The Intimate Grand Canyon Experience

In the fable of The Tortoise and the Hare, Aesop cautioned us to temper our “need for speed,” because “slow and steady wins the race.” In the case of the Horseshoe Bend Overlook, slow and steady doesn’t necessarily win any race, but taking a gradual, more mindful approach to this now-iconic symbol of the American Southwest will give the viewer a better appreciation for the true complexity of the area’s geology. And that, in our book, is definitely one for the “win” column!

As you exit your vehicle in the newly-expanded Horseshoe Bend parking area just South of Page, Arizona, your first challenge is to make your way up a mildly steep incline through deep, sometimes unwieldy sand. Though most visitors succumb to the temptation to make quick work out of this small obstacle, you might view it as an opportunity to take a trip through a real-life “Jurassic World.”

About 200 million years ago, a massive sea of sand dunes covered the landscape from Arizona to Wyoming. Known to geologists as “ergs,” they eventually became petrified (turned to stone) by water and minerals, solidifying into a uniform layer of sandstone over 2,000’ thick in some areas. After the bedrock of Navajo Sandstone formed, other sedimentary layers of sandstone, mudstone, calcite and limestone settled on top of it, then began to wear away under the constant scouring of relentless winds, flash floods, and extreme heat and cold. Today, the Navajo sandstone is once again exposed, and its top layer turning to sand. So this hill that makes you go “erg” is what remains of a gigantic sand dune that actually saw dinosaurs walk upon it. Indeed, there is a small, but hard-to-find dinosaur track about 50 yards from the end of the trail. Tell us the GPS coordinates if you happen to find it!

As you crest the hill, the trail begins to undulate and you’ll notice the tone of the landscape has taken on more jagged, sloping characteristics. Whitish gravel and chunks of sand also make an appearance. These are remnants of the calcite, or limestone layer that was once here. The diagonal stripes in the rock formations tell the story of how the sand dunes were petrified, yet retained their former shape as minerals, rain and snow changed their molecular composition over the course of 20 million years.

As you get closer to Horseshoe Bend Overlook, you’ll notice that some of the rock formations sport dark, sandy nodules. These are known as “iron concretions.” Because it was heavier than sandstone, iron tended to cluster up into small spheres during the process of petrification. As the sandstone erodes away, these concretions are becoming exposed to the elements once again. Occasionally, they will break away from the sandstone bedrock. When they do, they become what are known as “Moki Marbles.” If you find one – or more – please don’t pocket them. Remember, take only pictures and leave only footprints!

If all this sounds pretty amazing so far, wait until you see what’s ahead of you: the very thing you came here for – Horseshoe Bend! A geologic masterpiece sculpted by the Colorado River, Horseshoe Bend is an example of what happens when water takes the path of least resistance. Approximately 5 million years ago – or what a geologist might describe as “just the other day” – the Colorado Plateau abruptly uplifted. The rivers that flowed across this ancient landscape were suddenly trapped in their beds. Seeking a new natural level, with the help of gravity, the Colorado River began cutting through rock layers deep and fast. Here at Horseshoe Bend, an unstoppable force met an immovable object, namely, a sandstone escarpment. Since this rock formation wasn’t going to budge anytime soon, the river did the most logical thing it could: it went around it. The result is the 270° bend in the river (called an “incised” or “entrenched meander”) you see before you. Who knows, in a few million years, the stubborn promontory might finally decide to give way to the river’s whims, and future tourists could be viewing an attraction that bears a resemblance to Rainbow Bridge!

At this viewpoint, you can see the waters of the Colorado River in all their sparkling, blue-green glory as they drift along toward the Grand Canyon."

But, that’s in the realm of sheer speculation for now. What’s in the realm of absolute certainty is that this is one of the most intimate views of the Colorado River you’re likely to experience on your Northern Arizona vacation. At this viewpoint, you can see the waters of the Colorado River in all their sparkling, blue-green glory as they drift along toward the Grand Canyon. Where else can you take a selfie with this timeless, majestic waterway in the background? Certainly not at the Grand Canyon – from the South Rim, there is only a handful of viewpoints that the Colorado River can be seen from, and then only a small stretch before it disappears again behind a butte or plateau. So pause for a few minutes to breathe in the fresh air and appreciate this magnificent view for how powerful and miraculous it truly is!

Now, wasn’t it worth the walk? For best results photographing Horseshoe Bend, you’ll need a wide angle lens to get the entire scene in the picture. If heights freak you out a little, try sitting or even lying down to take in the view from a more secure perspective. Seeing little blue dots on the river? Don’t worry, that’s not the altitude messing with your mind, those are rafts rounding Horseshoe Bend on the Half-Day Glen Canyon Float Trip. If you take one look at that first hill and still say “no way,” consider flying over Horseshoe Bend to get an incredible bird’s eye view without breaking a sweat.

