Antelope Canyon cheaper and with no tourists? Discover hidden Waterhole canyon – must see during USA Road trip

Traveling is full of surprises. Just a few words by the local girl in small American town allowed us to find one of the most amazing places during our road trip around USA National Parks, and it wasn’t  the Antelope Canyon.

Free Antelope Canyon alternative with no tourists


Check Part 1 – Petrified forest, Painted Desert, Route 66 and Flagstaff – HERE

Check Part 2 – Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Page – HERE


USA Road trip – part 3

  • Waterhole Canyon, Arizona

I love the feeling of total freedom, when I’m traveling. Despite having a “trip plan” – you can always change it to whatever you want. After all, it’s your trip. During hitch-hiking it is natural to be very spontaneous. When you travel by car – you also have a lot of flexibility. Discovering places thanks to the sudden incidents, leaving things to the fortune, but most importantly – thanks to people. Talking to locals always helped me in my travels – and this time was the same.

Antelope Canyon

Do you know Antelope Canyon? Even if you don’t recognize the name, I’m sure you saw this picture before. It is a nature wonder, unique and different from other places. It looks amazing, right?

Unfortunately, when you arrive there and you want to visit the canyon – the unpleasant truth hits you. The place can be seen only with the guide, in previously organised groups and at specified time. The area belongs to Indian tribe Navajo, who are running the trips. You can put yourself on the list for the specific hour (and some of them can be very busy). This costs around $35 and your time in the canyon is limited.

We asked many people – there is no way of getting to the Antelope Canyon by yourself without the guide, even with additional payment. Officially, it’s all for “protecting” the canyon from vandals, what we were told by the travel agents. Internet says, however, that the reason is the possibility of “fast flood” happening there at the times of the heavy rain (I’m wondering if during the dry season the guides have time off, lol).

We spent long time thinking what to do. We arrived in Page in the evening, turning from the main road just to visit the Canyon the next day. Wladek wasn’t that much interested in it, but I really wanted to see it. However, the idea of going there with a bunch of strangers and the guide, like in the crowded museum, the need of booking in advance and long, long waiting in case of not enough spaces, wasn’t the most appealing. We didn’t have much time to waste on waiting.

Another canyon?

In the evening we were paying for the night on the camping, just before the office got closed. We were still discussing between us what to do another day and we mentioned it to the girl, who was working in the office. “Don’t worry” she said, smiling, and started the story about another part of the canyon, located not far from the campsite and very similar to the famous one. “It’s more natural, wild and quiet, and it is possible to explore it alone”, she said.

We got really interested. The girl was very helpful and she patiently explained us where we can find the canyon, drawing simple map on the piece of paper. She said, that this part of the canyon is called Waterhole Canyon. After that, excited, we let her go home, as the office was closing, and we decided to check more details in McDonald’s with free wifi.

One thing worth to know is that to visit the Waterhole canyon, you need to have a permit, as this is still the area belonging to the Navajo tribe. The permit costs $12 and can be bought in the Navajo office in the city. That law wasn’t there few years ago, but now the Indian tribe closed the rest of the canyon and left just this small part of it open for private hiking, however only with the permit. The closed part, called Secret Canyon, could be visited with private tour guides ($100). Not for us.

Waterhole canyon

waterhole canyon, alternative for antelope canyon, arizona, USA

Waterhole

Another day welcomed us with a stunning sunrise (for the views like this I could even wake up at 5 am every day). We packed everything to the car and hit the road to find the mysterious second part of the famous canyon.

It didn’t take long to get to the right place. Road was straight and empty, which, based on the early hour – wasn’t a big surprise. When we crossed the bridge and parked the car, we saw the fence and signs saying “do not enter”, on the left side of the road. Canyon was really deep and it was going under the bridge on the both sides. When I got out of the car and walked to the edge of the canyon I just  “wowed” in my head. It was breathtaking.

