One of the most iconic images of the Grand Canyon is the Horseshoe Bend. The Sheer Canyon walls, the tight hairpin bend, and the almost unreal green waters of the Colorado River make this one of the canyon’s most striking locations. However let’s be correct right from the start, this is NOT part of the Grand Canyon! Yikes.
Anyone visiting the National Park or maybe the West Rim will be sorely disappointed if they ask a ranger where to find this bend, as the answer will be “it’s 200 miles in Xyz direction!!!” So where actually is Horseshoe Bend? and how do you go about visiting? Well, our Guide to Visiting Horsehoe bend tells you everything you need to know about this stunning and Iconic Feature of the Grand Canyon…actually make that Glen Canyon.
Where Is Horseshoe Bend, Arizona?
It is easy to understand the Confusion, The Bend is actually part of the exact same Canyon system as the Grand Canyon and often comes up on any page, tv show, or other media when discussing the Grand Canyon. It even just looks like it’s part of the Grand Canyon. However, it is technically part of Glen Canyon.
The Nearest City is Page Arizona, and from here it is only a short drive, only 5 or so Miles. The bad news is Page is a pretty small place (City is a very generous description) and it is itself pretty much in the middle of nowhere. So however you look at it is a pretty long haul from anywhere.
The Exact location is just off Highway 89 just before you reach Page heading north. The Highway is a common route for people heading to and from the Grand Canyon National Park and the bend is an easy stop for anyone exploring the Area. Previously the small parking lot, the lack of visibility from the road, and limited signposting meant many people just sped by unaware of the amazing spectacle nearby.
How to Visit Horseshoe Bend Arizona?
The Best way to visit is on a DIY Tour. We mention below some of the other sights and attractions in the area and encourage people to tour the entire area as there are some amazing things to be found in the vicinity. Most people tag the bend on as a part of a Visit to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park.
The Visitor Center has sprung up recently and while the Horseshoe Bend is actually free, there is NO Parking for miles around. Apart from their own car park, which is newly laid and pretty large. It costs $10 to park at Horseshoe Bend, and considering how long you will spend here it’s pretty expensive, but unless you want to hike out from Page in the Burning sun, there is little option! From the Parking Lot, you have a 1/2 Mile Hike out to the Edge of the bend.
The Trail is a well-paved Dirt track with a moderate climb both ways, it would be an easy hike if it were not for the burning sun, even in winter it can be harsh and exposed. In the Arizona summer expect 40+ DegC Heat and midday sun that will blister fair skin in minutes! other than that it’s an easy Hike.
From the start of the Path, the Bend is completely obscured from view. As You hike up over the Crest the Canyon comes into view but is little more than a scar in the landscape above. As you head down the hillside the beauty remains hidden until the last minute. When you finally reach the rim, the scene that lies before you stops you in your tracks and takes your breath away.
There are several View Points around the Rim, some have rails to stop you from falling, others are raw and allow people to dangle feet over the edge, which, by the way, is a long way down! This makes for some incredible selfie opportunities but with so many tourists and such a huge drop, an accident is inevitable and eventually, this will be changed.
There is not a great deal to do at the Rim, simply pose for photos, take in the view and then head back the way you came.
You can also arrange Helicopter Tours and River Rafting tours down Colorado.
Is Horseshoe Bend Worth It?
Horseshoe bend is way out in the middle of the Arizona desert, It is a remarkable place and one of the most stunning landscapes imaginable, but on its own, it is hard to make a case to visit. However, as part of a Grand Canyon Area tour, checking out a few of the other sights in the area, of which there are many, see below, Then including Horseshoe Bend is a must!
The Parking fee is a little hard to swallow, but this is Indian land and it’s an essential income for them. There really is no option so we just suck it up. The reward for that fee really is one of the most visually impressive formations we have ever seen, the Grand Cayon is stunning for its scale but the Horseshoe Bend does not even look real! It’s just too perfect!
What is more, many locations around the area, even the world look absolutely stunning in photos. Clever Camera work and editing make colors POP, Enhance Contrast, and exaggerate scales. Horseshoe bend is every bit as pleasing to the naked eye as the best photograph! This is one of only a few locations where I put the Eye to the Viewfinder to be taken aback, the image seems “edited” and unreal before hitting the shutter. Like I am reviewing a photo rather than the live scene! It really is that beautiful here!
Best Time to Visit Horseshoe Bend?
The Narrow and Steep canyon walls make timing a Visit to the Canyon a little tricky. The Deep Walls cast shadows at most times of the day. These deep dark shadows can make the views and photos less appealing than they would otherwise be. In Winter you really need to hit it at midday, Summer is a little more forgiving and a few hours on either side of Midday, and the canyon is filled with light and color.
Sunset can be especially disappointing, the canyon is cast in darkness and the colors do not pop as well as during the day. The River loses is’s dayglow green and the scene is far less impactful than in the full sun. The exception to this is if the Sunset is partially overcast, this dampened light adds a softer touch and the canyon can still be really beautiful, predicting this is pretty difficult!
For best effect visit around Midday, Expect it to be busy and very very hot!
Horseshoe Bend Photo Tips
The Photographic Nature of the canyon means Photography is the number one activity here. While you will get GREAT Intsa-ready shots straight out of your Cell phone, more Serious Photographers also queue up to get the best out of the canyon, here are our tips.
Wide Lens – From the edge of the Rim, the scene is very wide. A standard Walkaround Lens of 17-18mm ish is not going to cut it. We use our trusty Tokina 11-20mm ATX-Pro lens, at 11mm to fully grab the whole Scene. If you only have a narrower lens available then consider Shooting a few Panoramic images to really get the scene in! We also like the look a Polarizing filter adds to the colors!
