Antelope Canyon cheaper and with no tourists? Discover hidden Waterhole Canyon, Arizona, USA

How to visit the iconic Antelope Canyon cheaper and with no tourists? By visiting a similar canyon just next to it! Check out how.

Free Antelope Canyon alternative with no tourists

During our USA itinerary in the Southwest, we visited a lot of amazing places. One of the ones that we were thinking about was also the Antelope Canyon.

Traveling is full of surprises. Just a few words by the local girl in a 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.

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 natural 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 organized groups and at a 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.

We spent a long time thinking about what to do. We arrived in Page in the evening, turning from the main road just to visit the Canyon the next day. My friend 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 waiting.

Another canyon – Antelope Canyon for cheaper

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 to us where we can find the canyon, drawing a 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.

Waterhole canyon

waterhole canyon, alternative for antelope canyon, arizona, USA

Secret Canyon

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 a 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

Another day welcomed us with a stunning sunrise. 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. The 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. The canyon was really deep and it was going under the bridge on 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.

Going into the Waterhole Canyon

I needed to try to 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. However, the quickly passing time woke us up from this dream, so we needed to come back.

jump antelope canyon waterholes inside the canyon

Narrow part of the waterhole canyon

What about the Antelope Canyon?

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 tourists 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.

The differences between the canyons

Antelope Canyon is definitely a place worth visiting. The famous part, that you need to pay for, is a separate, 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.

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 for the Antelope Canyon and Waterhole Canyon, Arizona

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. The canyon consists of two separate parts – Upper and Lower Canyon.

Entrance

To enter any part of the canyon you need to 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.

A cheaper and quieter option

If you like to admire natural 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 here).

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.

Update: Since 2018 the Waterhole canyon cannot be explored on your own anymore. Guided tours are offered instead.

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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6 thoughts on “Antelope Canyon cheaper and with no tourists? Discover hidden Waterhole Canyon, Arizona, USA

  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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