57 Responses

  1. Hello Alley!
    We are going to page in the middle of February. I wanted to know how normally is the weather there during that time of the year. (To know what kind of clothes I need to wear for the hike) Also I would like to know your personal opinion about what canyon is better to visit; (In February)the upper or the lower? I will have just one day in Page arriving at noon and leaving around 8pm. My plan is to visit the best part of the antelope canyon and horseshoe bend. I was planing to visit the bend around 5 pm, is that too late? Thank you for all the information in this page and all your comments 🙂

    1. Hi Fernanda!
      In February, you will need to be prepared for cooler weather, and conditions that can range from sunny and brisk to rain and/or snow. Pack jackets, gloves, etc. just in case, and in general, dress in layers that you can easily remove and stash in a backpack or your vehicle.
      As for which canyon is better to visit, that’s a hard one, as you can imagine – they’re all gorgeous! 😉 However, if everyone in your party is physically fit and able to handle a few stairs, ladders, and small boulders, Lower Antelope Canyon would be a good choice. To judge whether this would be a safe and enjoyable activity for all members of your party, watch this full video walk-through of Lower Antelope Canyon on our companion site, http://www.AntelopeCanyon.AZ
      Regarding whether 5:00 PM is too late to visit Horseshoe Bend, it shouldn’t be. The parking lot at the overlook is open from dawn to dusk, and sunset occurs at about 6:00 PM in February. However, be prepared to share the area with a lot of people. Sunset is a popular time of day to be there!
      Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

  2. Hello there! We will be bringing a school group up to Horseshoe Bend in March and are trying to figure out the best time of day to come.
    It will be a Wednesday morning and we have an Antelope Canyon tour booked for 8:45am, so we will arrive at Horseshoe Bend a little later in the morning-most likely around 10:30/11:00. If the bus is unable to find parking, it is possible to pay the bus entrance fee, unload the students, and have the bus go back to our hotel to park until pickup? Or, is there another solution folks have used before?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Ellyse,
      Doing what you describe is not allowed. There is no parking along US89, and the speed limit there is 65 MP. According to the City of Page, who manages the Horseshoe Bend parking lot, they have “passed an emergency ordinance prohibiting passenger drop-offs and pickups at the Horseshoe Bend entrance or along the Highway 89 corridor.”
      Since you are touring Antelope Canyon at 8:45 AM, I assume you will be staying overnight in Page the night prior. If so, my suggestion would be to arrive at the Horseshoe Bend parking lot right at sunrise, which is at approximately 6:30 AM in March. You should allow approximately 90 minutes to walk out to the overlook, take photos, and walk back. Depending on who you are touring Antelope Canyon with, you will be required to check in for your tour 30-60 minutes prior to departure, so make sure everyone is back on the bus in time to drive to your tour company’s designated departure location, which is typically a 10-15 minute drive from Horseshoe Bend.
      If the above suggestion does not appeal or is not convenient to your group’s schedule, you are welcome to take your chances visiting the overlook after our Antelope Canyon tour, but we can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to find parking right away. Since that time frame is Spring Break, which I assume is your reason for visiting as well, things will be busy.
      Good luck and safe travels. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful on this issue.
      Alley

  3. We are planning a family trip from Denver to Mesa Verde to Four Corners, Monument Valley and then to Horseshoe Bend while staying the night in Page, AZ. What if we can’t see Horseshoe Bend in the afternoon on that same day? Silly question, but can we see it in the late evening before the sun goes down, or first thing the next morning? Are there restricted park hours?

    Also, if we do a tour of Antelope Canyon, are we guaranteed to see Horseshoe Bend?

    Thanks,
    Lyndsi

    1. Hi Lyndsi,
      No such thing as a silly question here 😉
      Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon are two separate areas, approximately 10 miles apart from one another. Therefore taking a tour of the latter, doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to visit the former, unless you take a tour that expressly includes the two attractions.
      Unfortunately, late afternoon and sunset are the busiest times of day at the Horseshoe Bend Overlook. Lots of day trippers out and about then. You stand a better chance of visiting it with minimal hassle if you plan to hit it just after sunrise. Since you are staying overnight in Page, AZ, you have that option!
      Hope that helps. Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

  4. Hi Alley,

    How is the wheelchair accessible path coming along. I have a heavy duty power chair that goes up and down the beach but occasionally struggles in the soft sand. I’m considering a trip to Page over President’s Day and I’m wondering if I should try Horseshoe Bend in my power chair.