Tripod – If you are here around Mid-Day, you will not need a Tripod. The Rim can be very busy setting up a tripod right by the edge really could end in disaster. The light is almost always abundant. So fast shutter speeds are easy. In fact, it’s often the case you overexpose as there is just SO much light, If you cannot Shoot a Handheld here there is little hope!
Settings – Again this site is VERY forgiving, even shooting in Full Auto gives great results. We like to shoot HDR compositions simply as the shadows cast in the Valleys can be Jarring and HDR can bring the balance back.
Composition – There are not too many angles and different shots you can get from the RIM. This does lead to a lot of similar images, The rim looks head-on and down into the Bend and presents the best angle. But with the Size of the Cayon, there is little scope to move around. Care must be taken not to try and climb down to get a different angle, the unprotected drop is a certain Death Sentence!
Subjects – One great way to mix up the shots is with a Subject. Maybe of you gazing into the Canyon, or your feet dangling over the edge, or maybe a distant shot of you setting up camera gear. This is a great way to get creative, but don’t risk getting TOO close.
No Drones – This is PRIME drone flying territory, the footage really would blow the mind. But Drone flying is alas banned. Considering the number of people, a swarm of drones buzzing around all day would ruin things a little!
Safety – We just cannot stress this enough. The best views come from the Unprotected edges, you are walking on slippy sandstone boulders with a 1000ft share drop inches from your feet! Take EXTREME care, one day a selfie taker will die here!
What Else to See in the Area?
However stunning, as we said driving all the way here from Las Vegas (280+ Miles) or another “nearby” city (nearby being used very loosely!) is a tough ask. But the best way to visit the bend is part of a Grand Canyon Area Road trip, This is one reason the Bend is often mistaken as being part of the GC, it is included in GC Tours! Our Favourite Road Trip is 3 Day loop around the Canyon Starting and ending in Las Vegas (or heading onwards into California?) we will take a quick look at this loop in a clockwise direction showing Some of the attractions along the way. You can obviously do this in reverse, or just the south side of the canyon missing out Zion and Bryce and shorten this to 1-2 nights.
Heading out of Vegas along the I-15, through some pretty stunning scenery. The first place you hit is St George, a stunning City Framed by huge towering mountains. From here you break away from the Interstate and pick up Highway-9 leading you into Zion Canyon.
Zion is a seriously stunning and often overlooked National Park, our route around the Canyon takes you through the park on the stunning Zion-Moun Carmel Highway. The Road winds up through the valley and actually through parts of the canyon walls, then out through the Mesas of the east entrance. It is a stunning drive!
However, we recommend devoting a good portion of your day here, maybe even overnighting as you explore the stunning hike the area offers! Take a “wade” up the Narrows, Hike the simply mind-blowing and terrifying Angels Landing or take in the more sedate, riverside walk or Canyon Overlook Trial complete with stunning views of the canyon!
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is a bit of a detour but the route heads out over the stunning plains of Utah! Through Fields and ranches where life takes on a simpler feel. Head to Bryce after your day at Zion and catch the Stunning sunset and sunrise over the alien Spires of the canyon, looking out over the endless prairie of Utah.
Heading away from Bryce the Rolling Prairies transform back into harsh desert as you drop down from the Plateau. The Orange Arizona Desert takes over and just before you hit Page you cross the Lake Powel Dam. Azure blue headwaters to the left and the stunning green of the crystal clear Colorado River to the right.
Page, Arizona is the main City around these parts, and while it’s nice to finally find a bit of civilization, it is only a bit. This small city has all you need to top-up supplies but it is far from a metropolis, it is, however, the gateway to something very Special
Sometimes all you need ate a few pictures to really excite and inspire, Antelope is like nowhere on earth and a Must Visit!
Grand Canyon National Park South Rim
After Page, you will head to Horseshoe Bend and you can also explore the Marble Canyon. Afterward, you head south and enter the incredible Grand Canyon, National Park. The South Rim needs no introduction and we recommend spending the afternoon and evening exploring the park. Overnight in Tusyan and marvel at the night sky over the canyon, Then be up Bright and early to witness the Sun Rise over the Grand Canyon!
After leaving the Park head south and pick up the I-40 this is the faster route back to Vegas, but the World Famous Route 66 runs alongside! It takes a lot longer but it’s hard to ignore this amazing road. Head as far as Kingman, and then either head back up Highway 93 or carry on toward Los Angeles still on the 66 passing Ghost towns, living Museums, and endless desert! If heading back toward Vegas there is still more to see!
Grand Canyon West Rim
This is strictly optional, The West Rim is nowhere near as spectacular as the South so paying to see something lesser is a bit of an ask, but if you want to take in ALL of the GC then this is the final box to tick!
Finally, just before arriving back in Vegas, you will Pass over the amazing hoover dam. It’s well worth your time to head down and take a proper look and maybe hike out over Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge to get a proper look at the Dam!
Not Enough? Well don’t worry, you can extend your trip further and see EVEN MORE! add Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Arches National Park to Zion, and Bryce to make up Utah’s Big 5. Check out Monument Valley just east of Page for more stunning natural Rock formations. Drive Route 66 all the way to Santa Monica in L.A or explore the National Parks of California such as Yosemite, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree. There is so much beauty in this small part of the world it is impossible to fit everything in one trip!
Have Your Say
Have you been to Horseshoe Bend? What did you think of it? Was it worth the journey, the parking fee, and the hike? Was it all you imagined or a little disappointing? If the Latter what were the conditions like when you visited? Let us know in the comments and if you have any questions just fire away.
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- Angels Landing – Zion
- Antelope Canyon – Page, Arizona
- Las Vegas – Zion – Bryce – Page – Grand Canyon – L.A Road Trip.