Everything you need to know about kayaking & hiking to Antelope Canyon without a tour (post-COVID)
As the most photographed slot canyon in the world and one of the premier natural attractions in the American Southwest, Antelope Canyon requires little introduction— no doubt you’ve seen photos of its narrow orange walls dancing like ribbons above dappled sand, illuminated as light streams in through bright keyholes above. It’s nothing short of breathtaking and, consequently, it’s not much of a secret.
What you might not know, though, is that there’s a way to explore this geological wonder without joining one of the otherwise mandatory walking tours, and therefore avoid the crowds and get off-the-beaten-path on a real adventure— by renting a kayak, paddling several miles through Lake Powell, and then hiking deep into Antelope Canyon, all on your own!
As of May 2021: All sections of Antelope Canyon on Navajo land (including Upper & Lower Antelope Canyon) are currently CLOSED in response to COVID-19, meaning there are NO walking tours operating in the area— kayaking and hiking are presently the ONLY way to access a lower section of the famous slot canyon! If you’re still hoping to see Antelope Canyon before Navajo Nation reopens their parks, or even if you just prefer the idea of open waters to crowded tours, this truly is the ultimate Arizona adventure.
This travel guide covers absolutely everything you need to know for the perfect day exploring Antelope Canyon, including where to hire a kayak, how to launch your boat, detailed paddle directions, and what to expect on your hike!
A big thank you to Lake Powell Paddleboards & Kayaks for sponsoring this post! As always, all opinions and recommendations are entirely my own.
About Antelope Canyon
Getting to Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon is located just a few miles south-east of Page, Arizona, where it branches off of Lake Powell and crosses into Navajo Nation land.
Page itself is incredibly small, but within 4hrs of Phoenix or Las Vegas or 6hrs of Salt Lake City. Together with Kanab (1hr away), Page is a major adventure hub within the southwest and there is SO much to see here, including the Wave, Horseshoe Bend, and, of course, Antelope Canyon!
Read more: PAGE TRAVEL GUIDE COMING SOON
Antelope Canyon walking tour
Since the majority of Antelope Canyon winds through Indian land, far and away the most common way to explore is on a guided tour, as required by Navajo Nation Parks.
These tours typically last 1-3hrs, cost around $70 per person, and will take you to some of the most spectacular parts of the canyon— but you’ll be joined by at least a dozen others and constrained by the tour schedule. And that’s if you’re even able to book one of these popular tours for your travel dates, as they often fill up well in advance.
Instead, you can kayak via Lake Powell to the flooded section of Antelope Canyon, paddle several miles through the narrowing slot, and then continue on foot almost all the way to Lower Antelope Canyon— where guided tours walk for less than a mile through the sand, you can spend hours exploring!
This adventurous alternative to an Antelope Canyon walking tour has always been available to those seeking a more unique experience, but with Navajo Nation Parks closed due to COVID-19, it’s currently NOT possible to explore Antelope Canyon on any of the usual walking tours— as of May 2021, kayaking & hiking are the ONLY way to experience this beautiful part of the southwest!
Kayaking & hiking to Antelope Canyon
Not only is kayaking & hiking to Antelope Canyon an amazing adventure— it’s also the best way to avoid the crowds and explore at your own pace!
In order to experience Antelope Canyon via kayak & independent hike, you’ll need to:
- Rent a kayak in Page, Arizona
- Launch your kayak at the Antelope Point Public Boat Ramp
- Paddle 1.5hrs through Lake Powell and down the flooded section of Antelope Canyon
- Park your kayak in the sand and continue on foot:
- Hike 30min to reach the trail junction;
- 2hrs (return) to explore the right fork, which is the main route through the canyon;
- 45min (return) to explore the left fork, which has more scrambling; and then
- 30min back to your kayak
- Paddle another 1.5hrs back to Antelope Point Public Boat Ramp to return your kayak
It’s a truly massive day if you hike all the way to the end of both forks in the trail (which I highly recommend!), but it’s one of the absolute BEST things to do in Page and such an amazing way to experience this famous landmark.
The following Google Map shows all relevant locations for this adventure:
Note that the location for the end of the left fork shown below is approximate— you definitely will NOT be able to hike all the way to Lower or Upper Antelope Canyons, not least of all because it’s illegal (Navajo Nation Parks manages access to this area), but also because there are a number of impassable rock walls that will bar your way forward around the 1hr mark (from the trail junction).
Read on for all the details about how to kayak and hike Antelope Canyon independently.
How to kayak to Antelope Canyon
Renting a kayak in Page
In addition to offering guided paddling tours, Lake Powell Paddleboards & Kayaks in Page, Arizona rents single ($55) and double ($70) kayaks for your own DIY trip to Antelope Canyon via Lake Powell.
