Peekaboo Slot Canyon offers a quiet alternative to Antelope Canyon
I lean my back against the cool Navajo sandstone and gaze up at the brilliant red walls of Peekaboo Slot Canyon. Colors vary from black to purple to every shade of red, orange and yellow as the desert sunshine penetrates into this deep, water carved crevasse. I listen. Silence. Clouds zip across a sliver of blue sky but down in the canyon I am concealed from the wind and sounds of the desert. The descending notes of a canyon wren break the silence. Then, solitude.
A trip through a slot canyon is a quintessential element of a trip to Northern Arizona or Southern Utah. As a tour guide, I want visitors to have the best possible vacation, which is why I am writing this post comparing our Peekaboo Slot Canyon Tour to a tour of Antelope Canyon. Here’s what it comes down to: Antelope Canyon is visually more spectacular but Peekaboo Canyon provides a better overall experience.
Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona, is the best-known slot canyon anywhere. In peak season, thousands of people stream through Antelope daily and tours sell out months in advance. I recently found out why. I took a tour through Lower Antelope Canyon on a December afternoon and it was absolutely spectacular. A few million years of occasionally flowing fine sediment has sculpted the walls of Antelope into intricate shapes that are simply enrapturing.
But for those seeking solitude, opportunities for creative photography or a fun family experience, Peekaboo Canyon near Kanab may be a better option than Antelope Canyon. And it’s visually stunning.
Why seek an alternative to Antelope Canyon?
I toured Lower Antelope Canyon in mid December on a day when rain and snow were in the forecast and it was still difficult to get photos without other people in them. Our small group of five guests and one guide constantly butted up against the group in front of us as two groups pushed from behind. All of my photos pointed upward to avoid people, but this made photography more challenging because I was constantly compensating for a bright sky against dark canyon walls. Tripods are not allowed on tours of Antelope Canyon. (neither are bags or backpacks) I would have loved to shoot straight ahead rather than up where lighting was more even, but this was not possible. Once, I looked down at eye level at the canyon walls. One edge of the rock was stained black from thousands of hands grabbing onto the canyon wall in the same spot. The feeling of solitude was nonexistent.
Overall, the experience was not as bad as I expected given reviews I had heard from other travelers, but this was off season. Most of the year, groups are larger (they usually match 10 guests per guide) and I’m guessing there are more groups entering Antelope in peak season. This would have been a deal breaker for me. I should be fair and say the tour did not feel rushed. We were in the slot for a full hour, and we moved slowly to take in the details and pause for photos. The guide was friendly, helpful and informative. He was willing to take pictures with our phones to be sure even non-photographers came home with some good pictures. He offered to take pictures of us in a couple of key points in the canyon, but he had to do it quickly to keep others out of the frame. The guide also pointed out several famous photo opps; many even had names such as Twin Peaks, The Bear and The Seahorse. But this just underscores one of the aspects of a guided tour I have never appreciated: That it can feel canned.
The one element of the tour that surprised me the most was the noise. Voices of dozens of people echoed off the canyon walls, so there was never a feeling of peaceful solitude. Throw in the giant billboard with a list of rules posted just above the canyon and the series of manmade staircases to get into Antelope and I had to remind myself this was a natural wonder and not an amusement park.
I wouldn’t discourage anyone from visiting Antelope Canyon outright. It was incredible. Honestly, I hope everyone has the pleasure of seeing it. I also commend the Navajo nation on opening this gorgeous canyon for public viewing. I’m thrilled to see the tribe earn money by showcasing their beautiful land. They do a tremendous job of sharing this with the highest number of people possible while still allowing them time to take in the beauty. It’s the same challenge the National Park faces and I would say overall both do a great job. I would not discourage any tourist from visiting Antelope Canyon
On the other hand, I know there are Utah visitors who want a more natural experience and that’s just what Dreamland Safari Tours does. We specialize in getting you to unspoiled, out-of-the-way places. Peekaboo offers the most comparable alternative to Antelope Canyon, and we also tour Willis Creek on our Photographer’s Dream Tour, Baybill and Merwin slot canyons on our Slot Canyon Bonanza tour and Wire Pass as an add-on to the Wave.
Peekaboo and Antelope Canyon Similarities
Both Antelope Canyon and Peekaboo Slot Canyon are narrow cracks carved through sandstone by running water. In many places, one can touch both canyon walls at the same time. Both Antelope and Peekaboo are carved from the exact same type of rock: The 190-million-year-old Navajo Sandstone formation. Both are pierced by mystical light beams during certain seasons and times of the day that draw photographers from around the world. One photograph of a slot canyon light beam, Peter Lik’s “Phantom” was captured in Upper Antelope Canyon and sold for a reported $6.5 million.
What’s the difference between Antelope Canyon and Peekaboo Canyon?
- Color. The high iron content in the rock north of Kanab at Peekaboo Canyon appears a more brilliant red than the rock of Antelope, which has more orange and yellow hues.