    Ray

    1. Hey Ray,
      Sorry to say, they’re still working on it. I wouldn’t try taking your power scooter on the trail as it stands.
      If you are able to walk a short distance, you might consider going to Horseshoe Bend with Horseshoe Bend Tours. They offer shuttle service to a private area of the overlook where the walk is only 200 yards. They do not have the ability to carry wheelchairs or scooters, unfortunately, so you’d have to get on and off the tour vehicle under your own steam.
      Sorry to be the bearer of bad news on that front,
      Alley

    1. Hi Missy,
      The hike to Horseshoe Bend is 1.2 miles round trip, and rated as “easy” on AllTrails.com. In other words, most people in reasonably good health can handle it. It does have a few uphill/downhill sections, and after a prolonged spell of dry weather, the trail currently being used can be sandy (they are working on a more level paved trail, which should be complete by next summer). If you have any doubts about your ability to make the walk, or that of anyone else in your party, read “Help! I Can’t Make the Hike To Horseshoe Bend” for suggestions on alternate ways of including it in your vacation.
      Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

  5. Hi, I was wondering if I can come in really early like 5am to hopefully catch some astrophotography at the horseshoe bend. Is this possible?

    1. Hi Quiolo,
      It depends on when you were planning to visit. The main parking lot at Horseshoe Bend is open between dawn and dusk. If your trip is planned for sometime in the next couple of months, that means the pay stations won’t be open until 6:30 AM – 7:30 PM, so you wouldn’t technically be able to get to the overlook before then. If you find that to be the case, there are other areas you might consider for doing some star photography, such as the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook, aka the “White House” Overlook, the Wahweap Overlook, just past the Dam on US89 as you head toward Kanab, UT; or Alstrom Point, near the town of Big Water, UT, which is best visited with a licensed guide for safety.
      Hope that helps. Good luck and safe travels!
      Alley 🙂

  6. Hi Alley,

    I will be visiting with 5 others and we will be driving a Class C (with a small car in tow) to Horseshoe Bend, do you know what the parking cost would be for this type of vehicle? Thanks!! 🙂

    1. Hi Helen,
      According to the information we last received, a class C motorhome qualifies as a light commercial vehicle, so your one-time parking rate should be $35. Since you’ll be towing a car, I would strongly advise you to try and visit Horseshoe Bend first thing in the morning when the parking lot opens so you can find a pull-through space, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
      Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

  7. Is there much snow in January? I know to expect colder temperatures but do you have snow around this time of the year! Thanks for your response!

    1. Hi Jessica,
      Page, AZ, is 4,100′ above sea level, and as such, typically doesn’t receive heavy snowfalls. In the rare instance when we get 6″ or more, it tends to melt off fairly quick. However, in other areas around Page, AZ, like the Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion, it’s not uncommon for there to be a lot of snow during the winter months. Whether that willl be the case when you visit is difficult to predict as you might imagine, so start keeping an eye on local weather about 2-3 weeks before you get set to travel. Page, AZ, weather
      Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

  8. Hi Alley,

    If I have the America the Beautiful Passes, do I still need to pay entrance fees for Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon? My vehicle is a Dodge Grand Caravan, about 17 feet in length. What would be the entrance fees for my vehicle and for how long can I park it? Thank you!

    1. Hi Anson,
      Unfortunately, your America The Beautiful Pass will not work for either Horseshoe Bend or Antelope Canyon.
      Antelope Canyon is a Native American Tribal Park, therefore separate from the National Park system. Your Tribal Park entrance fee is usually included in your Antelope Canyon tour price.
      Horseshoe Bend is now administered as a municipal park by the City of Page, AZ. The one-time parking fee for passenger vehicles is $10. The typical visit for Horseshoe Bend is 90 minutes-2 hours.
      Hope that helps. Good luck, safe travels, and Happy New Year!
      Alley 🙂

  9. Good afternoon,

    My friends and I can to hike horseshoe bend on Feb 18, 2020 in the afternoon. We have a reservation for Upper Antelope Canyon at 4:15. Do we need to make a reservation for horseshoe bend?

    Thank you,

    Devin

    1. Hi Devin!
      You do not need to make a reservation to visit the Horseshoe Bend Overlook. The parking lot is open between dawn and dusk. A one-time parking fee of $10 for standard passenger vehicles or $35 for light commercial vehicles is required. Allow for ~90 minutes to park, walk out to the overlook, take photos, and walk back to your vehicle. You then should allow ~30 minutes to travel from Horseshoe Bend to your Antelope Canyon tour outfitter’s departure location. Depending on which tour company you’re traveling with, they will want you to check in anywhere from 30-60 minutes prior to your actual tour departure.
      Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

  10. I recently watched a YouTube video of Horsehoe Bend and noticed a sign, and if I’m interpreting it correctly says no work boot type sole allowed on the trail. Are there specific shoes, boots not allowed on the hike?

