Horseshoe Bend in Arizona is one of the most photographed landscapes in the United States of America, and in recent years this natural attraction has become incredibly popular amongst tourists, in large part due to the effects of Instagram.
Once a quiet cliff-side lookout that offered expansive views of this dramatic bend in the Colorado river from over a thousand meters above, today Horseshoe Bend is far from quiet, but it’s just as beautiful as it was before tourism discovered it, and it’s easily one of the best places to visit in Arizona.
We’ve been asked many times since our visit if it is worth visiting. If you love dramatic landscapes and unique topography, absolutely yes. If you are averse to crowds and hiking, maybe it’s not for you.
Regardless, it is one of the most well known iconic spots in the USA and a must-visit site on any Southwest USA Road Trip.
To inspire your trip to this incredible natural sight and hopefully help you answer your own questions about whether it is worth the visit, or not, here is our guide to Horseshoe Bend in Arizona.
Don’t leave home without: Fodor’s Arizona & The Grand Canyon (Full-color Travel Guide)
Where is Horseshoe Bend in Arizona?
Horseshoe Bend is a spectacular natural sight that is found along the mighty Colorado River, not far from the small city of Page, in northern Arizona.
Historically, this has long been Navajo territory, and the bend itself is found within the protected Navajo Tribal Park, and within the boundaries of the wider Glen Canyon National Recreational Area.
The Horseshoe Bend lookout is found directly off of Highway 89, just 5 miles south of Page.
How to Get to Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend in Arizona is best visited either as a part of a more extensive self-drive tour or even as part of an organized tour of the southwest of America.
While the sight itself is absolutely breathtaking, it’s really just a lookout, and you don’t need a whole amount of time to enjoy the view before moving on to the other equally spectacular sights that are found in the nearby area.
This really is the place for a road trip though, because, within a few hours drive of Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, you can also visit the Grand Canyon, you can explore the beautiful climes of Lake Powell, or you can marvel at the light beams inside the sandstone depths of Antelope Canyon.
There’s a lot to see just in northern Arizona, but if you are flying into the southwest, then you can see even more of the region as you make your way towards Horseshoe Bend.
The nearest major airports are found either in Phoenix or in Las Vegas, and both cities are at least a five-hour drive away from Horseshoe Bend in Arizona.
Phoenix and Las Vegas both offer international flights to many destinations in North America and Europe, while there are even more domestic flights across the USA available, to most major cities.
You can fly in, pick up a rental vehicle and start your journey towards Horseshoe Bend, and through the great southwest. Depending on how much time you have for the trip, you can even head across further west, stopping off in epic national parks such as Joshua Tree, on your way towards the Pacific coastline.
No matter how you shake it, you’re going to find yourself in Page, Arizona if you want to visit Horseshoe Bend. Depending on your goals for the site, it is recommended to plan at least one night staying in Page, Arizona. Especially if you want to combine your visit to this site with a visit to the equally famous Antelope Canyon.
For a comfortable option, we recommend staying at the Best Western Plus Lake Powell, located right in the heart of Page Arizona. The hotel offers a huge buffet breakfast, nice pool, spacious rooms and is conveniently located for easy access to both Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon.
We spent one night in Page. Our itinerary had us arriving in the evening, meaning we slept and then woke up in Page ready to take on both sites.
How did Horseshoe Bend Form?
Horseshoe Bend is exactly how its name describes it, although of course, the sight itself is so much more powerful to see first hand, than any feelings that the name can evoke. This is quite literally a bend in the Colorado River, which is distinctly shaped like a horseshoe.
The Colorado River is one of the longest rivers in North America, and it stretches for 1450 miles from the Rocky Mountains in the north, far south into Mexico.
Along the way, it passes through the Grand Canyon, and of course, through Horseshoe Bend, to name just two of the many natural attractions on its route.
Like the Grand Canyon further south, Horseshoe Bend was carved from the powerful force of the Colorado river crashing through the soft sandstone of the desert plateaus.
Over millennia, the force of violent flash floods and powerful surges have contributed to the canyons in Arizona being carved to incredible depths, and at Horseshoe Bend, the walls fall steeply towards the river below from the lookout to a depth of 300 meters from the highest extent.
It’s a spectacular work of nature, and an unmissable stop when you are visiting the American southwest.
Hiking at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona
The bend in the river is best viewed from the lookout area on the cliffs high above, where the iconic photographs that you see on Instagram will have been taken from.
The lookout is found just a short hike away from the main car-park. The car-park is easily reachable from Highway 89, which then carries on north towards Page. It is just over half a mile away from the edge of the canyon, where the lookout point is.
