Slot Canyons of Arizona: the world’s most underrated natural wonder?

Upper Antelope Canyon

Upper Antelope Canyon

The Grand Canyon is surely one of the most famous and instantly recognisable natural wonders of the world. Yet surprisingly few people are aware that just over an hour’s drive from the Grand Canyon, not far from the crowds of the South Rim, is a natural wonder that rivals the beauty of the Grand Canyon and is truly unique.

Even in the town of Page the canyons are barely promoted, with the entire marketing effort being directed at the water based activities on Lake Powell.

Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon

Perhaps it is because the slot canyons are located on Navajo land and the city has left the Navajo people to conduct their own PR. I just don’t know. But given the impressiveness of the site I am amazed that most Americans are unaware of this place. For goodness sake, even being used as a location for a Britney Spears video has failed to raise the profile of these wonders!

It looks like nothing from ground level. A crack in the desert floor by a desolate car park, with a tatty sign directing from off the highway. You are greeted by the caretakers who will only allow visitors into the canyon if there are no potential risks of flash floods.

Lower Antelope Canyon from ground level

Lower Antelope Canyon from ground level

The safety concerns are closely followed ever since a tragedy in Lower Antelope Canyon where 11 tourists drowned in a flash flood when storm water higher up the system came gushing through without warning. There are now sophisticated alert systems in place to avoid a recurrence.

On paying a modest entry fee at Lower Antelope Canyon, you are then left to your own devices to enter and explore. From above there is no clue as to the marvels that lie hidden in the canyon. Only a fissure running through the rocks betrays the presence of something to explore.Yet as soon as you descend down the small staircase, it is as if you have stepped into another world.

Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon

The canyons are popular spots for photographers, as the colour of the rocks changes with almost every passing minute as the sun illuminates another section of the canyon. Many parts of the canyons only receive direct sunlight for a few minutes in a day, and at those moments an eerie shaft of light throws a beam onto a rock, temporarily transforming it from a dull pink to a bright and vivid orange colour. The professional cameramen who are semi-resident in the canyons know exactly where and when a sunbeam will appear, so if you are nice to them you will be able to catch the perfect picture.

Upper Antelope Canyon

Upper Antelope Canyon

Getting through Lower Antelope Canyon takes no more than 20 minutes, but you will no doubt choose to linger and admire its beauty. The walk is easy, although we did find a lot of standing water that came up well over the ankles, so a pair of flip-flops can be more advisable than hiking boots.

Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon

While you are able to wander through the lower canyon alone, there are restrictions on when and how many can pass through Upper Antelope Canyon. It is a higher system, and while it is a very easy walk through with no scrambling or water, it is a little less exciting to explore, especially as you have to enter with a group at a set time. Upper Antelope Canyon does however have the single best known location in the canyon system, and the tour times are scheduled to catch the light at exactly the right time for “the” picture – the one I managed at the top of the post.

A truly amazing place to visit, these canyons are living proof of the fact that some of the most spectacular natural wonders can still exist in almost complete obscurity.

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

13 Responses to “Slot Canyons of Arizona: the world’s most underrated natural wonder?”

  1. This is absolutely beautiful! It looks like it is worth the trip to Arizona alone just to hike in these canyons. Thanks for the information.

    November 2, 2009 at 3:04 am
  2. Thanks. It is beautiful, and amazing that such an impressive place is not swarming with people. If you go and see you won’t be disappointed.

    November 2, 2009 at 9:17 am
  3. Jazz Sarao #

    Hi Andy

    These pictures are awesome, what camera do you use ?

    November 3, 2009 at 12:13 pm
    • Thanks Jazz! Just a simple cheap digital – I never carry a decent camera (would be too worried about breaking/losing it). The slot canyons are so beautiful it must be impossible not to take amazing pictures.

      November 3, 2009 at 7:05 pm
  4. Susan Oakley #

    Such a beautiful, secretive place. I will definitely plan a side trip on my next Southwest adventure….I’m over due as a matter of fact.

    March 31, 2010 at 11:54 am
  5. This is very timely – I’m just planning my trip here! Interesting that you say it’s not that well known; I’ve always wanted to come here and assumed there would be hordes of tourists. Very glad to hear that’s not the case. What time of day do you think is best to visit, or doesn’t it matter?

    June 19, 2010 at 11:02 pm
  6. Glad to recommend this magical place. Maxine, I think the optimal time depends on time of year, but close to midday is going to be best as the canyons are very narrow and it’s only for a few moments that the sun is directly overhead and throws a shaft of light through.
    Thanks for your comment, and I hope you get to see the canyons.

    June 20, 2010 at 10:46 pm
  7. Angeline #

    I feel goosebumps looking at these pictures. Glorious! I wish one day I can be there in person.

    June 23, 2010 at 11:55 am
  8. Very cool. Wish I got to see more of Arizona, but my southwestern trip was more focused on New Mexico. Just another destination to add to the long list.

    June 23, 2010 at 3:56 pm
  9. Thanks for the post and the mesmerizing photos. If anyone would like a desktop wallpaper of Antelope Canyon by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen, here you go:

    June 23, 2010 at 7:09 pm
  10. Wow! What a neat, tucked-away place! It looks absolutely stunning. It’s amazing the types of places you can find on this planet. Your pictures are fantastic, especially the first one of Upper Antelope Canyon! Definitely makes me want to visit someday.

    July 11, 2010 at 12:29 am
  11. THanks for all the comments, and esp. for the wallpaper link Marilyn. They are amazing shots!
    Amanda, do you go if you can – well worth the effort (and then don’t forget to share your pictures with us) 🙂

    July 12, 2010 at 11:15 pm
  12. What a beautiful place. I am actually heading to the Grand Canyon in June so will see if I can make a side trip. Your photos are simply stunning!

    May 27, 2011 at 6:20 pm