Waterholes Canyon - the perfect alternative to Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Looking for an epic slot canyon without the hoardes of crowds at Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon? Then Waterholes may just be the spot for you. Just outside of Page, this slot canyon offers an incredible slot canyon experience with a fraction of the crowds. In fact, if you go in winter like we did you may even be the only people on the tour, yes that happened to us!

As with both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons you can only visit Waterholes as part of a guided tour that needs to organised before you arrive. Up until May 2018 you could visit independently with just a $12 permit but sadly this option is no longer available after people vandalised the canyon. Even if like us, you prefer exploring on your own it’s still well worth visiting Waterholes Canyon, you get to experience two slot canyons, both of which are absolutely stunning.

Here’s what to expect and why it should be included in your Page trip and Arizona itinerary.


What is Waterholes Canyon?

Waterholes Canyon is a slot canyon just a couple of miles outside Page, very close to Horsehoe Bend. Formed over millions of years of wind and pressure, Waterholes is made of that iconic red sandstone rock and has the tiny white lines that characterise slot canyons in Arizona. The canyon was created by rain and wind, carving through the sandstone every time the Colorado River floods.

It is named Waterholes as there are several spots where the canyon would hold water for a long time after it flooded. We visited a week after it snowed and there were still patches of white powder in various spots.

You will get beautiful photos here without the continuous calls from tour leaders to move on or the non stop interruptions from others walking into your photo! To put it into perspective: Waterholes received 5,000 visitors in the entirety of 2018. Upper Antelope Canyon averages that in just half a day.

At Waterholes you’ll have time and space to really enjoy the canyon and to compose the shots you want. For us that made the experience very special.

Read next: Why you need to see Zion National Park in Winter! and What to expect on a visit to Bryce Canyon in winter


What to expect at Waterholes Canyon

The walk through Waterholes Canyon is around 2.5 miles long and you’ll have about 1.5 hours in total from start to finish. This means you have a pretty leisurely pace and plenty of time to take it all in.

You start by being picked up in a van and taken down a dirt road (sounds like something out of Breaking Bad…). Soon you’ll hop out and walk down the slope to the start of the canyon.

The start of Waterholes

The canyon is still relatively open at this point (you can still see the sky above), but it gradually gets narrower until you have to go down a few ladders to get into the canyon. These ladders aren’t too steep, but it is a bit of squeeze at some points.

The ladder at the first section of Waterholes

This first section is beautiful, but isn’t as long and narrow as we were expecting (that is in the second section), but it is still an amazing sight.

Our advice for this section is to keep looking back, don’t just stare forward. Some of the canyon looks even better when you turn around. We nearly missed this view for instance.

The stunning view of Waterholes when you look back!

This is at the end of the first slot canyon and just before you start the walk to the second section.

Read next: The best Sedona Hikes to do when visiting Red Rock Country and Cathedral Rock - a stunning sunset spot in Sedona


The lower section

You reach the second canyon via a long sandy wash, it’s easy walking but would be hot under the summer sun. When we were there, this whole section was covered in snow!

The walk through the wash to the second section

The walk through the wash to the second section

It’s a beautiful walk in it’s own right and part way through I thought we’d already entered the second slot canyon! Look out for the little jars by the canyon walls along the way - a natural rattlesnake repellent - made of special herbs and water. It won’t be long before you suddenly see the path drop to the lower section of Waterholes. Suddenly things get a lot narrower! This is a really fun section to walk through and there is really only enough room to place one foot in front of the other!

After you’ve made it through the narrow waves you can see in the photo above you come to a ladder - the longest ladder in the trail at 16ft. The ladder feels really stable so it’s not difficult unless you suffer from vertigo. Once you’re at the bottom you’ll get your first glimpse of the second slot canyon and it makes quite an impression! It’s spectacular.

The ladder down

Cat admiring the start of the narrow section

Cat admiring the start of the narrow section

From here, it can be a little slippery to enter the narrow section as there isn’t much room to place your feet on the steeper bit down but for most people this will be part of the enjoyment of exploring a slot canyon. Once down, it gets flatter under foot, and is a lot of fun trying to squeeze through!

The slippery section down

The slippery section down

The fun begins

This was our favourite section of Waterholes as the canyon became deeper and darker as the sky began to disappear. Suddenly the patterns on the rock and formations became even more vivid. We could have stayed here for hours.

