This iconic view is the Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River located just outside of Page, Arizona. No matter what time of day or time of year you are visiting this awe-inspiring view, the scene changes. The colors of the rocks change throughout the day, the river color changes from greens to blues, and skies continually change. For those visiting the Grand Canyon or other areas of interest in northern Arizona or southern Utah, this is definitely a worthwhile excursion along the way. There is a trail that allows access to an overlook to view the Horseshoe Bend. The trail ends abruptly at a 1,000 foot cliff overlooking the Colorado River, but it is from there that the view is breathtaking.
The Horseshoe Bend Overlook sits at approximately 4,200 feet above sea level and the Colorado River at this point sits at 3,200 feet. The horseshoe shaped bend of the Colorado River is located approximately 5 miles downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. The Horseshoe Bend is an incised meander which is a bend in a river which has been cut abnormally deeply into the bedrock. This type of meander forms when land under a meandering river is uplifted by tectonic forces and rejuvenates the river, giving it additional power leading to renewed downward erosion by the river.
Getting there: Drive south on Highway 89 from Page, turn right on the exit road and there will be a sign "Horseshoe Bend Overlook" (between mile marker 544 and 545) .
Hiking to the Horseshoe Bend Overlook is easily accessible to almost everyone and all skill levels. The distance is approximately 1.5 miles round trip. The hiking time should take about 45 minutes but that depends on your stay at the rim. Take water! Also think sun protection (this is Arizona). If you are bringing your dog, they MUST be on a leash no longer than 6 feet. And, please, be careful with children and keep them close to you. Personally, I don't recommend pets or children on this hike because the trail ends at a 1,000 foot cliff without guard rails. Okay, with my warnings out of the way . . .
The hike begins in the parking lot with a gradual uphill walk through sand. At the top of this hill (half way point), there is a small gazebo where you can stop for shade and a rest, if needed. In front of you is the trail downhill to the overlook and beyond are the Paria Plateau and Vermillion Cliffs. To the left is the immense Navajo Nation lands and to the right the river leads to the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. As you walk down toward the overlook, the path has changed to a harder calcified sandstone mixed with sand. You arrive at the edge of the overlook and it's worth the walk! You will see the Colorado River to the north and south and the way it makes its way around the sandstone escarpment in the middle. You will be able to see rafts on the river which will give you a true sense of the scale and how high you are standing above the Colorado River!
Hiking from parking up the gradual hill
Crest of hill with gazebo approaching (center)
Years ago when we first visited the Horseshoe Bend, this was a hard to find dirt road with few parking spots and few visitors. It may have been a bit more serene then, but I enjoy seeing visitors from all over the world take in this inspiring view. The Horseshoe Bend has become an extremely popular stop for tourists to enjoy and a "bucket list" item for many. The access to the Horseshoe Bend as well as the parking lot has expanded greatly.
Me on overlook edge (1,000' cliff) Alternate view of the Colorado River on right side of Canyon
Rafting on the Colorado River around the Horseshoe Bend:
If you're looking for a great addition, we have also rafted along the Colorado River. It is an awesome trip. The trip we chose was just for a day and started at the Glen Canyon Dam. We traveled along the Colorado River and through amazing canyon walls and even saw a couple waterfalls along the way. We also stopped for lunch and did a short hike to see some amazing petroglyphs in the inner canyon. The highlight of the trip for me was going around the Horseshoe Bend (photo to the right). It was an amazing experience and one that I will do again soon.
1. Use a wide angle lens to be able to capture all of the bend and both sides of the river banks (16mm suggested)
2. Use a polarizer lens to cut down on glare and reflections
3. Use a sturdy tripod for sharper images (be cautious of wind).
4. Try different viewpoints, if able. I always move around to different points along the rim for various angles and interesting views.
5. Try to capture scale. I don't often like to get boats or people in my photos, but including a raft along the Colorado River here can capture the immense scale of this area.
6. Best time of day to visit? Any time because it is always changing. My favorite time to visit would be late morning/early afternoon as there are less shadows in the canyon. The sunsets are beautiful and the colors are more vivid once the sun has set behind the canyon wall (inside canyon and river are shadowed).
Hope you enjoy the view and hike if you visit the Horseshoe Bend!
Update: Just the day after I published this story, I read an article stating that there are more improvements at the rim of the Horseshoe Bend Overlook in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This project will be starting November 6, 2017 and is expected to last 90 days. They are constructing a safety railing along the edge of the rim in the main viewing area. Visitors are advised that while contractors are installing rim safety railing, half of the rim viewing area will be closed to visitor access until construction has been completed. Additional improvements include a trail to the rim that meets Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) standards for accessibility and blends with the natural environment, and two shade structures with benches along the new trail.