Arizona: Lower Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend with Children
This post is part of our 8-Day SW National Park Road Trip with a Toddler series. The Introduction, route map, and itinerary can be found here.
Two and a half hours from the south rim of the Grand Canyon lies Page, Arizona, a sleepy desert town nestled against the Utah-Arizona border. Home to the Glen Canyon Dam, Page is a good base for Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, and Antelope Canyon activities.
Antelope Canyon (both Upper and Lower) is a slot canyon located on Navajo Reservation land. A portion of your tour price goes to pay the $7 entrance fee levied by the Navajo Nation.
Begin the day with a free full breakfast at the Best Western Lake Powell View in Page before driving out fifteen minutes to the Lower Antelope Canyon Parking lot on Highway 98. If you pass the Salt River Power Plant, you’ve gone too far. Tours begin every thirty minutes (more frequently in the high season) and are led by an experienced Navajo guide. Some adult visitors prefer to skip the tour and instead purchase a two-hour photography pass ($50) that allows them to hike solo through the canyon, however children are not permitted to accompany pass holders. Getting into the canyon requires a short 0.25 mile walk through the desert and the ability to navigate four sets of steep ‘ladder’ stairs down to the bottom. Small children can be carried down by their parents. This hike is not recommended for those with mobility or heights issues.
Once on the canyon floor, the walking is easy and children will like exploring the little rock gullies and holes created by rushing water. The canyon is cool and quiet, with the exception of the camera shutters. Your guide will be an expert at setting your camera settings (ISO, metering, ect) so that you walk away with tremendously beautiful photos. Tours run approximately an hour in length. Save some camera battery for the second half of the canyon, as the rock formations and light are even more spectacular than the beginning. Be sure to have a family picture taken in the arch. Getting out of the canyon requires another two sets of ‘ladder’ stairs, although they’re not nearly as daunting as the entrance set. Emerge into the sunlight, conveniently located 100 meters from the parking lot.
No summary of a slot canyon would be complete without a flash flood warning. In desert environments, flash floods are very real threats and should be taken seriously. Be weather wise. Lower Antelope Canyon was the scene of a tragic accident in 1997 that claimed the lives of eleven hikers after they disregarded a flood warning in the canyon. Consequently, the Navajo Nation keeps careful tabs on weather patterns in the area and has set up permanent stairs for speedy exits; however, it never hurts to know your surroundings and be overly cautious. The months of July and August are especially prone to flood closures.
Following your Antelope Canyon Tour, grab your picnic lunch and head for nearby Antelope Point Marina. Past the self-serve boat ramp is a day-use area overlooking Lake Powell. Walk 100 feet down to the water for a cool dip.
Finish up the day with pizza at Strombolli’s; they have a great out-door seating area that is well suited to families.
Which Canyon to Choose: Upper vs. Lower
Lower Antelope: Less crowded. Does not require travel in a jeep. Is a loop hike, meaning that people within the canyon are all going the same way, and not having to double back. Requires the ability to navigate steep ‘ladder’ stairs, both into and out of the canyon.
Upper Antelope: The iconic photos of sun rays reaching the canyon floor are shot here. Accessibly for most folk (no ladder climbing required). More crowded.
If you’re a super early riser, hike out to Horseshoe Bend and watch the sun as it makes its way above the canyon walls. If you (like the rest of us) prefer a later start, fill up on breakfast at the hotel before heading out to Lake Powell. You can catch the evening sunset version of the Horseshoe Bend experience.
All-day rentals of speed boats and jet skis can be found on Lake Powell. Alternatively, you can take a Lake Powell boat tour that zip up to Rainbow Bridge or into narrow canyons.
Come late afternoon, head toward Highway 89 and the Horseshoe Bend parking lot. Just following the trail of expensive photography gear winding its way up and over the hill. The walk to Horseshoe Bend is approximately 20 minutes (0.5 miles). Bring water and shoes appropriate for walking in deep sand.
Horseshoe Bend is often erroneously reported as being in the Grand Canyon, mostly likely due to the fact that the river (the Colorado) is the same that winds its way through the Grand Canyon as well. However, Horseshoe Bend is located in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, approximately five miles downstream of Lake Powell and s a 15 minute drive from the town of Page. Massive cliffs dive down to a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River, a thousand feet below the plateau. Most worryingly, there is nary a handrail in sight. Parents, keep a careful hold on your children! This is not a place to let them wander as a fall from the cliffs would (and has been) fatal. Grab a comfy spot (far back from the edge) and watch the sun dip below the horizon. The photos are spectacular.
A quick photography note: An hour before sunset is typically the best time to take Horseshoe Bend photographs. Due to the scale of the rock monolith, and the steep canyon walls, a wide angle lens is preferred. The panoramic feature on many cameras is ideal, as is a GoPro (which we used to take the photos on this page). It’s difficult to get a clean shot as the canyon rim often interferes with photographs. Some professional photographer recommended belly crawling out to the edge of the rim and setting up a tripod. Don’t take the risk! Instead, we’d opt for a cheaper (and safer) alternative: have a very tall friend take the photos or purchase a ‘selfie stick’ to enable rim-free photos.
If you plan on staying well-past sunset, bring a flashlight to light the way home. Reward yourself with some finger-licking good ribs for dinner at John’s Texas BBQ and don’t forget to have a nice long soak in the hot tub at the hotel before bed.
Up Next: Bryce Canyon National Park with Kids
Have young children? The Upper Antelope Canyon requires a bumpy ride in a jeep. In the lower canyon, however, you can park at the trailhead and walk directly into the canyon with your guide following a short 0.25 mile walk.
Lower Antelope Canyon: According to Kendra at Ken’s Tours, the light is best is the morning and afternoon. Avoid the sun when it’s directly overhead as it tends to wash out the red earth tones of the canyon walls. That said, the first and last tours of the day are slightly too dark for picture-perfect photographs. Aim for 9:30-11:30am or 12:30-3pm.
Best Western Lake Powell View 716 Rimview Dr, Page, AZ 86040. From $66/night.
Horseshoe Bend: Free
Lower Antelope Canyon: Ken’s Tours. $28/person. CASH ONLY. Children 7-12: $20. Children six and under free. Bonus: a proper building and indoor bathrooms(!) are currently under construction. Beats the tired porta potties! Reservations recommended during the busy season.
Upper Antelope Canyon: Overland Canyon Tours. $37/person. Children: 6-12: $30. Children five and under free. Discounts for seniors. Reservations recommended.
Antelope Point Marina
Lake Powell Boat Tours
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