Horseshoe Bend was high on our list when planning our trip to Arizona and if you’ve seen pictures of it, you’ll know why. It is an utterly stunning spot and on a scale we’ve never seen before, it’s quite simply, huge! It is hard to really comprehend through pictures, but we have a really, really wide angle lens and struggled to get it all in!
Until fairly recently, the Horsehoe Bend hike was a local secret, only accessible by an unmarked dirt road which led to this incredible view.
But this place has become a social media phenomenon and big changes are afoot. Railings have recently been installed at the main viewpoint which stop you taking the most popular shot you’ll have seen on Instagram (sitting directly in front of the Bend).
Here’s what to expect from the Horseshoe Bend hike now and what changes are still to come.
The Horseshoe Bend Hike & Views
The hike to Horseshoe Bend is pretty short at 0.75 miles each way. The trail starts directly from the car park and heads up a steepish hill. Once at the top it is a gradual walk downhill to the edge of the canyon and Horseshoe Bend.
The path leads to the very small fenced area, but you can easily walk either side of the fence to get an unobstructed view (sadly, the fenced view is one of the best to see of the whole bend). To us it seems a little strange as the whole of the rest of the cliff edge is left unfenced so the ‘safe’ bit is just one small part of a much bigger scene. Still we’re grateful the whole thing hasn’t had railings installed so you can still get a natural feel as you wander around the canyon.
There is about 1km of rocks and cliff edge that you can walk along, either side of the official viewpoint. The majority of people seem to only venture 50 yards either side of the fenced area, leaving you swathes of space to find the perfect quiet spot.
We recommend arriving about 1-2 hours before sunset (especially if you are a photographer) as there are a lot of different angles to take in and it is a stunning place to be as the light changes. The sun drops below the horizon about 15-20 minutes before the official sunset time, so you will want to bear that in mind.
We preferred the views to the right of the railed area which is where we got most of these shots from.
To the left of the railings is still gorgeous though and if you have plenty of time it’s worth exploring both sides.
What has happened to Horseshoe Bend?
Horseshoe Bend has now become one of the biggest attractions in the South-West, attracting thousands of visitors a week. Sadly, it is beginning to take its toll and this has meant that the City of Page and National Parks Service have had to step in to stop destruction of the site from the increased crowds and to try and prevent tourists injuring themselves.
Whereas before it was the realm of a few savvy locals, now there are hundreds of people at a time including tour groups that love nothing more than to huddle and shove by the edge to get that perfect photo with selfie stick in hand.
This has also brought all kinds of problems with littering, damage and even human waste. It’s sad that it has come to this, but the local government had to do something.
If you want to see a really good video about dramatic increase in tourism to Horseshoe Bend, we highly recommend watching this video by Vox.
The current state of Horseshoe Bend (March 2019) & How to visit
At the time of writing, huge construction is underway at Horseshoe Bend. While this is going on, the car park at the start of the hike to Horseshoe Bend (0.75 miles each way, small incline but easy) is closed somewhere between 8-9am (you can still park there to watch sunrise) and opens again after 4-4.30pm. There are limited spaces at the time the car park is open - about 40 spots - so we recommend either going very early at 4-4.30pm just as the car park re-opens again. We were able to get a spot both times we went, once we got in at around 4 and once we were told to come back after 4.40pm.
If you choose to visit between 9am and 4pm, then you’ll have to take the shuttle bus. There are signs to a car park that is about two miles away from Horseshoe Bend and from here you’ll get on a bus that drops you off at the car park. The bus comes every 15 minutes and shuttles between the two sites, costing $5 USD per person - a pretty hefty price for a five minute bus ride.
The benefit at the moment is that fewer people go at sunset or sunrise now because the signs do not make it clear that you can still park at these times. But the downside is that the buses stop at 4pm, so if you don’t get a space in the car park you’re in trouble. Parking on the road leading up to Horseshoe Bend is forbidden.
More changes coming to Horseshoe Bend
When we visited we saw the scale of the construction project: a 450 space car park underway and a lot more going on. There will be a sanitised track all the way to Horseshoe Bend to accompany the railings already built at the main viewpoint. However, the railings only cover about 5-10 metres, leaving a huge amount of space that is unobstructed so you can still enjoy a natural scene.
One thing that we didn’t expect (and should have, this is Navajo Land after all) are the booths being built to charge anyone going in. Yep, Horseshoe Bend will no longer be a place of beauty that you can just walk up to for free, it will become a charged for tourist attraction.
Whilst we understand that popular natural places cost money to maintain and protect, it feels sad that it is yet another place in Page that you have to pay to visit. I hope it is kept to a reasonable price unlike Upper Antelope and Lower Antelope which have used protection as a way to make extortionate amounts of money and appear to be doing very little to protect these natural spots (seriously - 5,000 visitors per day is not conservation).
Why you should visit now
We recommend seeing Horseshoe Bend as soon as you can before the increased car park capacity makes it even busier! It is stunning spot and unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else in the world.
It is a great place to visit before heading to the Grand Canyon and the sheer amount of space around the viewpoint means you’ll be able to take in this beautiful view despite the new railings.
Where to stay in Page, Arizona
We were travelling with my parents at this point and got a fabulous Airbnb for our week in Page. However, if you’re looking for somewhere smaller or cheaper, we’d recommend the following.
CountryInn & Suites by Radisson
If you prefer hotels then CountryInn and Suites by Radisson is currently getting rave reviews. It’s in a central location, very close to both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon.
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Are you planning a trip to Arizona? Where are your favourite spots in the South-West? Let us know in the comments below!