Hiking Through Antelope Canyon Without a Tour

Antelope Canyon

NOTE: Navajo Tribal Parks are closed as of July 2020, due to COVID-19. Please check with the parks for updates.

The American Southwest is filled with red rock mazes, slot canyons, and majestic canyons. A visit to Arizona or Southern Utah could not be called complete without a stop at the picturesque Antelope Canyon. 

Can you hike Antelope Canyon without a tour? Both slot canyons are located within the LaChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation and are only accessible with a guided tour and permit. DO NOT attempt to hike Antelope Canyon without a guided tour and permit.

Since both the upper and lower Antelope Canyon are located on the Navajo Reservation, they are managed by the Navajo Parks and Recreation department. Due to the popularity of many of the hikes in Northern Arizona and on the Navajo Reservation, this department requires a guide and permits to limit crowds and for safety in the canyons. 

Antelope Canyon

Why Can’t You Hike Through Antelope Canyon Without a Tour?

This sweeping canyon was formed due to erosion in the Navajo sandstone. Located just outside of Page, AZ, Antelope Canyon consists of two separate slot canyons: 

  1. Upper Antelope Canyon (Tsé bighánílíní — meaning ‘the place where water runs through rocks’), also known as “The Crack.”
  2. Lower Antelope Canyon (Hazdistazí — meaning ‘spiral rock arches’), also known as “The Corkscrew.” 

Although you must enter each hike from a different route, both the upper and lower canyons are visited daily by visitors from all over the world. With such intense popularity, a permit and guide system was put into place. This protects both the natural beauty of Antelope Canyon, and it helps to keep visitors safe. Because the hikes are half a mile or shorter on either side, many visitors ask if they can just purchase a permit and enter themselves. This is not only illegal, but extremely disrespectful to the Navajo community, the natural landscape, and the visitors that followed proper protocol. 

Many other hikes and canyons near Page, AZ do not require a permit, and many visitors believe that to enter Antelope Canyon, you do not need a permit or a guide either. This is not true, and you need both a permit and a guide to get to either side of Antelope Canyon. 

Antelope Canyon

How to Get an Antelope Canyon Permit and Tour

When you book a tour, most licensed guides and organizations will include the permit fee in their tour price. All of the permit payment goes to the Navajo Parks and Recreation department and is $8.00 per person. On top of the permit price, you will then pay the cost of whichever guided tour you’ve chosen. 

The permits for Antelope Canyon help the Navajo Parks and Recreations department keep the canyon safe and open to the public. So, by touring this beautiful landscape, you are also supporting the local Navajo Nation community. 

Finding a tour guide to take you isn’t difficult and can be done when you arrive in the town of Page, AZ. It is wise and recommended to try and book a tour in advance if possible, though, because Antelope Canyon is a VERY popular destination and you may not always be able to get a tour the same day you arrive.  The tours can book out well in advance so plan accordingly.  

When choosing a tour company, be sure that you check that their tour’s price includes the permit and that they are licensed guides. One of the safest ways to book an Antelope Canyon tour online is to visit the Navajo Parks and Recreation website. They have a page on their website that includes a list of guided tour operations to both the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon areas. 

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon Hiking Overview

Although you need a guide to access both the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon areas, they are both relatively straightforward and short hikes. Most of the hikes will be flat because you’ll be at the bottom of a canyon; however, you will be walking in the sand for large portions of the time. Some visitors find the sand a challenge, so the difficulty level will depend on your fitness ability. 

Upper Antelope Canyon

The upper canyon is the shorter hike of the two at just 0.3 miles round trip. The entire tour generally lasts around one hour but is often extended to 2+ hours for the photo tour. 

The upper canyon is especially famous for the sunbeams that shine into the canyon from April 1 – September 30. These beams are more prominent in the upper canyon than the lower canyon because it is a deeper, darker canyon. 

If you are visiting Antelope Canyon specifically for photo opportunities, we recommend that you book a photo tour. This will give you more time in the canyon for photos, and the guides will make sure that you have optimal space to avoid getting other people in the photo frame. 

Lower Antelope Canyon

The lower canyon is a tad longer at 0.5 miles round trip. This hike should take most tour groups about one hour to complete. There is also a short ascent and descent on metal ladders to access the canyon. 

The lower canyon is slightly less popular than the upper canyon and does not feature the famous beams of light. The lower canyon is still a magnificent and worthy tour, though! It will feature fewer tour groups and is often offered at a lower guided price. 

Antelope Canyon Ladder

Best Time of Year to Visit Antelope Canyon

Both sections of the canyon are relatively short, but remember, you are in a desert climate. Depending on the time of the year, daytime temperatures will be over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. So, even for the short hike, sun protection is necessary, and all hikers should bring a minimum of 2 liters of water per person. 

If you are visiting between July and September, you should also be aware of the possibility of flash floods. This is monsoon season, and heavy rainfall is common. Although storms do not last very long, water builds up quickly and can flood canyons within a matter of minutes. Certified tour companies and guides are well aware of this danger and monitor the weather closely to ensure their guests’ safety. 

The rest of the year is beautiful in the Arizona desert. Most of the rainfall that occurs happens during monsoon season.  If you visit in the winter months, you could experience snow and cold weather. This makes for a great mid-day tour to take, allowing you to enjoy a leisurely morning, while still having time to get out of the canyon before dark. 

If you’re planning to visit Antelope Canyon strictly for photo opportunities, then visiting between the months of April and September gives you ideal lighting. 

Always Hike Antelope Canyon with a Guide

While it may be tempting to hike Antelope Canyon on your own, this is extremely disrespectful and detrimental to future access. Antelope Canyon is a sacred canyon within the Navajo Nation culture, and sharing a tour with them adds to the experience. 

Also, if you are caught hiking without a guide or a permit (and most people are), you will have to pay a fine far more expensive than booking a tour would have been. 

Hiking Antelope Canyon is a once in a lifetime experience to learn the natural and cultural history of ancient Navajo red rock canyons. Going with a guide affords you more than knowledge, though, as licensed guides can easily navigate the landscape and will help you avoid dangerous situations like heat-related illnesses and flash floods.