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Waterholes Canyon: How to Visit This Unknown Slot Canyon in Arizona

May 11, 2021 /
water holes canyon arizona

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

Like the much better known and photographed Antelope Canyon, Waterholes Canyon is a slot canyon, which is a canyon that has been formed over the centuries through water erosion. Therefore, deeper than it is wide and this, combined with its shape, helps to create beautiful plays of light especially when the sun is perpendicular to the canyon.
Until recently, unlike the aforementioned Antelope Canyon, people could explore Water Holes Canyon on their own without a guide. Now things have changed. Let’s take an in-depth look at how to include this excursion in your Arizona travel.

Where it is located?

Water Holes Canyon is located just south of Page and the entrance is along US-89 about 2.8 miles from Horseshoe Bend. If you are coming from the Grand Canyon (therefore, you are coming from the south), you will have to cross a bridge and then, on your right, you will find a small clearing where you can park your car. If you are coming from the north, which means you will be passing through Page, the clearing will be on your left before you reach the bridge.

How to Plan Your Visit

To visit Water Holes Canyon you will first need to have a permit that can be purchased at the Tribal Parks Office which is located near the LeChee Chapter House, located in a small cluster of houses just outside Page. We have sent two emails to the Navajo Parks & Recreation, the local authority that manages the area, asking for official information about both the price and opening hours of the office to purchase the permit but they have not yet replied.
As for the timetables on Google Maps there is a recent photo of the office and, pending confirmation, you can rely on it. As far as the price of the permit is concerned, it should be around 12-15 dollars. Once you have purchased the permit, you must leave it well exposed inside the car that you will park in the space we have described above.

Attention
Update: We spoke with Pierluigi and Gianna, who were newlyweds at the time, and they told us when they visited Water Holes Canyon at the end of 2018, the rules regarding admission to the canyon have changed. Now, it can only be visited on a guided tour. We decided to verify in person and we can confirm that Water Holes Canyon can no longer be visited independently and is accessible only through an organized tour. If you want to book a tour, go to this page.

Sections of Water Holes Canyon

waterholes canyon page

For your convenience, we will use the aforementioned US-89 as a reference point in order to divide the canyon in two parts, the east side and the west side.

Lower Water Holes Canyon (West)

As you head westward, the canyon flows into the Colorado River, and it is in this part you will also find Waterholes Bend, which we also talked about in the article about Horseshoe Bend. Exploring this canyon requires considerable hiking expertise and also suitable gear, because the route descends very steeply into the valley in some places. In addition, this part of the canyon is often closed, so ask the tour operator whether or not it is open.

Upper Water Holes Canyon (East)

In the eastern part, the trail is more likely to be accessible. However, the Upper Slot is not one single section. In fact,as you go further east,  you will see that it branches out into three parts:

  • West Fork
  • Middle Fork containing the Secret Canyon
  • East Fork

Secret Canyon

In each of these sections, there are several slot canyons that can be visited on guided tours. One that is particularly recommended, if you have the chance, is Secret Canyon (also known as Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon), whose beauty is considered by many to be comparable to that of Antelope Canyon. Secret Canyon is located in the Middle Fork, as you can see in this topographic map.

Currently, there’s only one tour operator that provides tours from Page to the Secret Canyon (or Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon!) and most people won’t like the price tag of this tour. The name of the tour operator is Horseshoe Bend Tours. You can then contact them directly for information about this tour.

Advice

water holes canyon

Here is some advice that may be useful in case you decide to visit the canyon. The tour operators will probably say a lot of the same things, but you might as well know what you’re getting into:

  • Don’t expect any kind of facilities along the way, such as restrooms or anything else.
  • It is very important that you wear suitable clothing according to the time of year in which you go, as well as a pair of hiking shoes that will help you to easily overcome the more challenging sections without possibly slipping.
  • It is good to keep in mind that dangerous animals inhabit this area, such as coyotes. Because of the particular shape of slot canyons, you must watch out especially for snakes that may be found on the sides of the cliffs.
Flash flood risk
Check the weather! Surely, if the weather forecast is not optimal for visiting the canyon, the Native American guides will warn you and may even cancel the excursion. But what is so scary about a little rain? Because it may incur a  flash flood, in other words, a sudden flood, and in a slot canyon, can have even tragic implications (just take a look at these YouTube videos to get an idea). That’s why it can be risky to go on a tour if it has rained in Page but also nearby, since a flood wave does not only happen when it rains near the canyon.

Water Holes Canyon Guided Tour

To recapitulate, you can go east on your own and you can walk along the upper slot to the point that we have indicated on the map to follow.

Once you leave your car you can drive through the gate and head towards the canyon following the path that is bounded by piles of stones (in some places they are a bit sparse and you will need to sharpen your eyesight a bit). Once you get to the edge of the canyon, keep walking until you find a more inclined wall than the others that will allow you to descend. Continue eastwards enjoying the landscape until you reach a staircase leaning against the wall. Here you will be faced with two hypotheses: continue, taking great care to stay balanced, or go back, as the part you can walk freely would still end a few hundred meters later.
Still on the subject of the ladder, you may not find it intact because wear and tear can sometimes play tricks on you and replacement is not always immediate.

Attention
Update: While Pierluigi and Gianna, who were newlyweds at the time, were telling us about their experience, they mentioned that at the end of 2018, the rules regarding access to the canyon have changed. Now this slot canyon can be visited on a guided tour. We went to verify in person and we can confirm that Water Holes Canyon can no longer be visited independently and is accessible only through an organized tour. If you want to book a tour, go to this page.

Where to Stay Near the Canyon

Scala Water Holes Canyon

Water Holes Canyon is just one of the many natural wonders near Page, which is the best solution for an overnight stay if you are visiting Water Holes Canyon. To find out about recommended hotels and other accommodations in the city, read our in-depth guide.

Accommodations in Page

 

 

Filippo Nardelli
Filippo Nardelli

I have a degree in History of North America and have always been fascinated by the United States.

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