A true marvel of nature’s power and one of the most beautiful natural sights I’ve ever seen, Horseshoe Bend is one of my all-time favorite places – ever 😍. While there is not much to do other than gaze at the insane product of millions of years of nature’s ingenuity, it’s well worth a trip.
The canyon was created by the Colorado River beginning 5 to 6 million years ago, when the region was originally near sea level. The Colorado River was then merely a meandering river. Then the region began to elevate, trapping the Colorado River, and causing it to cut rapidly downwards through the rocks. Eventually, over millions of years, this created Horseshoe Bend as we know it today. Experts believe that the river will eventually cut through the neck of the bend, creating a natural bridge.
We stayed in Page, Arizona, the closest town to Horseshoe Bend, which is approximately 4.5 miles away and a 10-minute drive. The National Park Service’s website lists the official name as Horseshoe Bend – Glen Canyon National Recreational Area; however, it’s not run by the NPS, and the page is mainly about Glen Canyon. The City of Page actually runs it, which we found out when attempting to enter for free due to my friend’s veteran status (that is the norm at all national and state parks). It’s open year-round from “sunrise to sunset” and costs $10 per car to enter. According to the official City of Page website, “Our busiest times of the day are between 9:00am to 11:00am in the morning and 4:30pm to 6:30pm in the evening. If you enjoy fewer crowds, try scheduling your hike around these busy times. There is no overnight parking or camping allowed.”
We arrived around 8:15am on a Sunday, and the parking lot was already beginning to fill. It wasn’t crazy yet, but there was a good amount of people there and continuously arriving. As soon as you park, you begin your journey to the lookout point, which is a nice, flat, wide dirt path. The path is approximately .6 miles in and .6 miles out (so you get a nice 1.2-mile stroll out of it). It’s a very doable and easy walk, and all three of us found it extremely pleasant even though we were sore from hiking down into the Grand Canyon a day prior.
The canyon sits at the end of the .6 miles, hidden from view until you start to come down upon it (which can be seen in the video above). It cannot be seen from the parking lot. Once you start to approach it, massive squiggly rocks appear, which look like they came from Mars. You can climb and walk on these; however, they don’t offer the best vantage points of Horseshoe Bend.
While there are many spots and angles to look down into the canyon, the best spot is dead center of the fence. This is where I got the best, least encumbered photo of Horseshoe Bend (please see below👇🏼), which is truly one of the best photos I’ve ever taken (I think I’m going to frame it). There are plenty of other spots to go, with some that only a fool would attempt. In fact, according to Mary Plumb, spokesperson for Glen Canyon National Recreational Area, there have been 6 deaths here, 3 of which have been “accidental” (I’m not sure what that’s implying about the other 3 🥴). Honestly, it was very easy to picture someone clumsy, or not paying attention to where they’re walking, or someone trying to get that perfect picture angle, tumbling over the edge. It’s not forbidden to climb around unfenced areas, but per the official City of Page website, “…visitors who want to venture away from the fenced partition are asked to exercise caution; the sandstone edges of the terrain can be unstable causing slides or breaks underfoot”.
I’m terrified of heights, so I may be the wrong person to ask about edges and cliffs. However, I believe that I simply have a healthy respect for these things, and a will to live; therefore, I did not venture close to the edge. I stayed about 5 to 7 feet from it and even that was too close for me. Given that it’s a 1,000-foot drop from the overlook (per the official City of Page website), it’s wise to be overly cautious. Unfortunately, it took me awhile to figure out that the perfect angle was where the safety of the fence was, so if you’re reading this – you do!! Go there. 😁
There are many ways to get your view on, and, as mentioned, various angles. There are multiple platforms at different heights (all safely behind a fence), and giant rocks that you can perch up on… if you’re lucky enough to find them void of a person. We were there for about an hour, and the people sitting high upon the rocks never moved. And they were there well before we arrived. People use the Colorado River to boat through the canyon, and there was a full-fledged campsite down at the bottom of the canyon. We could see tons of boats either whizzing around in the water or docked at shore. Although you cannot camp at the top of Horseshoe Bend, you can camp down inside the canyon.
Overall, we only stayed for around 50 minutes, and I feel like that was adequate time. One hour is more than enough time to take in the epic-ness and beauty of Horseshoe Bend. Of course, you can always stay much longer, as that is some people’s jam (like the man I saw who brought a folding chair and set up right on the edge of a cliff). However, if you’re not there to tempt fate or have an existential experience, 45 minutes to an hour is enough. Many people pass right by Horseshoe Bend on the way to Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell, the Utah state line, Zion National Park, or when heading to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Also, it’s only a 1 hour, 50-minute drive from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, making it a completely doable weekend trip. We almost passed on this experience, something all three of us agreed afterwards would have been a huge mistake. Don’t make a mistake – visit this spectacular and breathtaking place!