    1. Hi Curt, and thank you for this excellent question.
      Technically, you can wear whatever kind of shoes you’re comfortable with to hike to Horseshoe Bend. That doesn’t mean you should attempt the hike in 6″ stiletto heels or flip-flops. Heavy work boots may also be discouraged as the wearer may inadvertently do damage to fragile rock formations or crypto-biotic soils if they happen to wander off the established trail.
      Trail runners, tennis shoes, and hiking boots should be fine as these are enclosed and will give your feet the support and protection they need.
      Hope that helps. Good luck, safe travels, and Happy New Year!
      Alley 🙂

    1. Hi Shawna!
      Is the hike to Horseshoe Bend doable with a 5-year-old? That kind of depends on your 5-year-old!
      Many young children are able to make it to the Horseshoe Bend overlook faster than their parents can, but parents should exercise their right to restrain kids’ enthusiasm since the majority of the overlook is unfenced and it’s a 700′ drop to the river. Other kids may struggle a bit, particularly if the sand on the trail is dry and deep. The good news is, you’re not limited to a certain timeframe in order to get to the overlook and back safely. Take all the time you need for everyone to enjoy it, and observe the beauty of the terrain around you.
      Be sure to bring water and dress warmly as January temperatures are on the cooler side. If, for some reason, you discover that your child, or anyone else in your party is not able to make the walk, read this piece on alternate ways of seeing Horseshoe Bend.
      Good luck, safe travels, and Happy New Year!
      Alley 🙂

    1. Hi Sven,
      Yes, a one-time entrance fee of $10 per passenger car or $35 for light commercial vehicles such as Ford Transit, Chevy Express vans, etc. is now required for visiting Horseshoe Bend.
      Good luck, safe travels, and Happy Holidays!
      Alley 🙂

  11. It was great experience to visit horseshoe bend and grand canyon. The most beautiful scenic area, natural beauty and heat touching spiritual atmosphere. This page is very informative for those people having plans to visit this unique and wonder of the world. Please read this page before to final your trip. You will enjoy and discover much more.
    Noor Jarral

    1. Dear Noor,
      Thank you so much for your positive feedback. We hope you get a chance to return to our area. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your summer, and 2019!
      Best regards,
      Alley 🙂

  12. Is it possible to tour antelope canyon, horse show bend and lake Powell in 1 day? And if so what would be the best order of visit coming from Page. Thanks

    1. Hi Tricia,
      Since all 3 of these attractions in Page, AZ are relatively close to one another, they can be visited in one day, and order in which you visit them in doesn’t matter a whole lot. What will probably be the key determining factor on that is availability of Antelope Canyon tours. Antelope Canyon is located on Navajo Indian Tribal land, so a guided tour is 100% necessary in order to tour it. Tours book up fast, so start researching your options, decide whether you want to tour Lower Antelope or Upper Antelope, book a tour at a time that works for you, then plan the rest of your visit around it. Book A Tour Of Antelope Canyon
      Horseshoe Bend is open 24/7, so you can visit it whenever you wish. During the warmer months of summer and early fall, just after sunrise is a good time in order to avoid the excessive heat of mid-day.
      To visit Lake Powell, you have a choice of entering at Antelope Point Marina, which is near Antelope Canyon, or the Lake Powell Resort and Marina entrance, which is just across the Glen Canyon Dam as you head from Page, AZ toward Kanab, UT. Lone Rock Beach is another option, which is a short distance West of the small community of Greenehaven, AZ just before you cross the Utah border. In all cases, you will need to pay the $25/vehicle entrance fee, which is good for one week’s time. If you prefer not to deal with that, The Chains is a public beach type area located outside the Federal Fee Area boundary, but it’s quite the hike to actually get down to the lake from the parking area due to the current water level.

      Hope that helps. Good luck and safe travels!
      Alley 🙂

  13. Hi! I want to visit this spot (Horseshoe Bend, the photo I am watching here) on this Thursday (June 22) around 3-4 PM. I wonder if I should make a reservation to get into this point that people take photos. We will drive from Las Vegas to get here. Can we just get here by car / on foot after parking?