The price of kayak rental also includes delivery (at set 1hr intervals from 7am-3pm) and pick-up of your kayak (anytime before 630pm) at Antelope Point Public Boat Ramp, which means you won’t have the hassle transporting your kayak but still get the pleasure of solo exploration!
You can reserve your kayak in advance or by walking into the shop (subject to availability), but either way, you’ll need to check in at the Lake Powell Paddleboards & Kayaks office in downtown Page about 30min prior to your preferred launch time.
It’s a short process of picking out a life jacket and completing a safety waiver (which you can also do online), and then you’ll be on your way!
Launching your kayak at Antelope Point
Since Lake Powell Paddleboards & Kayaks provides free delivery of your kayak to the Antelope Point Public Boat Ramp (marked as “Antelope Point Launch Ramp” on GoogleMaps), you’ll only need to transport yourself and your lifejackets down to the launch (15min from the shop) and then hand your receipt to staff at the water’s edge to collect your kayak.
Note that Lake Powell sits within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and therefore an additional fee is required to access this area; at the entrance station just before the boat ramp, you’ll need to pay either $30USD or show your America the Beautiful annual park pass.
The first thing you’ll notice upon arrival at the launch is just how MASSIVE the boat ramp is— and depending on the time of year and the water level in Lake Powell, it may not even be in the water! This can sometimes make the launch process a bit tricky, but there are staff on-hand to assist if needed, so don’t stress.
More importantly, it’s a long walk up and down the boat ramp, so be sure to bring everything you need for the day after you park your car up top to avoid any additional trips back and forth (check out the detailed packing list below!).
Kayaking to Antelope Canyon
Once your kayak is in the water, you’ll head south from Antelope Point into the beautiful waters of Lake Powell— this is one of Arizona’s crown jewels, an enormous 185mi-long reservoir in the Colorado River providing beach access and endless aquatic fun to an otherwise landlocked region.
Lake Powell is also popular among those with motorboats and jet skis, so expect to experience some light wake on your way to Antelope Canyon. In the morning, this is unlikely to be a significant set-back, but on your return journey in the afternoon, paddling will be considerably more challenging as the chop increases and waves from large watercraft reverberate off the side of the canyon walls.
After about 20-30min of paddling down the lake, you’ll reach the very obvious left turn into Antelope Canyon. In addition to the concentrated boat traffic around this point, there’s also a large “5mph No Wake” sign posted at the entrance to the canyon, so it’s truly impossible to miss!
From the entrance to Antelope Canyon, it’s a further 45-60min of paddling to reach the beach, where you’ll pull your kayak out of the water and continue on foot.
Take your time to enjoy the incredible scenery as you float through the narrowing white walls towards the trail— even though the landscape hasn’t yet turned to bright orange and purple ripples, kayaking this section of the canyon is still half the adventure!
Finally, you’ll round a corner and be greeted by dozens of multi-coloured kayaks stacked on a small, muddy beach. This is where you’ll drag your boat out of the water and gear up for the onwards hike.
Although things are fairly safe on the beach, it’s still a good idea to carry your valuables with you, since cases of mistaken identity DO happen (and on that note, take careful notice of your kayak colour and number!).
How to hike to Antelope Canyon
Hiking to the trail junction
From the beach where you parked your kayak, it’s an easy 30min walk to the trail junction.
The journey starts off along a wide, white-walled trail alongside dozens of other hikers, but as you walk farther up the sandy path, you’ll notice the crowds begin to thin and the landscape begin to change.
Soon, you’re winding through labyrinthine orange slots and clambering through passageways of red sandstone as Antelope Canyon becomes tighter and more characteristic.
There’s some truly spectacular scenery within the final 10min of this walk, before you even reach the junction, but I’d still HIGHLY recommend leaving time to explore both the left and right trail fork!
Hiking the left trail fork through Antelope Canyon
The most popular route option from the junction is to follow the left fork down an increasingly narrow trail.
This is still within the main line of Antelope Canyon (as opposed to the right fork, which is an off-shoot), and allows you to get classic shots of vibrant canyon walls and rippled sandstone as you approach Lower Antelope Canyon.
Most people will tell you that Upper Antelope Canyon is the more striking section of the two, and they’re probably right in terms of pure aesthetics— but the lower portion of Antelope Canyon accessible through this guide is still SO beautiful, and it’s worth it for the opportunity to hike at your own pace and get photos without a single person around.
Extremely few hikers go all the way to the end of the left fork, either due to time constraints or fatigue from what’s a much longer trail than expected— allow at least 2hrs FROM THE JUNCTION to hike out and back along the left fork.
