (Red Cave) in Zion National Park; Burro Wash and Sheets Gulch in Capitol Reef National Park; Davis Gulch, Egypt 3, Harris Wash, Llewellyn Gulch, Neon Canyon, and Little Death Hollow in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument; and Baptist Draw and Moonshine Wash in the San Raphael Swell. Oh, and Bluejohn Canyon—made famous by Aron Ralston’s book Between a Rock and a Hard Place and the subsequent James Franco movie 127 Hours—but that requires rappelling.
Point being: Antelope Canyon is lowest common denominator tourism. You have other options. Say NO to tourist traps. Say NO to Antelope Canyon.