- Length. Peekaboo Canyon is longer than either Lower Antelope Canyon or the shortest of the three, Upper Antelope Canyon. Also, our trip through Peekaboo is out and back so you get to experience and photograph the canyon both ways. Lower Antelope Canyon tours are one-way only. Upper Antelope Canyon tours go up and downstream but guests are asked not to take photos on the way back through the canyon.
- Shape. Antelope Canyon is more intricately carved than Peekaboo, whose walls are more smooth. This geologic difference is likely caused by the size of sediment washing through the slot canyon during a flood. We think fine sediment shaped Antelope with more sculpted detail while larger boulders that are occasionally carried through Peekaboo left the walls more smooth.
- Human development. Lower Antelope Canyon is developed with nine staircases so the masses can access it easily. There are also parking lots, buildings and signs right near the canyon. Peekaboo Slot Canyon is undeveloped (other than some Moqui steps carved by Anasazi 1,000 years ago) and provides a true nature experience.
- Physical Difficulty. Peekaboo Slot Canyon is flat and level with only two small obstacles: One boulder and one log almost everyone can cross over. The walk is about 1 mile total, all of that is inside the slot canyon. There is some uneven footing in sections where floods have scattered loose rocks on top of sand. Lower Antelope Canyon has nine staircases, the first has 76 steps. One of the staircases is fairly steep and feels more like a ladder than stairs. The hike is about ¾ of a mile total of walking, half of which is inside the canyon. Upper Antelope Canyon is about ¼ of a mile in each direction inside the canyon and the floor is flat.
- Price. Our three-hour Peekaboo Slot Canyon tour is $90 plus tax for adults and $45 for kids 15 and younger. Lower Antelope Canyon Tours run around $50 including a $8 Navajo Nation land use permit with a 50% discount for kids. Upper Antelope Canyon tours are about $60, with a $10 discount for kids. Prices on the Antelope tours seem to vary by time of day and perhaps season and tour company. Three companies offer tours to Upper Antelope Canyon and two companies tour Lower Antelope Canyon. The tours are about 1 to 1.5 hours in length.
- Fame. Antelope Canyon is like a brand name everyone has heard of. If you’re looking to capture that one eye-catching photo for your Instagram account to gain status for having toured a famous feature, Antelope Canyon is for you. Go book your tour before it sells out. Conversely, if you’re looking to get stunning images off the beaten path or if you’re seeking a true nature experience, check out Peekaboo Slot Canyon or other Utah and Arizona alternatives.
Why tour Peekaboo Canyon instead of Antelope?
- Nature appreciation. I love our Peekaboo Slot Canyon tour because it feels like a genuine nature experience. The Peekaboo tour starts off with a fun drive through deep sand. You get to know your guide and learn more about the geology of slot canyons, the Grand Staircase and the local area. The hike is slow paced. Sometimes, we’re in the slot for two hours, just taking it all in. We’re not the only tour company to visit Peekaboo, but even on the busiest day of the year, you’ll have long stretches of canyon all to yourself and you can still experience the silence. I have also visited Peekaboo when there was absolutely no one else there.
- Freedom. Guests don’t have to stick right with the guide. If you want the feeling of solitude, hike ahead or linger behind. Kids (and adults) are allowed to chimney up the walls of the canyon, to run, to laugh, to slide down the rocks and come home with worn out pants covered in sand. A recent guest had a particular interest in arches. So I stopped by a secret arch on the way home where the whole family posed for a photo. As a guide, it’s so fun to have the freedom to customize a tour when possible.
- Photography. Peekaboo Slot Canyon is absolutely stunning and the challenges of capturing the everchanging light and shadow, the mesmerizing shapes and varied colors keep photographers coming back time and again to capture one-of-a-kind images. We encourage photographers to bring their tripods to create incredible images that are uniquely theirs. We have even had a guest or two fly a drone over the top of the slot canyon for a bird’s eye perspective.
- Selfies. If you want to take selfies with no people in them, you can take selfies in Peekaboo until your shutter finger gets tired. I’ve even had guests change outfits half way through the tour. If that’s what it takes to get the images you want, go for it.
- Pet friendly. We allow dogs on our trips as long as the other guests on the tour don’t mind. We’ve also been visited by a handful of famous dogs who have their own Instagram accounts and wanted some special photos inside slot canyons. Why not?
- Small groups. Our Peekaboo Slot Canyon tour groups usually range from two to seven people. We can bring up to 20 people together, but we would only do this for a group that specifically wants to travel together.
- We’ll pick you up. We can pick you up at any hotel or vacation rental for convenience. Antelope Canyon tours do not offer that service.
- Options. Our three-hour Peekaboo Slot Canyon tour allows abundant time in the canyon and also visits a nearby hoodoo, a small Anasazi ruin with pictographs and a hidden lake as time allows. The Peekaboo Slot Canyon tour can also be combined with a dinosaur track site visit, a stop at the incredible White Wave, a sunset viewpoint, or a full day of activities. So you can head out with us and make a full day of it if you want to. We can’t wait to create a unique and memorable experience for you.