Southern Utah and northern Arizona have the densest concentration of slot canyons in the world. Located near Page, Arizona, Waterholes Canyon is one of the many must-see slot canyons in this region. Part of a drainage system located several miles from Page, Arizona, the canyon runs from east to west, passes under Highway 89, and ends at the Colorado River.
The canyon divides into two sections: upper Waterholes Canyon is a non-technical area east of the bridge at Highway 89, and lower Waterholes Canyon is a technical area requiring gear and a permit from the Navajo Nation. Due to its increased popularity and a rising number of rescues in the lower parts of the canyon, the only way to access the canyon is with a tour guide through Waterhole Canyon Experience. Prior to May 2018, hikers needed only a tribal permit from the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation to explore the canyon on their own.
The access point to Waterholes Canyon is a parking lot along Highway 89 at mile post 542. The canyon is quite deep here. To safely access the canyon floor, you will need to head east along the canyon rim to an access point, where you can easily climb down into the canyon. The tour guide will take you through the canyon to the narrows east of the bridge. There will be several sturdy ladders to ascend on your way up through the canyon. Unlike the crowded tours at Antelope Canyon, your group will be the only in Waterholes Canyon at the time of your tour.
If tackling the lower section of the canyon, it is best to leave your car at Lee's Ferry and arrange a ride to the bridge. Waterholes Canyon ends at the Colorado River 3.5 miles upstream from Lee's Ferry. After exiting the canyon, you will either need to pack raft down river to Lee's Ferry or arrange for a boat pickup. An escape route in the lower section of the canyon allows canyoneers to climb out of the canyon before the 320-foot rappel. If choosing this route, make arrangements to park in the guiding service parking lot at upper Waterholes Canyon for $10. The gate locks at 5 p.m. Make arrangements with the guides if planning to return later.
Lower Waterholes Canyon is a technical slot canyon, requiring multiple rappels, and it ends at the Colorado River. A backcountry permit is required from the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation to access this section of the canyon. Due to the technical nature of lower Waterholes Canyon, only experienced canyoneers should attempt this. Rising numbers of rescues in the lower section of the canyon led to restricted access of upper Waterholes Canyon. The Navajo Nation considered permanently closing the lower section of the canyon. Instead, it chose to educate the public on the canyon's extreme nature and inspect gear before issuing a permit. The Navajo Nation hopes that requiring guides to access the non-technical part of the canyon will keep unexperienced individuals from becoming trapped in the sections west of the bridge.