Located in northern Arizona, Antelope Canyon is without a doubt one of the most spectacular slot canyons on our planet. The intriguing light beams coming through the Canyon give visitors the opportunity to take the most breathtaking pictures they can imagine.
This enchanting slot canyon has captured the hearts and minds of visitors and photographers for many years.
Now, have you ever wondered why those sunbeams occur in the canyon?
Why Do the Light Beams Occur?
Let’s dive into the geological and scientific factors that make these light beams so mesmerizing.
Picture this: Over millions of years, the canyon has been shaped by the powerful forces of erosion acting on the Navajo sandstone. Flash floods and subsequent processes have sculpted the canyon walls into the stunning, wavy forms we see today. This geological dance has given birth to narrow, serpentine passageways reaching depths of up to 120 feet.
Now, imagine sunlight pouring into the canyon through tiny openings in the ceiling. As it cascades through the dusty air, suspended particles scatter the light, creating vivid beams that bathe the sandstone walls in vibrant shades of orange, red, and purple. The sun’s position overhead makes all the difference, allowing these light beams to truly shine.
What makes the beams even more magical is how the canyon’s unique shape and orientation amplify their intensity. The sunlight bounces off the walls, creating an ethereal, glowing atmosphere. The angle of the sunlight also plays a crucial role, with low sun angles producing slender beams, while high sun angles create wider, more diffuse light beams.
Tours | Book in Advance
Book a tour between 11 AM and 1:30 PM to see the light beams. We highly recommend booking both tours (lower and upper). Read our tips below for more details.
When Can You Witness the Light Beams?
If you’re planning a trip to this iconic site, you’ll want to make sure you visit at the right time.
The light beams in Antelope Canyon are most visible from mid-March through early October, peaking during the summer months of late May to early September. They appear between 11:00 AM and 1:30 PM. It must be sunny without heavy cloud coverage.
💡 From our experience, the best months for the beams are June, July, and August. However, it’s much less busy outside of the light beam season.
This happens due to the sun’s position in the sky, which we explained above. When the sun is at its highest position, its light will go deeper into the canyon and create those unforgettable beams.
When Is the Best Time of Day to See the Light Beams?
To catch the light beams at their finest, plan your visit between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m, when the sun is at its zenith. Clear skies and minimal cloud cover are also essential, as clouds can interfere with the sunlight, reducing the intensity of the beams drastically.
So, check the weather forecast and pick a sunny day to make sure to book a tour slot during those prime hours to experience the light beams in all their splendor.
Additionally, to keep you safe bad weather conditions can even lead to closures from Antelope Canyon tours
Light Beam Quick Facts
- No light beams from mid-October until mid-March
- No light beams before 11 AM and after 2 PM
- No light beams on a very cloudy day, even during ‘light beam season’
- Book the 10:30 AM / 11:00 AM / 12:00 AM tours to see the beams
Can You See Light Beams in Both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon?
The awe-inspiring light beams can be seen in both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. However, they’re more common and much better to observe in Upper Antelope Canyon due to its wider floor and more level ceiling, which allows sunlight to enter more directly and frequently.
Lower Antelope Canyon, on the other hand, has a narrower floor and a more irregular, sloping ceiling. This makes the light beams less likely to form, but when conditions are just right, you can still witness them, just significantly less frequently and less intensely.
The unique shapes and textures of Lower Antelope Canyon’s walls also produce different light patterns and reflections, creating a captivating experience all its own.
Best Light Beam Time vs. Crowds
The only downside of seeing the sunbeams are the crowds on an Antelope Canyon tour. You cannot enter the canyon on your own and tours during the light beam months are typically jam-packed. Lower Antelope Canyon is slightly less crowded but also busy these days.
Our experience: Although the beams aren’t visible before mid-March we had a great experience on one of our visits on March 10. We booked a tour around noon, it was sunny with clear blue skies, and the light beams were there! However, we still recommend booking a tour during the more promising times.
Compared to our visits during the summer months, it was still a great experience in terms of ‘beam viewing’.
Tip: Avoid weekends for slightly fewer crowds and avoid public holidays. Additionally, book a tour for the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. Book the ‘lower tour’ either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when it’s less busy. That way you will get to see the light beams in the upper part and will have another beautiful, less busy time, in the lower part.
Read our additional must-know tips and facts after the geological part.
After you learned everything about the best time to see the light beams and why they occur, let’s dive into some more intriguing geological facts.
As you already know, Antelope Canyon is a gorgeous place made up of two distinct parts, the upper and the lower canyon:
Upper Antelope Canyon
First, there’s the Upper Antelope Canyon, which goes by the Navajo name “Tse’ bighaniini,” meaning “the place where water runs through rocks.” This name reflects how it was formed over time.
Measuring about 100 yards (91 meters) long, some of its walls can reach impressive heights of up to 120 feet (37 meters). The Upper Antelope Canyon’s wavy walls have earned the nickname “The Crack.” During summer, sunlight pours in, creating beautiful beams of light that make this spot a photographer’s dream.
Lower Antelope Canyon
Next up is the second part of Antelope Canyon, known as “The Corkscrew.” It’s about 4.5 miles away from the Upper Antelope Canyon and stretches for 1.1 miles. The two parts differ in the size and shape of their canyon floors.
While “The Crack” has a wider bottom, “The Corkscrew” is smaller at the bottom, forming a V-shape. Its Navajo name, “Hasdestwazi,” means “spiral rock arches.” The lower part of the canyon has fewer light beams and is a bit trickier to explore than the upper part, thanks to some uneven surfaces and challenging stairs.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Antelope Canyon is the walls’ composition. They’re made up of different mixtures and amounts of limonite, goethite, and hematite, all blended with quartz sand. This unique combination gives the sandstone its signature reddish color.
