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Perhaps the most iconic geographical feature of the Colorado River is the ubiquitous postcard Horseshoe Bend near Page in Arizona. The Grand Canyon is universally recognized as one of the greatest natural monuments in the world, but not all of its many attractions are actually inside the national park. Besides the Horseshoe Bend, another of the greatest attractions outside the park is the Havasu Falls on the Havasupai tribal lands.

One of the best ways to really experience the Grand Canyon is to take a horse (actually mule) ride into it. These are very popular and sell out, so plan ahead. The Colorado River and the Grand Canyon are one of nature's most spectacular playgrounds that have mesmerized countless generations.

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How To Get To Horseshoe Bend & Entry Fee

Horseshoe Bend is situated around 5 miles downtown from the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. It is not in the Grand Canyon National Park but rather in the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. It is sometimes called the east rim of the Grand Canyon (although outside the national park).

  • Located: Glen Canyon National Recreational Area 4 Miles South of Page
  • Closest City: Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Parking Fee: $10.00 Per Vehicle

The closest larger city is Flagstaff in Arizona (the state's third-largest city). From here it is about a 125-mile drive along Highway 89 north or one can come from the nearby town of Page (there is a regional airport in the town). One limitation is the availability of parking, if there is no available parking, one will need to come back later.

Page is also the gateway for those wanting to explore the picture-perfect Antelope Canyon in the Navajo Nation. One should think of planning ahead and spending at least a couple of days there.

Related: This Is The Best Month To Visit The Grand Canyon, And Which Tour To Take While You're There

Hiking To Horseshoe Bend

The hike to Horseshoe Bend is an easy hike over a hardened path and is also accessible according to the NPS. There are two shade structures along the trail (but not at the overlook). It is a very popular destination and attracts around 2 million visitors annually. There is a small fee of $10.00 per vehicle to hike to the overlook at Horseshoe Bend.

  • Access: Via A 1/2 Mile Hiking Trail
  • Return: Around 1.5 Miles or 2.4 Kilometers
  • Tip: Take Plenty of Water
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Open: Year-Round From Sunrise to Sunset
  • Most Popular Times: 9.00 am to 11.00 am and 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm

Visitors need to hike a 1.5 mile (or 2.4 kilometers) round trip from a parking area located just off Route 89. The actual overlook is located in the Navajo Nation territory. As with other hikes in the desert, hikers should take plenty of water, sunscreen, and sturdy footwear. It is advisable to avoid hiking the trail during the hottest part of the day.

The best time to see the Horseshoe Bend is just before sunset. At this time, one can see the sun casting its long shadows over the Colorado River and the Horseshoe Bend. The best viewing spot is from steep cliff above - the overlook is 1,300 meters or 4,200 feet above sea level while the Colorado River is around 300 meters or 1,000 feet below.

While there, take time to explore the other attractions in the area e.g. just close to the lookout are ancient Anasazi Petroglyphs.

Related: Who Carved These Ancient Giant Handprints & Petroglyphs In Wyoming?

How Horseshoe Bend Was Formed

Horseshoe Bend has been formed over millions of years. Around 6 million years ago the land around Horseshoe Bend was lower and much closer to sea level. But geological forces have been at work over the last few million years to uplift the land.

Six million years ago the Colorado River was a meandering river on a floodplain, but as the land was uplifted the river was trapped in its bed and cut out the land to produce the bend (and canyon) seen today.

  • Natural Bridge: Will Eventually Form
  • Cutoff Meander: The Eventual Fate Of Horseshoe Bend

This process of the Colorado River cutting out the land continues today. It is likely in the future the Colorado River will eventually cut through the neck of the bend and create a natural bridge. After that, the river will abandon Horseshoe Bend rendering it a cutoff meander. Another cutoff meander can be seen upstream in Utah called "The Rincon".