There were no “do not enter” signs on the right side, so…

“Small walk down there?” “Why not!”

I needed to bring to my memory those old times, when I used to go climbing in Krakow, now trying to grasp pieces of the sandstone rock and not to slip from the unstable “steps” leading down to the bottom of the canyon. But what we saw at the end of the descent was worth every effort and totally mind blowing.

The smooth curves made by the water in the orange sandstone created long and mystical waves making the rock to look so soft and smooth. In the place, where we got to, the canyon wasn’t very tall, but you could easily reach even deeper with the ropes left for the hikers.

We walked around, experiencing the special atmosphere of the place. Wladek jumped between the holes and I tried climbing the walls. However, the quickly passing time woke us up from this dream, so we needed to climb back up.

jump antelope canyon waterholes

jump antelope canyon waterholes inside the canyon

Narrow part of the waterhole canyon

What about Antelope?

On the way back, we decided to stop by in the other, famous part of Antelope Canyon to see how it is. When we got there, we saw the car full of Chinese people just leaving for one of the trips. I tried to go closer to the canyon to see how this part looks just from the distance, but I was told off by the travel agents. We talked with them, found out how long we’d need to wait for the next trip inside, didn’t get along, as they were very rude, so we left, happy that we managed to see another part in the peace and our own pace.

Adventure

Antelope Canyon is definitely a place worth visiting. The famous part, that you need to pay for, is a separated, one of the highest parts of the same canyon, which is very different and intriguing in every segment. Maybe one day, if I’m there again with more time, I will wait in that queue to find out the differences, ha ha.

However, for now, I am really happy about our small trip to another, quieter and hidden part of the amazing canyon. Climbing, silence at the bottom and also a feel of the adventure, gave us the opportunity to stop and admire breathtaking formations in the peace and without the crowds. Which I am really grateful for!

Practical information

Location

Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon (really narrow one), that was made by water eroding the sandstone rocks. It is located near Page city on the land of the Indian tribe Navajo, in Arizona. Canyon consists of two separate parts – Upper and Lower Canyon.

Entrance

To enter any part of the canyon you need pay a fee. The most famous part can be visited only with the guided tour. Prices are between $35-$50, depending on the time of the day and season. We checked the rates in different companies when we were there, but we couldn’t find anything cheaper. The busiest hours for visiting are around noon (11-12), when (only during summer months) you can see sun rays peaking through.

Cheaper and quieter option

If you like to admire nature wonders alone and don’t like to be squeezed in between other people, then there is another option for you. One part of the canyon, called Waterhole Canyon, is open for private hiking (as well as for groups, so probably you can bump on them at some times). The only condition for going there by yourself is buying the hiking permit for $12. You can get it from the Navajo Tribal Parks Office, 3 miles south of Page at Copper Mine Street, or you can order it in advance by post (more information www.navajonationparks.org/permits.htm).

I’m not sure how it works with anyone actually checking the permits in the canyon, but during the winter months, early in the morning, there were no guards for sure.

The whole area was for many years open for tourists, however since several years ago, only the east side of the canyon can be visited by private hikers. If you want to get to the other parts, you need to buy a trip for $100 to Secret Canyon or $35-$50 to Antelope Canyon.

waterhole canyon, alternative for antelope canyon, USA

What would you choose? Safe, bigger but crowded and quite pricey – main canyon, or hidden and empty alternative – maybe not as famous and tall as the main one, but definitely also with amazing views?

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Alternative for the famous Antelope canyon - Waterhole canyon just next to it. Free, empty and equally beautiful & you can visit it independently, in your own pace and style. | Worldering Around

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6 thoughts on “Antelope Canyon cheaper and with no tourists? Discover hidden Waterhole canyon – must see during USA Road trip

  1. sounds like a great trip…living and leading wilderness trips in the southwest, i’ve explored a number of canyons throughout colorado, utah and arizona. they’re so beautiful and feel wildly magical!

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