The stunning formations at Waterholes

Then, before you know it, you’re out in the open and an hour and a half has flown by! The tour finishes with a walk up the rock (which is not slippery) to the top of the canyon and back to where you parked your car.

Read next: The best view in Sedona - Devil’s Bridge


How does Waterholes canyon compare to Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon?

Whilst not as deep or awe-inspiring as either Antelope Canyon, Waterholes makes up for it with its quiet serenity. And don’t get us wrong, Waterholes is still breathtaking, it’s just we found that the taller canyon walls at Upper in particular, but also Lower Antelope had that edge when it comes to wow factor.

At Waterholes you are not going to face the noise and crowds found at either Antelope Canyon, allowing you the time to explore the canyon properly and the chance to take photographs in your own time. Tours are limited to 15 people per group in Waterholes and the groups are spread out. Just google “Antelope Canyon tours” and watch a few Youtube videos and you’ll see just how crowded it gets!

Waterholes feels like an adventure too, there are more ladders and narrow sections than at either Antelope Canyon. We’re travelling on a pretty tight budget at the moment and we still wouldn’t have missed Waterholes Canyon for the world.

Read next: Death Valley Hikes with epic views


Waterholes Canyon Tours - Prices & Logistics

Unfortunately, since May 2018 you can only visit Waterholes Canyon via a guided tour and - like everything in Page - it doesn’t come cheaply. We don’t have a problem with Navajo Tribes charging for tours on their land - that happens everywhere in the world but we did find it very expensive.

The cost

What we struggled to swallow is that the tour is $48 per person, especially as it was $12 per person the year before for a permit, setting a hefty price increase. The $48 price tag is the same as the famous Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, making a trip to all three a pricey venture.

We loved exploring the canyon, but we think there are few places in the world that it would cost as much as it does. However, it was worth it to us for the fact that you have a lot more space and less hassle than many other slot canyon trips. Note that you can’t bring a tripod or anything but your camera on this tour.

It gets even more expensive if you want to do a Photography tour. You get more time on this tour (which is already quite a decent amount of time) and have the luxury of bringing your tripod along. This isn’t strictly necessary in Waterholes as it is a lot lighter than Antelope Canyon, but if you are passionate about getting the perfect shot, then organise a Photography Tour with the company. All of the photos you see in this blog post are hand held.

Permits

We were told that to even post a photo of the canyon on social media or our website that we would have to purchase a permit that costs $50 or face a $200 retrospective charge if they saw we had published anything without a permit. This seems steep and a little strange as we can’t really believe that every person posting a slot canyon photo on Instagram bought a permit! So we did.

To this day, we don’t really know if the permit was necessary as no tour company even mentioned it to us, even at Antelope Canyon. But to be safe, you may want to get a permit. Simply visit the Navajo office on North Navajo Drive in Page (location below).

 

Read next: Hikes in Joshua Tree that show you the beauty of the desert

How to book a tour

To book a tour, contact Waterholes Canyon Experience via the phone number on their website. You’ll need to book in advance and then drive to the dirt road at the side of Highway 89 about 15 minutes before you tour starts (it has a locked gate at the side of the road by the Waterholes Experience sign.


Best time to visit Waterholes

If you can, try to visit Waterholes in the off season (any time other than April - October/Public Holidays). We visited in February and were the only people on our tour and probably the only people visiting the whole day!

The canyon isn’t as deep or dark as Antelope Canyon, so you won’t need to worry as much about getting enough light in. However, we would recommend visiting in the morning for softer light and cooler temperatures.

In winter you don’t get those famous light beams at any of the canyons in the area, we were told that Waterholes Canyon does get some beams in summer (though not like Upper Antelope) so it would definitely be worth asking them the best time to see the canyon if visiting at this time.

Read next: Alabama Hills - our favourite instagrammable place in California and Grand Canyon Hikes with stunning views


Where to stay in Page

We were travelling with my parents at this point and got a fabulous Airbnb for our week in Page. You can see the place we stayed through this link.

However, if you’re looking for something smaller or cheaper, we’d recommend the following.

CountryInn & Suites by Radisson

If you prefer hotels then CountryInn and Suites by Radisson is currently getting rave reviews. It’s in a central location, just a five minute drive from Waterholes Canyon.

Booking.com
Booking.com

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, that we will earn a small commission if you click through and decide to make a purchase. This helps towards the costs of running our website. :-)



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Are you planning a trip to Page? Which is your favourite slot canyon? Let us know in the comments below!


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