This is definitely not a hike to do if you’re looking for solitude… Horseshoe Bend is one of the most photographed sites in northern Arizona, attracting over 2 million visitors every year. Late afternoon is a particularly popular time to visit, and the carpark is almost full as I set off at around 5pm, following a line of people down the wide gravel path.
It’s busy rather than crowded, and the wide path makes it easy to walk at your own pace. A few large shelters located along the trail provide the only shade.
In the distance are the distinctive Vermillion Cliffs, which rise between 3,100 to 7,100 feet (945 to 2,165 metres) above sea level.
After about 0.4 miles (0.6km), you get the first view of the destination – the rim of the canyon overlooking the Colorado River and Horsehoe Bend. (Up the official viewing area, the trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible.)
It’s about 0.6 miles (1lm) to the first lookout over Horseshoe Bend, a horseshoe-shaped incised meander of the Colorado River. The fenced area is the most popular spot, and offers one of the best vantage points.
Continue across a wash and scramble higher up the rocks beyond the fenced area to get a different perspective. Although you’re higher, you can’t see the entire bend in the river. However, you get a view of the people lined up along the top of the canyon rim, and a great view of the cliffs above the Colorado River.
I found the best vantage point to be right at the edge of the rim, below the rock outcrop, where you’re away from the crowds but still have a good perspective over Horsehose Bend.
I don’t stay very long once the sun has set; there’s still a short window for photography but the colours quickly fade from the rocks. Many people linger for a while, so the trail back out is less busy than when I arrived.
Although the trail is barely long enough to be considered a hike, allow 1-2 hours to explore the different vantage points over Horseshoe Bend.
Getting to Horseshoe Bend
The only place you can park is the official Horsehoe Bend carpark, which is about 4 miles (6.4km) south of Page on Highway 89 on the western side of the highway. Page is 130 miles (210km) or a two-hour drive north of Flagstaff. (If you’re also doing an Antelope Canyon Tour, the Horseshoe Bend carpark is 6.5 miles or a 10min drive from the where the Antelope Canyon tours start.) We stayed one night in Page as part of a three-week road trip through south-west USA.
When to visit Horseshoe Bend
The Horseshoe Bend parking area is open year-round from sunrise to sunset (you can’t enter after sunset, but you can leave as late as you like). The busiest times of the day are between from 9am to 11am and 4:30pm to 6:30pm; getting there as soon as the carpark opens in the morning gives you the best chance of avoiding the crowds. For photography, the lighting is also better in the morning than the evening. It’s an exposed trail with no shade, so in summer avoid the middle of the day.