When we made plans to go glamping near Zion National Park, the hardest part of planning for the trip was figuring out how to restrain myself. I knew we’d only have three full days, and a person could easily spend a week in Zion alone. But I’ve got this crazy itch to squeeze as much as I can out of every experience, and there’s just so much to see in that part of the world (five National Parks in UT, the Grand Canyon a few hours south, and all kinds of beautiful vistas in between). Knowing our time was short, I resolved to limit us to Zion and one additional location during our stay.
And so this led us to Page, AZ — a 2.5-hour drive east from Zion National Park, and located just south of the Utah border. Page might not be a town you’re familiar with, but it has two attractions I’d wanted to see for the past decade — 1) Horseshoe Bend and 2) the Antelope Canyons.
In making our plan to see Horseshoe Bend, I’d done lots of research about the best time to view and photograph it. Most people choose to go at sunrise or sunset, and both times have benefits. The downside to sunset, however, is that the sun sets right behind the mountain formation, and shooting into the sun with a traditional camera doesn’t make for great photos (If you’re trying to figure this out when you want to go, I found this photo series to be really helpful). It’s also more crowded at sunset. So with no kids to wake us up early in the morning, we decided to give it a go and aim to make it there for sunrise.
This was a big deal, since we were 2.5 hours away from Page. It was also complicated by the fact that Utah and Arizona are bordering states but on different time zones. So there was lots of deep thinking that went into us determining when we’d leave, and we ultimately left our campsite near Zion at 3:30 a.m.
I look at the photo above of Jordan at 5:30 a.m. and think, “that’s a man who’s committed to making his wife happy.” But then he got a glimpse of the view, and I think he felt like the early wake up call and drive was worth it.
Looking down at Horseshoe Bend is crazy, because it reminds you of how water — something that can be incredibly gentle, soft, healing — can also turn into a major force that quite literally moves mountains. The vantage point of standing on the rim is really beautiful.
- It costs $10 to park in the parking lot near the observation deck. During peak visiting hours, the lot can fill up, and you’ll need to take a shuttle to get there. (Arriving at sunrise in the spring was pretty empty — maybe 20 people there in addition to us).
- There’s a half-mile walk from the parking lot to the observation area, which is a sandy trail and might be a little challenging for someone with disabilities or if you were pushing a stroller.
- It’s very easy to take in Horseshoe Bend from the edge of the mountain, so exercise caution.
After Horseshoe Bend, we had some time to kill before our tour of the Lower Antelope Canyon, which is a 15-min drive away. We had a leisurely breakfast at a diner and then took a power nap in the parking lot of Ken’s Tour company.
There are a few different slot canyons in Page, with the two most popular being the Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. Tourism to both of these canyons exploded after National Geographic photographed them, and if you have an Apple computer, you might recognize the canyons from one of their iconic desktop wallpapers.
I’d done a lot of research about the Upper Antelope Canyon and the Lower Antelope Canyon — wanting to know which one we should tour. Both canyons are located on the Navajo Reservation, so taking a guided tour is the only way to see either canyon. The Upper Antelope Canyon often books faster and is known for creating the streams of light that shine down into the canyon. (Fun fact: a photograph of one of these famous light streams sold for $6.5 million dollars — setting the world record for most expensive photograph.) The Lower Antelope Canyon is known for its more rich, warm colors. In the end, we opted for the Lower canyon and picked a 10:30 a.m. tour to hopefully catch a good amount of sunlight shining into the canyon.
Our tour guide took our group of eight into and through the canyon, using a series of ladders. Along the way, he shared about how his ancestors used the canyons for hunting, which was fascinating. Here’s a photo of the outside of the canyon, and you can see why the canyons went undiscovered as a tourist attraction for so long.
The guides are really helpful in pointing out different formations in the canyon and also the best places to take photographs. They’ll also take photos of you, like the long pano shot below that’s all thanks to our guide.
The vibe of this place was so incredible. And again, it’s crazy to think that this was all created by flash floods swirling around inside the cracks of the earth. Another testament to the power of water.
Some things to keep in mind if you’re visiting Lower Antelope Canyon:
- Book your tickets weeks in advance to ensure you get the time slot and day you want. Add even more time if you’re visiting during the popular summer months. Late morning hours tend to provide the best lighting in the canyon, and late afternoon tours tend to be less crowded.
- Two companies operate all of the tours — Ken’s Tours and Dixie Ellis (Ken and Dixie are siblings!)
- Stay toward the front or back of your group if you want to get photos without other people in them.
- Bring cash to tip your guide.
- If you want a less crowded canyon experience, consider Canyon-X.