This Little-Known Desert Destination Is Like Arizona's Antelope Canyon Without The Crowds

For outdoor adventurers, exploring a surreal slot canyon is the icing on the cake of a trip to the Desert Southwest. But the region's most popular slot canyons — like Antelope Canyon or the Narrows in Zion National Park — are getting so crowded that they can feel more like shopping malls than pristine wilderness areas. That's why we at Explore recommend visiting equally breathtaking but crowd-free alternatives, such as Labyrinth Canyon, which feeds into Lake Powell near the Utah-Arizona border (not to be confused with Utah's other Labyrinth Canyon, which is further north, along the Green River). 

Visiting this place, you'll experience the narrow passageways and majestic contours of a red rock slot canyon without having to worry about contributing to overtourism, as this canyon is quite a ways off the beaten track. It's located near Lake Powell's Padre Bay, at mile 16 along the lake's south shore. In fact, the only way to access it is via a boat, kayak, or standup paddleboarding (SUP) trip — or some combination of the three — on Lake Powell, a massive, human-made reservoir in the middle of the desert with around 2,000 miles of shoreline. 

Exploring Labyrinth Canyon

The easiest way to get to Labyrinth Canyon is via a motorboat on Lake Powell. From Antelope Point Marina, you'll travel around 11 miles to the narrow waterway that leads to the slot canyon, and then take a kayak or SUP up the waterway for around 45 minutes until you reach shallow water and then sand. This is where the magical journey into the slot canyon begins. 

The canyon narrows considerably as you start walking and soon takes on the classic twisty and windy "slot canyon" appearance, with swirls of reddish-orange undulating walls that rise up to 30 feet in some sections. Navigating through the shoulder-wide slot is mostly easy walking on sand, alternating with a few spots of shallow water, but a few sections do require non-technical scrambling to get past some large boulders. Therefore, the trip is not recommended for those with hip, knee, or ankle problems. It's also advised that you choose your footwear carefully, as you'll want water shoes that perform well when wet but still provide decent support and traction. After around 35 minutes of hiking, you'll reach the end of the slot canyon. At this point, it's time to turn around and head back the way you came. 

Discovering Lake Powell and the surrounding area

Visiting Labyrinth Canyon can be a highlight of a trip to the Desert Southwest. But definitely take the time to discover other parts of Lake Powell and the surrounding area. The lake has a whopping 96 side canyons that you can explore by boat, kayak, or SUP. And while you're on the water, don't miss the otherworldly swimming hole known as the Toilet Bowl, which strikingly resembles a giant rock toilet bowl when the water levels are just right. This may be one toilet bowl you actually want to paddle around in! 

Besides Labyrinth Canyon, there are also other magnificent slot canyons near Lake Powell, including the world-famous Antelope Canyon. If that one is too crowded for your taste, check out Secret Antelope Canyon, its lesser-known cousin. Keep in mind that both of these canyons are on Navajo lands and can only be visited with a Navajo guiding service. To learn more about Navajo people and culture while you're in town, attend a Red Heritage Native American Dinner Theater performance in Page, Arizona, the main city on Lake Powell. These highly rated events feature dancing, music, storytelling, and Native American-inspired cuisine.