This December, I took a road trip with the family from LA to Antelope Canyon and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Although my parents had been to both places multiple times, these sites have been on my bucket list for some time. I hope these photos will inspire you to visit these places as well!
Antelope Canyon – Page, Arizona
We encountered some holiday traffic so, the usual four and half drive to Vegas took about seven hours. By the time we got to Vegas, we all needed to stretch the legs and get some food. Back in the car for ANOTHER four hours, three state lines (Nevada, Utah and Arizona), a dark and precarious drive through Zion National Park and nearly one audiobook later, we made it to Page, Arizona around 11:30PM. Who knew driving could be so exhausting?
The next morning we were up at 7:30AM and made our way to the Upper Canyon for our first tour of the day. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are planning on visiting the slot canyons.
- These are not national parks; they are a part of Navajo Nation. You can only enter with a guide, make sure you make a reservation in advance (especially if you are visiting during a busy time of the year).
- It takes about 90 minutes to get through the Upper Canyon and almost 2 hours for the Lower Canyon. Keep this in mind when you are making reservations.
- The tours for the two canyons are run by separate companies, you will need to make a reservation for each; this site gives the contact info for all companies running the tours and it is split between Upper and Lower Canyon.
- If you are visiting in July – September, keep in mind this is monsoon season. If there is rain in the forecast, there is a risk of flash floods and tours can be cancelled.
- If you are an advanced photographer, there are special tours available that give you some extra time in the canyons and away from the crowds.
- Don’t go too early in the morning or too late in the day; otherwise the sun will have passed and you won’t get all the colors from the sun bouncing off of the walls of the canyons.
- Every season yields different colors; the photos herein were taken in the winter. Results will vary, so I guess that means you will just need to visit again! I know I will.
Upper Antelope Canyon
Per our guide, these canyons were discovered in 1930, when a young Navajo girl was herding her sheep and found the natural wonders. Today, the tours are operated by this woman’s children and grandchildren. There are a few different companies that offer guides, I would recommend checking out TripAdvisor for the best one. Ours was just okay, unfortunately, it was the only one that wasn’t sold out on the days we were visiting. We were hoping to learn a little more about the canyons, the Navajo culture and whatnot, instead our guide pretty much just herded us through the slot canyon. Then again, maybe the guides are just used to people who only care about getting the pictures. 🤷🏻♀️
Lower Antelope Canyon
Personally, I enjoyed the lower slot canyon more than the upper but, I’ll let you decide for yourself. This one also appears to be more crowded. Again, you will need to make a separate reservation for the Lower Canyon; you cannot book one reservation for both the Upper and Lower canyons. We booked with Ken’s Tours and loved our guide. He was so nice and gave us some insight into the Navajo culture.
This canyon tour will be a little bit longer and occasionally you need to take some stairs down and ladders up to get through the canyon. Watch your step and don’t take pictures on the stairs or ladders and you’ll be fine. Also, it is about 10 degrees cooler in the canyon; if you are going in the winter like we did, wear layers and bring a pair of gloves.
Glen Canyon Dam & Horseshoe Bend
After we finished up at the Lower Canyon, we went to visit the Glen Canyon Dam and Horseshoe Bend, both of which are a short drive away. Unfortunately, because it was a holiday, the visitor center at the dam was closed so we only walked around for a few minutes. When it is open, you can take a tour of the dam, which is pretty dam impressive if you ask me.
When you are done with the dam, make one more stop at Horseshoe Bend to take in some views before saying ‘Hasta La Vista Page!’ Unless you go at sunrise, expect crowds, there’s no way to avoid it. It’s a short walk from the car (~ 3/4 mile) before you come upon the bend. When we went, the water levels were pretty low, I’d like to go see it again after monsoon season.
South Rim – Grand Canyon, Arizona
After Horseshoe Bend, we stopped for some snacks and queued up our audio book as we embarked on another 4 – 5 hour drive down to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. My parents prefer the North Rim, but that side of the park/canyon is closed in the winter time since it can snow pretty heavily in the winter. Apparently, even though it is only about 10 miles rim to rim, North Rim is at a higher elevation; South Rim isn’t as susceptible to large amounts of snow.
My mom says that South Rim is more like “Disney”; no there aren’t any rides, but it’s more developed than the North Rim. Trails are paved and it’s more like driving along the different roads to view the canyon from different angles. Nonetheless, that doesn’t take away from the grandeur of the canyon. Pictures do not do the park justice.
If you are staying a couple of nights, then there are different options for lodging, but make sure you book in advance. The El Torvar is probably the “nicest” hotel in the park – and arguably the most expensive. We stayed at the Thunderbird Lodge which is walking distance to the El Torvar and Bright Angel Lodge. I recommend going to the Bright Angel cafe for breakfast before heading out to the Bright Angel trail.
The Bright Angel trail is a maintained dirt trail that goes down into the canyon. You get to decide how far down you want to go and can turn around at any time. Make sure that if you encounter hikers with mules you obey the passing rules (generally, let them pass you, step on the inside of the path). This trail goes all the way down to the Colorado River. At the trail’s end, there is another trail that will lead you to the Bright Angel campground and Phantom Ranch.
Note about Phantom Ranch, if you want to stay there you will need to mark your calendar for 13 months before you want to go because reservations typically fill on that first day the reservation is opened. Starting in 2019, there will be a lottery system, you can read more about it here.
One last note, it was pretty cold in the winter, so obviously we didn’t have to worry about heat exhaustion. If you are going in the spring or summer, make sure you bring plenty of water, electrolytes, and sun protection (hat, sunscreen, etc.) as it can get as hot as 120 degrees outside. You don’t want your memories of the Grand Canyon to include laying in an infirmary bed.
While it was a pretty long road trip, it was a great introduction to the Grand Canyon and other sites in the Southwest. I’m eagerly waiting for the chance to check out the North Rim. Let me know if you have any North Rim recommendations aside from booking in advance. I hear it is pretty difficult to get reservations compared to those for South Rim.