Horseshoe Bend ~ Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Just south of Page, Arizona on U.S. Highway 89 is one of the most popular scenic destinations in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Horseshoe Bend attracts plenty of onlookers and photographers that wish to capture a memory of this unique view of the Colorado River. Many western artists have spent hours painting this majestic view on canvas for all to see, so this truly is an inspirational place to be! Horseshoe Bend has one of the most captivating views that one could possibly wish for and it is well worth taking the time to see when touring this region!
Thousands of people take the time to visit this unique roadside attraction each week, yet relatively few tourists realize that this place exists while touring this region. This is because so many tourists only focus upon the number one destination in this region, which is the Grand Canyon National Park. Horseshoe Bend is not highlighted with big bold letters on an average road map and just a few small roadside signs indicate what lies ahead. The low key approach for marking this destination has kept the number of visitors in check in the past, but times have changed. With the advent of GPS mapping systems, tourists can now easily find the lesser known destinations that previously required hand written driving instructions to find.
The increasing number of visitors at Horseshoe Bend has placed pressure on the old access point infrastructure and improvements were necessary. Basically, the old roadside parking at Horseshoe Bend quickly became outdated and the traffic conditions were unsafe. Up till this year, a visitor had to slow down to a crawl on the busy high speed two lane highway, just to find a parking space on the apron of the road. Cars were parked on the side of the road for nearly a quarter mile in either direction from the trailhead, so as one can imagine, this busy section of road was quite perilous to pass through.
Improvements have been made to the Horseshoe Bend access point in recent years and the facility upgrade project was nearly complete the last time I passed through. Roadside parking is no longer allowed and two large parking areas have been installed off of the highway by the trailhead for safety’s sake. The parking and trailhead access situation is now a lot less dicy than it used to be.
A few more safety features are in the works for Horseshoe Bend that may be controversial from a preservation standpoint. The last I heard was that guard rails will be installed at key viewpoints along the canyon rim. Some folks will say that the guard rails are a detraction, while others will readily welcome this feature, especially on a windy day. Just like at the Grand Canyon, the threat of falling off the towering cliff is a real danger and since the number of visitors has dramatically increased, so too has the risk factor. The guard rails are a preventative measure for those who do not fully realize that you only live once!
The day that I visited Horseshoe Bend was smack dab in the middle of the summer monsoon season. During this time of year rainstorms are frequent in the Grand Canyon region and these storms can be quite fierce, because the barren landscape does not slow the winds down. In this region, an approaching desert monsoon season rainstorm can be seen from miles away, so there is always time to decide whether to seek shelter or tough it out. Obviously, hundreds of other visitors and myself decided to rough it during the storm that day and the experience provided insight into the effects of these strong thunderstorms rolling through the canyons.
From the parking area, the Horseshoe Bend Trail goes uphill in sandy soil, so this easy looking feat actually is a bit strenuous. The hill does not look intimidating, yet far more energy will be expended during the climb than usual, because the elevation of this region is well over a mile high. The thin air does have a way of slowing the feet down till the body adjusts to the conditions. Staying hydrated is the key to overcoming high altitude related fatigue, so be sure to carry a water jug when doing this short yet strenuous hike.
Once on top of the hill, the colorful Glen Canyon region comes into view and this sight is nothing less than spectacular! The views of this majestic landscape extend for many miles and the town of Page can be seen in the distance. From the top of the hill the best part of the Horseshoe Bend experience still remains hidden from view. Visitors will still have to do another half mile trek downhill to get to the canyon rim, where the Colorado River and Horseshoe Bend come into view.
The coral pink sand and eroded red sandstone landscape along the trail is like no other place on earth. This trail can be a bit rough, so those who have mobility challenges may need assistance in some sections. There were a few folks using walkers and wheelchairs on the trail, so this goes to show just how motivating the beauty of Horseshoe Bend really is.
When starting the downhill hike to the canyon rim, one simply cannot help but to look at the long line of hikers doing the same thing. Hikers that are far ahead look tiny in size and the long line of people coming and going on the trail actually resembles an organized ant colony. The long line of hikers stretching into the distance also resembles lemmings heading for the cliff and for some this scene may even look like a spiritual pilgrimage of some kind. It is then that one realizes that Horseshoe Bend actually is a pilgrimage site for those who worship the Mother Earth Spirit at her best!
As the canyon rim nears, the winds can be heard howling up from below. On any given day the winds can rip through this canyon at high speeds because of the temperature extremes. During a monsoon season storm, the high winds can be outright dangerous, especially if standing on the edge of the cliff is in the plans. The updraft gusts coming from the deep canyon are literally strong enough to knock a person off their own feet and that thousand foot drop to the river is a scary long way down, so be sure to take care near the edge on a stormy day.
Getting close to the edge of the towering cliff is the only way to see Horseshoe Bend in its entirety. Those who have a fear of heights should avoid the rim views altogether for obvious reasons, because this is not a place where you want the legs to freeze up. All it takes is one look down from the high cliff to get that feeling of floating in the air like a bird and this is part of the thrill of it all. Experiencing the full view of Horseshoe Bend from the edge of the cliff truly a special moment to remember for a lifetime!
What comes down, must go back up, at least in a hiking sense. The hike back up the hill from Horseshoe Bend is a bit strenuous at this elevation, so it pays to take one’s own sweet time. Plenty of other hikers pause along the way too and everybody seems to have something nice to say. Plenty of good conversation can be found along this short trail and the chit chat can lead to information about other hidden gems that await to be discovered in this region.
Horseshoe Bend certainly belongs high on the travel bucket list simply because this place offers one of the most beautiful views in the entire Southwest! The hiking trail is fairly easy, there are facilities on location and this scenic overlook even has a shaded picnic area. This all adds up to an opportunity to spend a leisurely afternoon in the great outdoors while enjoying a memorable view. The views of Horseshoe Bend will create memories that can be shared for a lifetime, so this is reason enough to get up and go!