Oh Arizona. So much to see and never enough time.
I’ve been feeling antsy lately and decided we should go on more short family trips around the state. Shoot, we could even go into New Mexico or California. There’s just so much to see in this part of the world! So I arranged for us to take a road trip up to the northern Arizona border over spring break. There were plenty of things we could do there, but my main objective was to see if David + I could handle visiting Antelope Canyon…with all three kids.
Mila gets carsick, so I was testing her traveling endurance a little. None of us sleeps well in a hotel, especially when we’re all together in one room, but I wanted to see if the kids have gotten better about that as they’ve gotten older.
The biggest thing I wanted to know, though, was simply whether I could make this work or not. Could I plan a trip with enough flexibility and enough entertainment for everyone? Would we be able to maximize our vacation time without running everyone ragged? How well would we get along with all five of us stuck together for almost four days straight?
(Baby steps, guys. If you’re a seasoned parent + family traveler, you have my utmost respect. I’m still learning.)
To break things up, we first went to my parents’ house, which is about a 3 1/2 hour drive from ours. We drove up Saturday, stayed all day Sunday, and left for Page first thing Monday morning.
Lesson #1: If you have really young kids or anyone in your family gets carsick, I strongly recommend limiting your road trip to 3 hour stretches or less with long breaks in between. You don’t need to stop overnight, of course. If you can find an interesting pit stop every 2-3 hours, take it. Everyone will be much happier. Arizona—and the western United States in general—is huge, but there are plenty of small towns or roadside attractions or state parks or something to break up a road trip. It seems common sense, but I know my natural tendency is to drive as far as I can without stopping. My kids don’t handle that well. Lesson learned.
The stretch from Winslow to Page was the biggest risk: it takes about 3 hours and we had to check in for our tour before noon. That meant having everything + everyone packed into the car and ready to go by 8:30 AM at the latest. When we had to stop and wait for a pilot car to lead us up the cliffs, I’ll admit I got a little panicky that we wouldn’t get there on time. Fortunately, we made it into town with enough time to stop for lunch at McDonald’s.
Lesson #2: Let the kids choose where to eat sometimes. I’m always scanning Yelp for good local restaurants, but my kids do not care at all. Give them chicken nuggets if that’s what they want. Especially after a long stretch in the car or right before a high-stakes activity.
After lunch, we headed straight for Adventurous Antelope Canyon’s headquarters to check in. I paid for our tickets (which I had reserved weeks before) and we waited to roll out.
Lesson #3: Be prepared. Make reservations and pay attention to what you need to/are allowed to bring. Since our guide would be driving us from the main office to the mouth of the canyon, we needed to get all the kids’ car seats + boosters out of our minivan and ready to install in the tour vehicle. Bags + food were NOT allowed…which I already knew because I’d read the website thoroughly. A few people in our tour group had to take things back to their cars.
While we waited, we got to watch a brilliant performance by a hoop dancer named Joseph. Guys. I’ve seen a decent amount of hoop dancing in my day, and he was really good. Plus he had a great sense of humor while reminding us to respect Navajo culture + lands. It was a perfect way to help us be prepared for + excited about what we were going to see.
Because we had kids with us, we rode in an SUV instead of the back of a big truck. That meant it was just the five of us, our tour guide, and an older couple!
(Don’t ever let anyone tell you there are no benefits to having or traveling with kids because this was an AWESOME perk!)
We drove right up to the mouth of Upper Antelope Canyon. Before we went in, our guide told us what to expect and offered to take photos. He was actually really great about photos in general, offering both advice on where to stand + shoot and to take pictures of the whole family. Which is how we got this shot, which I adore.
Then in we went!
At first I was speechless over how beautiful it was, and then…well it just got better the farther we went. Around every corner was a new beautiful trick of light or wave in the rock that kept me in constant awe. My photos do not do it justice. Not at all.
(Also, I know a couple of these images look like one crazy photo, but look closely. They’re two photos side by side.)
I was surprised that most of the shots I took were aimed not at the walls of the canyon but at the sky. Somehow I expected that the light would be breaking through ahead of me, but it was always above. For nearly every image I’m sharing, I was aiming close to straight up.
Also, it’s not remotely a hike. The floor is flat and sandy. Ryan could’ve walked the entire time with no trouble, although David + I took turns carrying him on occasion when he was being a little mischievous. He and the girls liked running their fingers through the cold sand…to the point that Mila’s fingers were so cold they were turning blue! The sun can’t properly warm the canyon floor because it’s just so narrow. I imagine it’s quite a pleasant place to be in the summer!
Lesson #4: Kids are going to play. Sometimes they’re going to ignore the tour guide and do their own thing. As long as they are not bothering anyone or hurting anything, let them be. They’ll be much happier if they can let their imaginations wander and if you don’t try to keep their busy bodies still too long.
The walk in was slow, as we stopped frequently to take pictures and for our guide to tell us stories. We stopped in the sunshine on the other end of the canyon for a few minutes, then turned around and went back through. On the way back we took no pictures and were out in less than 10 minutes. It really is a surprisingly short walk. Totally doable for little legs or baby-wearing parents.