Those who do continue are likely to be completely alone and will get experience some of the most spectacular scenery in this section of the canyon!
Although you definitely will NOT be able to hike all the way to Lower or Upper Antelope Canyons, not least of all because it’s a protected area within Navajo Nation (which is currently closed to tourists), you should be able to hike around 1hr from the trail junction before reaching an impassable vertical rock wall that will bar further progress.
There should be no mistaking this turn-around point— even with climbing gear, it would be almost impossible to get up the wall! From here, simply retrace your steps back to the trail junction (approx. 1hr).
Hiking the right trail fork through Antelope Canyon
Although the left trail fork showcases more spectacular and characteristic scenery of Antelope Canyon (and is consequently more popular), the right fork certainly presents a more adventurous route, with frequent scrambling required and even some standing water within the canyon.
We explored as far as a particularly deep and murky pool of water (pictured below), about 20-25min from the trail junction— since I was wearing sandals, I actually waded through the water and continued onwards to see what was next, but the path was soon blocked by polished sandstone walls that would have been a real challenge to ascend.
I’d recommend making this your turn-around point and then heading back to the junction (20min) and onwards to your kayak (30min), since there’s still a sizeable paddle remaining!
As mentioned previously, the return journey across Lake Powell is likely to take longer than the way in, as significantly more boats are out by the afternoon and therefore the water gets fairly choppy. If you do find yourself with a little extra time, though, there are some awesome sandy beaches along the right shore where you can park your kayak and swim until it’s time to return!
*Packing list for kayaking & hiking Antelope Canyon
What to wear
- Waterproof hiking sandals | You’ll definitely be getting wet in the kayak (especially when launching), so I’d recommend wearing hiking sandals like Tevas or Chacos, which are also great for the hiking portion of the day (since the trail is so flat and sandy); if you don’t want to wear sandals for the hike, at least pack something waterproof for your paddle and then plan to change once you’ve arrived at the beach!
- Comfortable hiking clothes | Choose something quick-drying and comfortable for both hiking and kayaking; I wore a sports bra and yoga shorts, while Dan wore his swim trunks and a synthetic t-shirt
- Sunnies + hat | It’s hot out here!
What to bring
- Dry bag | If you own a dry bag, I’d highly recommend using it to store all your belongings, as everything in the kayak is likely to get soaked during your paddle; at the very least, put your phone/camera in a Freezer Zip-Loc!
- Camera (+ tripod if you’re trying to capture super sharp shots)
- Water | This is going to be a long, hot day, so be sure to pack ~4L of water or Gatorade per person!
- Lunch + snacks
- America the Beautiful annual parks pass | You don’t need to bring this in the kayak, but make sure you have it with you in the car when you arrive at the Antelope Point Public Boat Ramp or you’ll need to pay $30 entrance
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I know this is an older post but i have so many questions about this hike! Some of the tours only go about 30 minutes in and then return, but if i dont do a tour, i am free to walk wherever in there? My friends really want to do the kayak portion and i really want a good experience with the slot canyon, does this experience offer a good view of the canyons? i know it technically isn’t the Lower Antelope Canyon but would this experience suffice with experience very similar, if not, the same views as doing an actual lower canyon tour?
Hey Kelly! You’re correct that the section of canyon that you can access on your own is not technically the Lower Canyon, as this is on native land and exclusively operated as a tour by Navajo Nation. The canyon may not be QUITE as striking here, BUT it is still absolutely beautiful and I think the overall experience is better—- it’s a great paddle and you don’t end up jostling with dozens of tourists in a cramped space to take the same photo. If time allows, I’d say do this kayak trip and then join a tour of the Upper Canyon, that way you get a feel for both sections (more or less) and you’re still contributing to the native people who own and maintain this land!
Thanks a lot for the tip. I was able to complete the journey on my foldable ORU kayak this year (ORU Coast XT). Beautiful trip.
Wonderful write up! It was a pleasure to read along with your wonderous expedition 🙂
brooke brisbineJames Newton
Thanks so much for reading, James!
About what time I’m the afternoon does it get busy and is difficult making the journey back?
It depends on the day, of course, but midweek it probably doesn’t get busy until late morning or closer to midday. The journey back is definitely more tiring because of the chop, both from wind and from all the boat traffic, so be sure to allow enough time (and energy) to paddle back up to the launch!
Happy adventures 🙂
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[…] also requires a tour and a permit to access. However, it is possible to access the canyon from the Antelope Point Public Boat Ramp via kayak. If you’re brave enough to face the water in winter temps – you’d have the lake […]
Thank you so much! I have learned so much from this guide and will use it and impress my friends with how much I know 🙂