With its twisting sandstone walls bathed in shadows and orange light, Arizona’s Antelope Canyon is one of the most mystical places in the southwestern U.S., if not the entire country. The canyon is an especially magical place for photographers: its blend of light, forms, and textures creates stunning images. As a testament to its visual power, a photograph of Antelope Canyon—a black and white image taken by photographer Peter Lik—is the most expensive photo in history. The photograph, titled “Phantom,” sold for $6.5 million.

If you’re planning a trip to Antelope Canyon (as you should), here are some tips to help you get the most out of your experience.

  1. The time of year matters
  2. time of year to visit Antelope CanyonCC Image Courtesy of Erick Levasseur on Flickr

    What time of year should you visit Antelope Canyon? It depends on what’s important to you. Upper Antelope Canyon is famous in part for beams of light that break through the canyon ceiling, creating ethereal scenes and gorgeous photos. These rays of light appear in the summer months when the sun is highest in the sky. However, the summer months are also the hottest and the most crowded.
    Lighting conditions are said to be best between April and September (some websites say March through October), so you could go in the spring or early fall and still get great light. The winter months are also ideal for avoiding crowds and for those wanting to capture deeper colors such as blues, purples, and magentas. So, again, the time of year you choose really depends on what you want to experience at the canyon.

  3. The time of day matters
  4. time of day to visit Antelope CanyonPhoto Credit: Whitney Currier

    The light tends to be best between 10am and 2pm, so if you want to get some great photos, this is the best time to go. However, this is also when the crowds are biggest.

  5. Upper Antelope Canyon or Lower Antelope Canyon? Or both?
  6. If you have time and you’re physically able to do both, you should absolutely visit both canyons.

    Upper Antelope Canyon is easier to navigate and features the light beams (Lower Antelope Canyon doesn’t have these); therefore, it’s the more popular of the two.

    Lower Antelope Canyon is more physically challenging; visitors have to climb down five flights of steep stairs to get into the canyon and climb up several ladders and navigate around tight corners once inside. Small children and those with physical limitations would have a hard time here. However, for most people in good health, Lower Antelope Canyon is not very challenging and well worth the visit. It also offers different lighting, curves, and textures than those of the Upper Canyon.

  7. Regular tour vs. photographic tour
  8. photographic tourPhoto Credit: Whitney Currier

    Both canyons are only accessible by guided tour. For Upper Antelope Canyon, visitors on regular tours are not allowed to bring any bags or backpacks into the canyon (with the exception of diaper bags) and tripods are not allowed. While tour guides for both the Upper and Lower canyons are generally great and help visitors take awesome photos (sometimes just taking the photos for you with your camera), the tours feel rushed and you definitely won’t be the only group in the canyon. Regular tours are also cheaper than photographic tours.

    Photo tours are designed for experienced and professional photographers. Many photographic tours are restricted to adults and each individual on the tour must have an SLR, DSLR, or mirrorless camera, as well as a tripod, to participate (so, no cell phones). Photo tours cost more than regular tours and are slightly longer (some significantly longer but also more expensive).

    If you are an avid photographer, strongly consider taking a photo tour. They’re pricier but you’ll be in a smaller group and will have more time to get the shot you want.

  9. Booking ahead vs. showing up
  10. Reservations are always recommended but they’re often not necessary. Most of the year you can show up at the tour operator and sign up for a tour, then wait a short time before taking the tour. If you go during the busy summer months, you may want to consider reserving spots in advance.

  11. Don’t expect to have the place to yourself
  12. tourPhoto Credit: Whitney Currier

    For one, you have to visit Antelope Canyon with a tour group. Most if not all regular tours have a maximum of 15 people per tour; photo tour groups are smaller. Additionally, Antelope Canyon is a popular destination and there are multiple groups in the canyons at the same time. People are respectful, however, and give each other time and space to take photos. But because of the number of groups going through, you can’t spend a lot of time in each spot.

  13. Don’t miss other sights in the area!
  14. Horseshoe BendCC Image Courtesy of brando.n on Flickr

    Page, Arizona, where Antelope Canyon is located, is not the most happening place in the world, but there are other sights to see there aside from Antelope Canyon. The most notable of these is Horseshoe Bend, which is truly spectacular and a must-see when in the area. Try to visit Horseshoe Bend before sunrise, at midday, and at sunset for the best photos.

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