A Photographer's Guide to Exploring Arizona's Slot Canyons

Arizona is home to dozens of must-see, breathtakingly-beautiful slot canyons. Check out some tips and tricks on how to visit, experience and photograph slot canyons from a local travel photojournalist.

The Southwest is renowned for its skinny, serpentine canyons naturally carved in Navajo sandstone, and Arizona is gifted with some of the loveliest in the region. Page, near the border of Utah, is the nexus of slot canyons on the Colorado Plateau, and offers numerous possibilities. If you have time and the weather is clear you could visit all of these in less than a week of light adventure, though two or three are a better bet. Read on to discover more about some of Arizona's most wonderous slot canyons.

Antelope Canyon

My first visit to a slot canyon was in 1986, when a friend and I came across a postcard in Page and inquired where the corkscrew canyon might be. A Navajo gentleman guided us to a dark sliver in the sandstone a few miles southwest of town, pointed down, and left us to explore. This hidden chasm later became known as Lower Antelope Canyon, which still has the best combination of perfectly fluted sandstone shapes, cool depths and interior "rooms," and back then, silence befitting a cathedral. Those quiet days are a distant memory now for the Antelope Canyon twins, but you can still savor the sound of silence in other great slots around Page.

Antelope Canyon is the name you’ve heard, but in reality, it’s a long, wide watershed of sand and multiple slots running south to north into Lake Powell. The world-famous slots bearing this name have upper and lower sections. Upper Antelope Canyon is easier to stroll through and known for light beams illuminating falling golden sand. Lower Antelope Canyon is much larger and more strenuous, with metal stairs and uneven terrain, but is more visually rewarding than Upper Antelope Canyon. Hence, Lower Antelope Canyon has always been my favorite to take friends and family. If you can, try to do the first tour of the day in high season.

A Photographer's Guide to Exploring Arizona's Slot Canyons
Upper Antelope Canyon. Credit: Kerrick James
A Photographer's Guide to Exploring Arizona's Slot Canyons
Rattlesnake Canyon. Credit: Kerrick James

Notable slot canyons nearby

If the daily crowds at Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon become a distraction, explore the other great slots nearby, bearing evocative names like Owl, Rattlesnake, Mountain Sheep, Waterholes, Secret, Canyon X and even Cardiac. Note that all these slot canyons can only be seen in the company of a Navajo guide, as Native families or companies run their concessions and control access. Be aware that in several slot canyons a bag or tripod are forbidden.

If you wish to experience a slot canyon and record its marvels with a cell phone or single handheld camera, choose from Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, Rattlesnake and Owl, Mountain Sheep, Waterholes, and the Canyon X Hiking Tour. These tours are shorter and somewhat cheaper, but tend to be more crowded.

Know before you go

If you’re a more serious photographer, choose the Antelope Canyon X Photo Tour, Cardiac or Secret Canyon tours. The group size is much smaller, the tours longer and the price higher, but your images will be markedly finer. Speaking of photography, here are some tips. No tripod? Leaning against the sandstone is allowed, and can minimize camera shake. Avoid "hot" highlights in your images, as when the sunlight directly hits a wall, or a piece of bright sky is showing. Even lighting is best, and use the built-in stabilization and higher ISO settings for more depth of field and faster shutter speeds, unless you’re on a tripod, which allows much more control and image quality than handheld cell phones.

Lastly, and importantly, know that all tours will be canceled if rain threatens anywhere in the upstream watershed. A clear sky above doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe to be inside a slot canyon, as runoff can travel many miles and rise quickly inside a slot canyon. They’ll refund and reschedule you and you’ll play another dreamy day inside these magnificent cathedrals sculpted into the orange and violet layers of stone by water, wind and time.

My most photogenic current favorite slots are Secret, Cardiac and Lower Antelope Canyon. Secret and Cardiac are uncrowded, but Cardiac is a workout.

A Photographer's Guide to Exploring Arizona's Slot Canyons
Secret Canyon. Credit: Kerrick James

Resources, reservations and more:

TIP: Advance reservations are recommended!

Antelope Canyon

Rattlesnake, Owl and Mountain Sheep Canyons

Cardiac Canyon and Canyon X

  • Taadidiin Tours LLC
  • Cardiac Canyon Photo Tour | 2-6 people maximum | tripods and bags permitted | 6 hours, 3 miles hiking | STRENUOUS
  • Antelope Canyon X Hiking Tour | no tripods or bags | 90 minutes | MODERATE
  • Antelope Canyon X Photo Tour | tripods and bags permitted | 3 hours | MODERATE

Waterholes Canyon

Secret Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend

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About the Author

Travel Journalist

Kerrick James

Kerrick James is a travel journalist specializing in active and cultural adventures worldwide, but Arizona is home. The 2020 SATW Travel Photographer of the Year, he’s rafted the Grand Canyon for magazine stories, to teach photo workshops, and purely for fun.


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