Why you should plan your own adventure vs. taking the popular tourist paid guided tour through the photogenic Antelope Canyon
A slot canyon is a long, narrow, and deep gorge that is formed from water rushing through the canyon over the years and Antelope Canyon is easily one of the most popular and photogenic slot canyons in the US. There are two ways to experience Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ – through a paid, guided tour through the front or paddling Lake Powell to do your own hike through the back. I’ve experienced both and let me tell you why you should opt for the paddle + hike experience.
Aside from the fact that the tours are still currently closed due to Covid-19 and paddling is the only option to see Antelope Canyon at the moment, this Paddle + Hike to Antelope Canyon offers a more unique, unforgettable, and most importantly, less crowded experience. You get to travel on your own time and enjoy the day better.
First off, packrafting a lake is a lot harder than standup paddleboarding or kayaking on a still lake. Packrafting is designed for moving water but I personally love lakes and the convenience/ packability of my packraft so I opt for this route.
Antelope Canyon is located in the Glen Canyon National Park. There are several launch points into Lake Powell but for this specific trip, you’ll choose Antelope Marina as your launch point due to the close proximity. When you pull up to the loading dock, stay on the left side of it – the right side is for the tours. After unloading your raft (or kayaks/ SUP), park your car just up the street at the designated lot.
Best Time to Go
We made the mistake of going on a ridiculously windy day… which seems like a common mistake. I was told that some locals will go out with a boat in the late afternoon specifically to scoop up paddlers stuck on the water. Also, go in the early mornings since the winds tend to pick up later in the day.
Time needed for this adventure: half day
Water distance: about 2 miles one-way
Hike distance: about 1 mile but you can go farther if you have the time
What to Pack:
- Packraft (or you can rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard locally)
- Sun hat
- Small quick-drying towel – in case you want to dry off
- Sun shirt – there’s no shade on the water so cover up!
- Water shoes (optional) – for easy transition from paddling to hike
- Swimsuit – if you want to jump in the water or tend to get wet in your boat like me
- Small daypack
- Mobile wide lens – so you can get cool photos of the canyon! 10% off code: tiffany
Navigating and Paddling the Water:
When departing from Antelope Marina on Lake Powell, hang left around the bend (it helps to download a map beforehand so you know the route and which canyon to turn, but there will probably be tour groups from local guiding companies on the water you can follow as well). Please note that there are boats on this water that create tiny, choppy waves but they should be going slow so beginners can still enjoy it – staying on the edge (left side) helps.
Follow the main section of Lake Powell and turn left into the first big canyon you see – this is Antelope Canyon and you can’t miss it! The water is calmer and more enjoyable here since it is less open, but with the winds, it can still be a bit brutal to paddle at times. The morning winds were 8-10 mph which still creates a bit of a struggle for me. There are some spots you can pull over to jump into the water too!
Hiking Antelope Canyon:
We hiked for about 20 mins and 1 mile one-way, took our time and took some photos, and turned back around because the winds were supposed to get even more treacherous! Remember that most of Arizona does not use daylight savings, except Navajo Nation, so your clock may jump back and forth an hour on this trip.
On the map, the canyon connects all the way to Lower Antelope Canyon where the paid tours are offered but we didn’t hike all the way. Exploring just one mile offers many beautiful sceneries of the sandstone slot canyon and although it’s a different (some may say less photogenic) experience than the common Antelope Canyon tours, it was beautiful in its own way with little much crowds. When you do the tours, you usually wait in line to take a photo in the canyon so this adventure offers a unique experience. You get to move through the canyon at your own pace and we had it mostly to ourselves to take photos and enjoy, excluding when groups passed by.
Fighting the Winds on the Paddle Back
We headed back on the water just after noon and the winds were 14-18 mph around noon/ early afternoon with gusts up to 28 mph! That makes for a very unpleasant paddle. I struggled… a lot. The winds got so bad that while paddling against it, I either did not move or even moved backward! Safe to say, I felt defeated and pulled over to the edge of the canyon to wait for a boat to scoop me up. It was disappointing to not finish the paddle all the way back at first, but I soon realized it was the smart decision as the rest of my group and other paddlers got picked up too.