Read this before you go see Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ

Legend has it that before a picture of Horseshoe Bend appeared in a national ad campaign for a large American company, few people knew about it. Since then, Horseshoe Bend has appeared in millions of photos across the web and has become one of Arizona’s top tourist attractions.

Image of large cylindrical rock feature in center with water wrapping around it
Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River as viewed from the public lookout point roughly 1,000 feet (300 m) above.

Horseshoe Bend is the name given for a section of the Colorado River where nature does a virtual about face in the direction the water flows. The result is a horseshoe shaped curve, or bend, in the river’s course.

I had seen dozens of pictures of Horseshoe Bend before I went to see it in person. I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. It is massive! Much, much bigger than it appears in pictures.

The walls drop some 1,000 feet (300 m) to the river bank below. The kayaks pulled up on the river island, looked like colored toothpicks. A fly fisherman doing his thing on the upper bend of the horseshoe was so tiny to the naked eye, it was like watching a water bug flutter in a puddle.

In April 2019, the City of Page began charging for parking to help manage the volume of traffic coming to Horseshoe Bend. Scroll down for details.

Visitors can take in the magnificent sight by parking in a large, well-organized parking lot just off Highway 89, about 5 miles south of Page, AZ. From the lot it’s less than a mile to the viewing area.

Steep packed dirt trail running at downward angle to right in a desert landscape
This fairly steep trail leads visitors down to the Horseshoe Bend overlook, after they’ve already ascended a section of similar slope from the parking lot. Total length of the hike is about 1.2 miles round trip.

If you think you might have trouble with the 1.2 (1.9 km) mile round-trip walk, you might consider taking a shuttle with Horseshoe Bend Tours. They go to the overlook via private land holdings on the Navajo Reservation where the walk is only 200 yards and the view is just as good.

People standing on platform near edge of cliff with railing around it
This is the only section of the Horseshoe Bend overlook with a fence preventing visitors from getting close to the edge. Most of it is barrier free.
Peoples stand along a rock wall with steep drop
The temptation to get closer to the wall for a better view of Horseshoe Bend can be deadly. Parents should hold the hand of small children at all times near the overlook.

Tips to prepare for the hike to Horseshoe Bend overlook:

Wear hiking shoes or athletic footwear – not sandals or flip flops. The first few hundred feet of the hike is up a fairly steep grade with a sandy surface. It gets very hot in the Arizona sun and can burn skin upon contact.

Bring water for every member in your party. It gets hotter here than many places in the United States and the dry air practically sucks moisture out of your pores. Please heed this important tip so you don’t become a statistic.

A photo is not worth your life. Be extremely careful in your pursuit of getting the perfect selfie or landscape photo. Only one small section protects people from going over the edge with a railing. The rest is wide open.

Maintain control of small children. Horseshoe Bend is an amazing place that can cause people to lose sight of the real dangers of falling over the edge – especially brave little kids. Please, please, please hold their hands at all times to avoid tragedy.

Allow adequate time. Build in enough time to park, hike 1.2 miles to and from the overlook from the parking lot, plus take in pictures and awe-inspiring views. I suggest you carve out a minimum of one hour to visit Horseshoe Bend.

Bring binoculars. This was my one regret – not bringing mine. I would have loved to get a much closer look at the water, kayakers and rock formations.

Related: Arizona adventure writer shares insider tips to kayak Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and Lee’s Ferry

Two men pose for a picture at the Horseshoe Bend
Two men pose for a picture at the Horseshoe Bend overlook on a small section of rock that protrudes farther than much of the surrounding terrain.

Common questions people ask about visiting Horseshoe Bend

Is Horseshoe Bend a part of the Grand Canyon?

Not really. But it’s in a similar landscape and formed by the same body of water – the Colorado River. If you were traveling in a kayak on the Colorado River, you would enter the Grand Canyon many miles downstream from Horseshoe Bend.

Nonetheless, Horseshoe Bend is every bit as awe inspiring as the Grand Canyon and should have a spot on your Arizona bucket list.

One benefit of Horseshoe Bend not being part of the Grand Canyon is that no passes or permits are required to experience the amazing views.

Speaking of bucket lists, have you seen the Ultimate Arizona Wonders Bucket List I put together? You should check it out.

Does it cost money to see Horseshoe Bend?

Technically, no. However, as of April 2019, the City of Page, AZ began charging to park in the lot where you can access the trail to Horseshoe Bend overlook. You must pay to park, but not to see it.

Cost to park at Horseshoe Bend Overlook trail head (as of May 2019):

  • $5 for motorcycle
  • $10 for passenger Vehicle (including RV)
  • $35 for commercial van or bus up to 14 passenger capacity
  • $70 for commercial van or bus with 15 to 35 passenger capacity
  • $140 for commercial bus with over 35 passenger capacity

There is a toll booth with multiple lanes that’s staffed by City of Page employees to collect your parking fee. It’s open sunrise to sunset. You can pay by cash or credit card. (At the time of my visit in May 2019, there were no self-pay stations.) National Parks passes do not exempt you from the parking fee.

When is the best time to visit Horseshoe Bend?

When it’s light outside. Sorry if that sounds like a wise guy answer, but there’s a lot of truth to it.

I’ve observed plenty of debates about this question among serious photographers. They’re like economists – no two can agree on the best answer.

Some say sunrise is best; others say sunset. In either case, shadows blot out a portion of the canyon floor. So, if you want to see the entirety of Horseshoe Bend without shadows, go when the sun is high in the sky – even if it’s filtered by clouds.

I’ve seen images of Horseshoe Bend taken at all times of day, during all seasons of the year, under a variety of lighting and weather conditions. Every one of them is magnificent.

One of my absolute favorite images of Horseshoe Bend is the one below captured by Arizona photographer Chirag Patel, shot in the wee hours of the morning, when the sun wasn’t even shining.

This spectacular image of Horseshoe Bend was captured by Arizona photographer Chirag Patel at about 2 a.m. in April 2018 under light of full moon.

Conclusion: there is no bad time to see or photograph Horseshoe Bend.

How long does it take to get to Horseshoe Bend?

Horseshoe Bend is a 10 minute drive from Page, AZ. Since Page is the unofficial base camp for many tourists coming to see Horseshoe Bend, I figured it’s best to begin answering the question that way.

Here are some travel times from other popular spots to Horseshoe Bend:

  • Lake Powell Antelope Point Marina to Horseshoe Bend: 20 minutes
  • Kanab (UT) to Horseshoe Bend: 1:20 hours
  • Flagstaff: 2 hours
  • Monument Valley: 2 hours
  • Grand Canyon Desert View: 1:50 hours
  • Grand Canyon South Rim: 2 hours
  • Grand Canyon North Rim: 2:30 hours
  • Phoenix: 4 hours

Have questions of your own?

Post them in the comment box below and I’ll answer them the best I can.

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