Scared of heights? Then you’re going to want to avoid a trip to Horseshoe Bend! This Instagram-worthy curvature in the Colorado River is located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in northern Arizona, a mere 2-hour drive from the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
I’m not sure if this is the luckiest horseshoe on earth, but it’s definitely the most beautiful and possibly the largest! In the “olden days” about 25 years ago, you might have heard about Horseshoe Bend from a local, then searched for the tiny turnoff sign, parked in the old dirt lot for free, and maybe see one or two other families on the short hike to the rim. By 2015, Horseshoe Bend might have had about 4,000 visitors per year. Social media and the need to get that Instagram selfie caused this attraction to become almost an overnight sensation! Today, over 4,000 visitors per DAY will visit the Bend! There is a new large paved parking lot, and a per-vehicle fee is paid upon entry. This fee allows for upgrades to restrooms, construction of a larger shade pavilion and level viewing platform, ensures the land near the rim is kept safe and secure via a railing along the the most dangerous drop-off, and will allow maintenance of the updated ADA trail to the rim.
Sorry, your National Park pass will NOT work here! Although Horseshoe Bend itself is located on National Parks land, the parking lot is owned and run by the nearby city of Page, Arizona. If the parking lot is full when you arrive, you’ll have to return at a later time – – do NOT park on the main highway, or your vehicle will quickly be towed away! Don’t venture too close to the edge – – it is a 1,000 foot drop (300 meters) to the bottom! All visitors to Horseshoe Bend should carry at least one bottle of water (I would recommend two bottles during summer months!) and wear closed-toe shoes. Although the hike to the viewing area is a relatively short 1.2 mile round trip (1.93km), on the hottest summer days it is not uncommon to see a team of medics on the trail, treating those who might be suffering from dehydration or heat stroke. Summer temperatures can quickly reach 93F (34C) and some visitors are caught off guard by the extreme heat.
For now, you can see Horseshoe Bend by foot (via the public parking area, or a private tour), by air on a flight-seeing tour, or (for a completely different perspective) from the bottom as you float down the Colorado River. Eventually, visitors will have the option to hike to the viewing area for Horseshoe Bend, via the new Glen Canyon Rim Trail. This proposed 9-mile trail will run from Horseshoe Bend north to the Glen Canyon Dam, and will eventually be open to both bicycles and pedestrians.
As the sun sets, the vibrance of the orange glow of the canyon walls is stunning!
A visit to Horseshoe Bend won’t take up much of your day (I would allot 90 minutes to two hours), and if you want to avoid the largest crowds, try to go early in the day, before 10am. The parking lot is open from sunrise to sunset. Be aware that if you’re photographing when the sun is low in the sky, much of the canyon will be cast in shadows – – that’s not to say you can’t get a spectacular photo though! Another thing to consider is the type of camera you are using. You will need the widest lens possible in order to capture the entire Bend in one photograph. Otherwise, I would recommend you carry a tripod, take several vertical photos, and then stitch them together in post-editing. You might also want to take a panoramic photo using your mobile phone. Personally, I found my tripod to be the safest way to capture Horseshoe Bend! No matter which mode you use, BE CAREFUL! Never venture too close to the edge, as the 1,000 foot drop is unforgiving, and you definitely don’t want to be “that guy”! Yes, people have met their end here – – six deaths have occurred in the area, with three of those being accidental. Although there are now some safety railings in place, many visitors choose to make their way around those railings, or stand along the edges beyond the railings. There are warning signs, but not all visitors show common sense when it comes to self-preservation. My recommendation: use your brain and don’t take any unnecessary risks just to get that one shot!
This slightly blurry photo taken with my phone shows the sheer drop off – – and shows off my nerves as I reached out to take this shot!
When I last visited the area, I had done quite a bit of research on how to have the best viewing experience. I didn’t want to fight the crowds, and I also wanted the opportunity to visit a nearby “secret” slot canyon without being too rushed, so I opted for a combo tour – – and I am so happy I did! After a long visit to the slot canyon and learning a bit about the local Navajo culture, we made our way to a private road just south of the public viewing parking area. We parked very close to the rim, and a two minute walk had me standing just a couple meters from the edge! The view of Horseshoe Bend was breathtaking, but definitely got my heartrate up! We were in an area with no railings whatsoever, so it was imperative that we paid close attention to our footing. Surprisingly, I was the only guest who had brought a tripod – – without even asking, my guide grabbed it out of my hand and walked out to the edge of a small outcropping to set it up for me. He does this everyday, and was very confident in his footing and exactly where to place my tripod to get the best shot… I, on the other hand, very slowly and carefully inched my way over to my tripod, cautiously peeking over the edge. YIKES!!
I can’t believe I was standing this close to that drop.
My guide assured me that we were standing on a very sturdy section, and I had nothing to worry about, as long as I didn’t move to the right any further. Generally, I have been known as an accident waiting to happen, so I was going to be extra careful while taking photos from this precarious position. After taking a few photos, I noticed that from my vantage point, I could see the crowds vying for position along the railing at the public viewing area in the distance to the north of us. Seeing those visitors packed side by side against the railing confirmed I had made the best decision to capture the beauty of the Bend in a different location.
A guest on my tour captured this shot of my guide setting up my camera and tripod – – I’m glad he didn’t show me this until after we left the rim!
There are many other cool activities in the area, so it’s easy to fill your day or even a few days after your visit to Horseshoe Bend! Consider renting a houseboat on nearby Lake Powell, exploring the Glen Canyon Dam, or visiting Antelope Canyon. I’ll be taking you on a trip to Lower Antelope Canyon in a future post, so stay tuned!
“Secret Canyon” is just one of many interesting attraction in the area near Horseshoe Bend. The patterns in the sandstone walls of the slot canyons are intriguing.
To learn more about the Horseshoe Bend area, click here.
Have you ever been close to a dangerous ledge? Are you afraid of heights? I want to hear your story!