You will need to hike along the path, it’s easily visible, and there will be plenty of other visitors too, but it’s a flat and easy trail to follow. You’ll want at least an hour to hike there and back, and have plenty of time to get the best photographs of the bend.
Currently, there is construction underway to complete a paved path from the newly opened paved parking lot at the site. When this is complete, the hike will become more accessible to visitors. That said, it will be much longer than the previous walk in. So plan for a little over a mile each way on that path.
Dangers of Visiting Horseshoe Bend
Until recently, the viewing area at Horseshoe Bend was completely open to the general public. There were no railings and no safety guards, and remarkably, almost no fatalities in decades either. This is clearly shown in the photo above that we took during our visit.
But the destination has really become popular in the last year or so, and visitor numbers have surged to incredible levels. This added volume of tourists has led the local park services to construct a closed-off viewing area, to where the hiking path will lead you.
Given a large number of tourists, this is probably a good idea, although it does, of course, take away the authenticity of the bend. But, even with the guard railings, it goes without saying that Horseshoe Bend can be a dangerous place if you get too close to the edge.
The soft sandstone can be brittle and liable to collapse, so it’s best to keep away, particularly if you head away from the main viewing areas. Don’t attempt to hike or climb down in the canyon either, because this is asking for trouble.
There are no facilities at the lookout, so take with you enough water for the short hike and wear a hat to keep off the sun. If it’s windy, it can get dusty very quickly, so bring a scarf to cover your face if you are sensitive to this.
Many visitors arrive for sunrise or sunset, but just be careful when close to the edge when the light is faint. You don’t want to be stumbling around next to the canyon when it’s pitch black!
The Best Time of Year to Visit Horseshoe Bend
Given Horseshoe Bend’s surging popularity, it’s important to pick a good time to visit the lookout area, if you are looking to avoid the worst of the crowds, and to still get those beautiful pictures.
The most popular time of year to road trip and travel through the southwest is in summer when the weather is hot. Peak season is from April through to October, with the busiest months of the year being June, July, and August.
These three months are best avoided if you are looking for a quieter experience. Travel in April or May, or September and October to still enjoy the hot weather, but to enjoy a more peaceful natural attraction.
While most travelers seem to avoid the winter months, this can still be a great time to visit. It might get cold at night, but day time temperatures in the southwest are still warm, while there’s little chance of rain during this dry period of the year.
Conversely, July and August, when Horseshoe Bend in Arizona will be at it’s busiest, is also the rainiest time of year to be visiting, and another reason to avoid the high season.
We visited in mid-March around Springbreak time while road-tripping from Las Vegas to Denver. It was quiet but I think numbers were still more than normal due to the holiday. So keep that in mind too.
The Best Time of Day to Visit Horseshoe Bend
While getting the time of year right when you visit Horseshoe Bend in Arizona will help you to avoid the worst of the crowds. although it’s almost impossible to have the place to yourself, picking the right time of day to visit will help you to take the best photographs, and to see the bend in its best light.
Most hours of the day, you’ll find that the bend will be busy, and it’s difficult picking an hour when visitor numbers will be lower than other times, it’s more down to the season and the time of the year you visit, to determine how busy it is. Rather, the time of day you visit is important for viewing the canyon itself.
Visit in the early morning or late afternoon, after sunrise and before sunset, and the canyon will actually be covered in shadow, given its depth and the fact that the lookout faces west.
While you might want to enjoy the vibrant, fiery colors in the sky at these times of day, if you want the clearest view of the canyon itself – especially for photography – then you are actually best visiting Horseshoe Bend at midday, when the sun is at its highest extent in the sky.
This ensures that the canyon below receives the direct sunlight and that it’s not cast into shadow, which is perfect if you want the best photographs from your journey here.
Our visit to Horseshoe Bend was in the morning, just after sunrise. As you can see from our photos, this was less than ideal for photography. If you miss the very first light of sunrise, which can be nice to photograph, you will be stuck with long shadows in the canyon until midday.
This is less than ideal for photos but we didn’t have a choice, as we were traveling with family and on a tight itinerary that didn’t offer the flexibility of staying for the better light conditions.
That said, it was a great opportunity for us to embrace just being there. We enjoyed the moment, bad light and all.
Our Top Recommended Tours of Horseshoe Bend in Arizona:
- Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend Day Tour
- Lake Powell and Horseshoe Bend Airplane Air Only Tour
- Antelope Slot Canyon and Horseshoe Bend Day Tour
- Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend Private Luxury Tour
- Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend Tour
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