Our guide drove us back to headquarters, where we loaded back into the van and headed for another quick attraction: Horseshoe Bend.
I can’t believe I’ve driven through Page countless times on my way between Utah + Arizona and had never stopped there!
Right now, the National Park Service is working on making Horseshoe Bend safer and more accessible, with new trails and safety rails along the edge of the canyon. Which is good, because that place is a heart attack waiting to happen. Antelope Canyon with kids was a piece of cake. Horseshoe Bend with kids is TERRIFYING. You park just off the highway, hike over and down a hill to the actual canyon’s edge, and pray nobody goes right over it.
Beautiful? Heavens yes. But not an ideal adventure with three small kids in tow.
Lesson #5: Know your limits. We were probably pushing ours by hitting up Horseshoe Bend at all, let alone right after Antelope Canyon. Next time we’ll bring an extra adult, or maybe we’ll wait until the guard rails are in place, or maybe we’ll skip it altogether. Anything to prevent ALL the anxiety.
We ate at a local place for dinner (Foodies gonna…food? I don’t know, I just can’t do fast food every meal.) and slept at the Hilton just off the highway. (David’s a frequent flyer or whatever you call it, so that’s what we chose, but there are lots of lodging options in Page.)
The next morning we visited the Glen Canyon Dam visitor’s center so the kids could run around a bit before jumping in the van and heading back south. Since we were already in the area and the detour isn’t huge, we decided to take a tiny side trip to the Grand Canyon. Neither of us had been there in over a decade, so we figured why not?
I think the kids were underwhelmed. And I can’t really blame them: it’s hard to grasp how INSANELY MASSIVE that thing is. At any rate, they were more interested in the tiny bit of snow on the ground than anything else. Oh well. We tried. And we can always go back another time.
(I should probably do a whole new Arizona Adventure post on the Grand Canyon. We were only there for an hour or two, though, so maybe next time we visit I’ll pull together more info + images.)
After that, we headed home. The last little bit of the trip is always the hardest. Everyone is tired of being in the car and so ready to be home. But we made it safe + sound, and all was well.
Lesson #6: What are you waiting for? Just go! It was a quick, simple trip, which is perfect for our kids’ ages and the time we had available. We got to see beautiful places and create priceless memories together. Even Ryan still asks when we leave the house, “We go A’lope Canyon?” He may be too young to really remember it, and it may have taken some advance planning, but it was 100% worth it. I’m so glad we went!
We live in such a beautiful state. Time to get out and see more of it!
Tips for visiting Antelope Canyon with kids:
Location: Just east of Page, AZ
Tour Guides: You cannot visit Upper Antelope Canyon with kids or without them if you don’t have a tour guide, and you must make reservations in advance. We used Adventurous Antelope Canyon, so I can only speak to them. The other two tour groups (Antelope Canyon Tours and Antelope Slot Canyon Tours) are great, I’m sure. But one didn’t have tours available on the day we were planning to go and the other didn’t allow children. Easy decision.
For Adventurous Antelope Canyon:
Price: $74/adults 13+, $50/children 8-12, $30/children under 7. (NOTE: I know at least one of the other tour groups has lower prices for adults. However, because all three of our kids counted as “infants,” we ended up paying less per person than we would have through another company. Keep that in mind when choosing which to go with.)
Reservations: Can be made HERE. Choose a day + time and be sure to make enough reservations for your entire group. Your credit card only reserves your spot; payment is made onsite the day of.
Be sure to arrive 45 minute early for your tour. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see an awesome performance like we did!
You can bring a camera to take photos and a carrier for a baby or child. You cannot bring bags (including small purses or camera bags), tripods, selfie sticks, or food. You can bring a small water bottle for each person. Be sure to drink plenty of water before + after your visit, especially if you go in the summer; it gets hot and you’re in the desert. It’s just common sense.
If you are going to Antelope Canyon with kids, be sure to have any car seats or boosters needed for your child to legally + safely ride in a vehicle. The tour guide will not drive you to the canyon if your children don’t have proper car safety restraints.
The best time to visit is in the middle of the day, when the sun is directly overhead and lights up the canyon. That said, it’s going to be beautiful whenever you go, so don’t miss out just because you can’t get reservations for a noon tour.
Photo Tips: Listen to your tour guide’s suggestions and ask if you need help with camera settings. They know what they’re doing. Also, if you can, stay at the back of the group so you can take shots looking backward without people in them. You may be surprised by new angles if you just turn around.
NOTE on Lower Antelope Canyon: We only visited Upper Antelope Canyon this time. While we were interested in visiting the Lower canyon as well, we couldn’t. Too many kids and not enough adults. While you don’t have to have reservations the same way you do for the Upper canyon, you do still have to pay for a guide when you get there. Because there is climbing involved, you have to have a 1:1 ratio of adults to children under age 8. So if you’re planning to visit Antelope Canyon with kids, be sure to keep that in mind. You can get more information about visiting the Lower canyon HERE.
If there are other Arizona Adventures you’d like to see featured, please let me know! I’ve got a long list of places—both in the Valley and elsewhere—that we plan to visit over the next year or two, but your suggestions are always welcome! Maybe it’ll help me narrow down what we should do next…