Horseshoe Bend is one of the supermodels of our public lands. It’s the ultimate “look at” site. You go there, stand at the overlook and look at it; that’s it. Of course, you’ll also take a million pictures, but my point is that looking at it is the activity. And it’s worth it. Even the most cardio-seeking, marathon-trail-running enthusiast will stop in their tracks at the sight of the bend.
Five miles downstream from Glen Canyon Dam, this 270-degree curve in the Colorado River is breath-taking. When Karen first saw it, she said, “Well, that’s your money shot right there.” She lost interest in the view as I inched closer and closer to the edge of the cliff to get the perfect shot. I could feel her pulling me away from the cliff by the back of my shirt. The overlook towers 1,000 feet above the river below, and not much would slow your fall to the bottom if you slipped while getting that once-in-a-lifetime shot. BTW – if you want to capture the entire scene in one shot, you’ll need a wide-angle lens. (Or a better camera phone than mine.)
It’s been a couple of years since we’ve visited Horseshoe Bend, just a few miles south of Page, Arizona. When we were there last, the site was packed and it made us nervous seeing so many people close to the edge of the overlook, especially when they turned their backs to the river and posed for selfies. It looked like an accident waiting to happen.
There was a day when crowds of people didn’t overrun spectacular, accessible sites. That day has passed, and we can blame social media, but there’s no putting the genie back in his bottle. Visitation to the Horseshoe Bend overlook has skyrocketed in the past few years. Given its unique location—the river and overlook are in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, but the trail and the parking lot aren’t—the National Park Service and the City of Page are working together to make the site safe, accessible and sustainable.
In late 2017, the NPS announced plans to build a safety rail at the lookout. The goal is to make the experience safer for visitors, especially for those with kids and pets, while leaving enough space around the railing to ensure unobstructed views of the bend. The 3/4-mile trail to the overlook is being re-routed and re-built to make it accessible to all and to be more sustainable in the future given the fragile environment leading to and surrounding the overlook. Plans also include adding parking spots, but visitors should expect parking to be at a premium during the busiest times, which are whenever there’s daylight. A word of caution if you find the parking lot full: it’s illegal (and dangerous) to park on the shoulder of the highway, and the authorities patrol the area frequently.