    1. Mr. Kwon,
      Thank you for your visit and you question.
      You do not need reservations to visit Horseshoe Bend. You are free to visit whenever you wish, including the spot you see people taking photos from. Once you park your vehicle in the very well-signed parking lot, it’s a 3/4 mile hike to the overlook. Be aware that your visit is occurring in peak summer heat, so bring water and wear a hat and sunscreen.
      If you would prefer to have the knowledge and expertise that only a tour guide can provide, consider visiting the Horseshoe Bend Overlook as an add-on to a Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon Tour. https://horseshoebend.com/horseshoe-bend-slot-canyon-tour/#
      Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

    1. Hi Jeremy,
      Yes, pets are welcome at the Horseshoe Bend Overlook. Since there are no guardrails, plus it’s a 500’+ drop to the river, you must be sure that they are leashed at all times. Also, be sure to bring a plastic bag or two to pack out any waste if needed, and bring plenty of water for both of you!
      Alley

  14. alley, do you have the exact address to the horseshoe bend? will it show in the navigation?
    how far from the holiday inn and suites at page,az? thanks

    1. Hi CT,
      The Horseshoe Bend Overlook is located just 5 miles South of Page, AZ at Mile Marker 545 on US89. It is clearly signed and should be quite easy to find. It should take no more than 10-15 minutes to drive there from Holiday Inn & Suites.

      Happy traveling!
      Alley

  15. Hello! My family (Dad, Mom, Sister, and I) are visiting beginning of September (during labor day weekend). We wanted to book a tour with you guys for Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon; however, I saw that you guys pick up only from Sedona? We’re planning on staying in Lake Powell area, so it’s closer to the actual canyons. Do you guys pick up from there? Would that be a different price? I would love to get options! Thank you so much! 🙂

    1. Hello Sing, thank you for visiting our site.
      The tour out of Sedona is by no means the only way to visit Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Since you are planning on staying in Page/Lake Powell anyway, you can take a tour to Antelope Canyon directly from there. 3 tour companies pick up in the town of Page; you also have the option of driving to the Tribal Park Entrance on Highway 98 (about 5-10 minutes drive from Page) and going to the canyon from there. Whichever way you choose to go will cost the same, and tour duration will be comparable as well. Visit AntelopeCanyon.az for more information.
      Horseshoe Bend can be visited on your own. There is no charge for entry at the present time. Just after sunrise or just prior to sunset is generally regarded as the best time to view it.
      Thanks again and happy travels,
      Alley

  16. This is a photo I took and almost lost my life for. Don’t try this at the rim like I did..to close for fun.
    I was sitting on the edge about 3 feet back of the rim. I had my camera on the end of my tripod and the release in my hand. I took the shot and just as I did this big chunk of sandstone broke loose. Holy S..t !!
    I was quick enough to put my boots into the dirt and stop my sliding while still hanging on to my gear.
    We went in before dawn so I didn’t see the warning sign.
    Someone was looking out for me that day.
    Enjoy.

    1. Hi Scott – an important and timely cautionary tale. The rest of you, take heed: If in doubt, leave it out!

    1. Hi Lexi,
      This is a wonderful question!
      Yes, you can get married at Horseshoe Bend, and many people have. However, since it’s part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and thus overseen by the National Park Service, you may be required to get a permit for your wedding. Cordoning off the overlook just for your ceremony is not allowed. Your activity shouldn’t disrupt other visitors’ ability to enjoy the overlook. “The smaller, the better” is the way to go. For more information on National Park permit guidelines, click here ->: https://www.mylakepowellwedding.com/Lake_Powell_Wedding_Ceremony_S/Horseshoe_Bend_Wedding/horseshoe_bend_wedding.html
      If you’re wanting to have something a little more elaborate, with friends, family, photographers, etc., visit this site for other ideas for wedding sites and venues in Page and Lake Powell ->: https://www.myarizonaguideweddings.com/html/lake_powell_wedding_sites.html
      Good luck and congratulations on your upcoming nuptials!
      Alley

  17. Hi! Do I need to book a tour to visit Horseshoe Bend or can I do it on my own? I am planning on doing a tour of Lower Antelope the same day do you think there is enough time? Thanks!

    1. Hi Val, and thank you for visiting our site!
      Horseshoe Bend can be visited on your own, any time of day, though we wouldn’t recommend visiting at night — it’s a long drop to the river!
      You can easily visit Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon in one day. Lower Antelope Canyon is located approximately 7 miles East of Horseshoe Bend Overlook. Be sure to allow 90 minutes to 2 hours to enjoy each attraction. You’ll want to take lots of photos. Remember that you must visit Antelope Canyon with an authorized Navajo guide. Visit this page for more information ->: http://www.antelopecanyon.az/how-to-book-a-tour-for-antelope-canyon/
      Have a wonderful visit to Page!
      Alley

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