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Why is Horseshoe Bend so famous? How to see the breathtaking view

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It’s Arizona’s ultimate jackpot. No permits required. No lottery tickets and hopes for the best. No workouts required. Just show up between sunrise and sunset with $10. Take a quick walk, stop abruptly, look down, and pow!

You will be treated to a visual spectacle known as Horseshoe Bend.

Since Horseshoe Bend achieved social media celebrity status, it has become one of Arizona’s most iconic landmarks. Seen from a high cliff 1,000 feet above the water, the Colorado River wraps around a jagged sandstone formation in an embrace. For a moment, the emerald river seems to hold its breath.

Vote for your favorite outing: Check out the top four road trips in Arizona

Before Horseshoe Bend Became Instagram Famous

Like many old hands, I visited Horseshoe Bend when it was relatively unknown. The stop was just an unmarked pullout off US 89 south of Page, Arizona. Sometimes there were a few Native American vendors with tables selling arts and crafts. You walked over deep, foot-sucking sand, often in brutal heat, to reach the fully exposed clifftop. The scenery was heart-wrenching.

Of course, I’m also old enough to remember playing darts as a kid. We’d throw those metal-tipped weapons — spears nearly invisible in the dim light of a summer night — at friends and family. All in the spirit of fun.

Times are changing.

How has Horseshoe Bend changed over time?

Horseshoe Bend had to evolve. I get it. When Horseshoe Bend became a social media darling, change was inevitable. The crowds increased dramatically. Over 2 million people visit Horseshoe Bend each year. Improvements were needed to accommodate the staggering numbers.

In 2018, part of the cliff edge was fenced off, but there is still plenty of exposed, steep slopes for those of us who can tolerate that sort of thing.

The trail has been greatly improved, toilets have been added and the extension of the parking lot was completed in 2019. There is now a camper parking lot and parking for the disabled. All positive additions. The scenery still makes your heart beat faster.

Where is Horseshoe Bend located?

Although Horseshoe Bend is often considered part of the Grand Canyon, it actually lies east of the national park in Page. This section of the Colorado River falls within the boundaries of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Up on the rim, the lookout with its trail and parking lot are maintained by Page.

The Horseshoe Bend Overlook is located on U.S. 89 near mile marker 544, approximately 4.4 miles south of Page. Look for the posted parking area on the west side of the highway.

How much does a visit to Horseshoe Bend cost?

Parking fees for Horseshoe Bend are $10 per car or RV, $5 per motorcycle, cash or credit card. Bring cash to be on the safe side. The credit card machines have been known to break. Also, it is cash only on holidays. National park passes are not accepted.

Parking is prohibited along the side of US 89. This also applies to pick-ups and drop-offs at the entrance or along the highway.

Toilets are available in the car park.

How long is the hike to Horseshoe Bend?

It’s a 1.5 mile round trip hike to the dramatic overlook above Horseshoe Bend. The trail is much better now, a wide paved path that is ADA and stroller friendly. It’s mostly flat, although the return hike is a bit uphill. The trail is also fully exposed to the sun. There are two shade structures along the way, but none at the overlook. Bring sunscreen.

As with any desert hike, make sure you have plenty of water with you. Bring light snacks if needed. Wear sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and closed-toe shoes. Sandals and flip-flops can be extremely unsafe on the rocky outcrops of the viewpoint.

Use extreme caution when approaching the edge. Sandstone can be slippery and unstable. Keep children and pets under control at all times. Pick up all trash, including pet waste.

What is the best time to visit Horseshoe Bend?

Horseshoe Bend is open daily from sunrise to sunset, year-round. The busiest times of day are 9-11am and 4:30-6:30pm. You’ll avoid the crowds, beat the midday heat, and get better photos around sunrise and sunset.

The low angle of the sun shining over the red rock plateau enriches the colors of the cliffs and river at sunrise and sunset. A wide-angle camera would be useful, but most mobile phones have a panorama mode or similar setting to capture the vast scene unfolding before your feet. Drones are not allowed.

What Horseshoe Bend looks like now

In May I visited my old friend, Horseshoe Bend. Although I had kayaked the big bend in previous years, this was the first time I had returned to the viewpoint since the infrastructure upgrade. I didn’t know what to expect.

It turned out great, as always. It was definitely busier with a steady stream of visitors. But the fenced-off area was a much-needed addition. Especially since Horseshoe Bend is perhaps the most selfie-intensive spot in Arizona. Selfies require you to stand with your back to the precipice and focus on a small screen, making a potentially dangerous situation even more dangerous. The fence provides a layer of protection. It also draws in the bulk of the crowd. People gravitate toward it, leaving more open space on the edges for former lawn darters like me.

I like being close to the edge but still safely at a distance. I know too much about the nature of sandstone and the relentlessness of gravity to do anything stupid.

The scene remains quiet and peaceful. Despite the hordes of tourists, I managed to find a quiet rock slab where I could sit and watch the Colorado River meander by. Just like in the old days. It winds around a high sandstone escarpment in a 270-degree bend, a big, diving, exaggerated curve. Funny, but it almost seems like… No… it can’t. Can it?

For a moment it feels like the river is grinning at me. Just to be sure, I grinned back.

Find the reporter on www.rogernaylor.nl. Or follow him on Facebook via www.facebook.com/RogerNaylorinAZ or Twitter @AZRogerNaylor.

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