Depending on the light, the walls can appear in various shades, ranging from pink to magenta, orange, and red. Sometimes, during winter, they even seem blue or purple! This special blend of minerals creates a sand-paper-like texture on the walls, adding to the canyon’s incredible beauty.
Upper vs. Lower – Full Comparison
As already pointed out, the most striking difference between both is the light beams (sunbeams): The views with the light beams in the Upper Canyon are just sensational.
In the Lower Canyon, there are significantly fewer and less intense beams but they are still visible, depending on the weather, the months, and the time of day.
Regardless of the sunbeams, we still loved Lower Antelope Canyon every time we visited, as it is just beautiful!
Lower Antelope Canyon
- Light Beams: Not the iconic light beams from Upper Canyon. However, although rare, sunbeams exist. Also, the light makes the wall glow. Still gorgeous.
- Tour Operators: 2
- Self-Guided Tours: Not allowed.
- How to Get There: No transports are being offered to Lower Canyon from Page by both tour operators. Use your own car: Driving Directions from Page. No car? There is a service called ‘Powell Shuttle’ which can get you to Lower Canyon.
- Canyon Location: From the parking lot/main building, it’s a 10-minute walk with your guide.
- Tour Duration: 1 hour (standard tour), 2+ hours (photography tour, only offered in the off-season). It’s a ‘real’ round trip. You enter through the entrance and get out close to or either directly at the tour operator building.
- Difficulty: Slightly more strenuous than Upper Canyon as you’ll descend 5 flight of stairs (35m) and then ascend up 8 staircases. However, it’s not a big deal unless you have some mobility limitations.
- Crowded: Much quieter years ago, now only slightly less crowded compared to Upper Canyon. You’ll also feel like being pushed through, though not as much as in Upper Canyon.
- Price: Slightly cheaper than Upper Canyon (see below)
Upper Antelope Canyon
- Light Beams: Iconic, stunning, and famous light beams.
- Tour Operators: About 5
- Self-Guided Tours: Not allowed.
- How to Get There: Upper Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours starting point is ‘just across the road’ from Lower Canyon (on the south side of Highway 98). Some operators have their starting point at a different location: Antelope Canyon Adventurous Tours starting point. You need to get there by car. Other tour operators even offer transports from Page.
- Canyon Location: The Upper Antelope Canyon entry is a little further away from the starting points/parking lots. Your tour operator will take you to the entrance in an open truck. It’s a short but really bumpy ride.
- Tour Duration: 1 hour – 1,5 hours (standard tour), 2 hours (photography tour, offered year-round). At the end of the canyon, you’ll turn around and walk back the same way. This makes Upper Canyon even more packed and crowded.
- Difficulty: It’s an easy and flat walk. No stairs. However, it’s even narrower than Lower Canyon and not suitable for those who are claustrophobic.
- Crowded: Extremely busy between spring and fall. You’ll feel like being pushed and herded through the canyon. It’s slightly better in the off-season.
- Price: A little more expensive than Lower Canyon (see below)
Despite the fact that it’s extremely busy during light beam season, both canyons are still worth visiting! It’s a unique experience. Our summary for the Upper vs. Lower discussion:
Upper Canyon Pros Summary:
- Stunning light beams
- Less strenuous
- Photography tours during light beam season are still being offered
Upper Canyon Cons Summary:
- Tours are a little more expensive
- Heavily crowded
Lower Canyon Pros Summary:
- Slightly fewer crowds and easier to photograph
- Slightly cheaper tours
Lower Canyon Cons Summary
- Very few light beams
- No more dedicated photography tours
- A little more strenuous (ladder climbing)
Light Beam Photography Tips
Capturing the stunning light beams in Antelope Canyon can be a challenging yet rewarding experience for photographers.
Good to know: The tour guide will provide you with tips for camera settings and even settings for your smartphone.
Regardless, here are some tips to help you get the best shots:
- Use a tripod: A tripod is essential for stabilizing your camera and achieving sharp, blur-free images. The low light conditions inside the canyon require longer exposure times, making handheld shots difficult to keep steady. Please note, that a tripod is only allowed on a dedicated photography tour.
- Select the right lens: A wide-angle lens is ideal for capturing the full scope of the canyon walls and the light beams. A lens with a focal length between 16mm and 24mm is typically recommended.
- Set your camera to manual mode: This allows you to have full control over the exposure settings, ensuring that you can adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to capture the light beams effectively.
- Use a slower shutter speed: Slower shutter speeds, such as 1/15th to 1/2 a second, can help capture the full intensity of the light beams and the vivid colors of the canyon walls. However, you may need to experiment with different shutter speeds to find the optimal settings for your specific camera and lens.
- Choose a lower ISO: To minimize noise in your images, keep your ISO settings low, typically between 100 and 400. This may require longer exposure times, but it will result in cleaner, higher-quality images.
- Bracket your exposures: Given the dynamic range of light inside the canyon, bracketing your exposures (taking multiple shots at different exposure settings) can help you capture the full range of highlights and shadows. You can later merge these exposures in post-processing to create a single, well-exposed image.
- Be patient: The light beams can change rapidly as the sun moves across the sky, so be prepared to wait for the perfect moment to capture the most impressive beams. A
By following these tips and understanding the factors that contribute to the formation of the light beams, you can maximize your chances of capturing the true beauty and magic of Antelope Canyon’s ethereal light beams.