I can remember a time when I could walk to the canyon rim at Horseshoe Bend with no one else on the trail. Parking wasn’t more than a dirt strip on the side of the highway. For the past five or six years I’ve watched the number of visitors grow exponentially to the point that the trail resembles an ant hill. The parking lot has been expanded several times, restrooms added, and a new observation deck with railing and ADA trail have been recently constructed.
Undoubtedly, much of this rapid growth can be attributed to the proliferation of social media in the recent years. Many of the visitors I see at Horseshoe Bend and other popular viewpoints are taking selfies with their backs facing the rim, often within feet and even inches from extreme drops! What?! Even experienced rock climbers know better.
It’s a shame that these amazing natural wonders are resembling Disneyland. I don’t blame people for wanting to see these sites, they belong to us all, but I’ve noticed a growing amount of disrespect and lack of common sense behavior. It’s no wonder we’re seeing changes occurring at popular tourist attractions like what’s happening at Horseshoe Bend. As a tour guide the parks expect me to be an ambassador to educate and remind visitors of the rules and encourage responsible behavior. I believe the responsibility belongs to us all otherwise we will see the parks limit access and add new layers of regulations to protect these sites, which is not what they want to do. They would prefer to accommodate rather than limit the number of people wishing to see these sites, but unless we all work together in taking care of these sites I’m afraid the time will come when reservations will be required. This may become a reality close to home.
HERE ARE A FEW TIPS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR VISIT TO HORSESHOE BEND.
Go early if you want to beat the heat and crowds. Find out when first light is and plan you trip as close to that time as possible. However, there will be a shadow on Horseshoe Bend in the early hours. The best light is late morning to mid-afternoon when the sun is more directly overhead. Be flexible If the lot is filled come back later. It may take more than one attempt to get in during the busiest months, which generally run from mid-April through October. This is a very popular attraction for bus groups, you WILL see groups on the trail regularly. (FYI, I don’t lead bus tours) Wear study shoes or boots Even though the park service and city of Page are improving the trail it’s still best to wear comfortable sturdy shoes especially when hiking on the uneven rocks along the rim. I see tourists wearing flip flops, flats and loafers, which make me wonder what they were expecting to see here. Respect the edge! You may not have a fear of heights but you probably don’t know what shape the rock is in underneath your feet or when an unexpected gust of wind will hit, which is a possibility during the Monsoon season July – September. Many of the tragic accidents we read about can be avoided by keeping a safe distance from the edge. #Respecttheedge
The trail is 1.5 miles round-trip. Although the trail is not lengthy summer temperatures frequently exceed 100 and will feel much hotter with the sun reflecting off the surrounding sandstone. TAKE WATER The trail has a fairly steep sandy hill climb from the parking lot then a long moderate decline to the canyon’s edge. However, the new ADA trail will soon be leading visitors around the steepest section. The trail ends at an observation area with railing offering a safe viewing area of the Colorado River 1,100 ft below. However, the railed area is just a small section of the overall viewing area, visitors are welcome to hike along the rim. Lather up with sunscreen, doesn’t take long to get burned in our desert climate. Keep an eye on your little ones!
For the first time in its relatively short history as a tourist destination, Horseshoe Bend now has an entry fee.
Visitors must pay $10 per vehicle to park in the newly improved and expanded lot. Motorcyclists will pay $5, and fees for buses range from $35-$140, based on the number of passengers. Though Horseshoe Bend is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, National Park Service passes will not be accepted.
The fees are part of a long-range improvement plan implemented by officials from Page (in charge of the parking lot) and the National Park Service (which oversees Horseshoe Bend). Money raised will fund future improvements.
No parking spots? Come back later
Fees will be collected at the newly built entrance station, and parking will not be allowed on Highway 89, which fronts Horseshoe Bend. If there are no spots available — which may occur during the busy summer travel season — visitors will be asked to return later.
In addition to the expanded parking lot, work recently was completed on an ADA-compatible path leading from the rim to a viewing platform. Progress on extending the path to the parking lot continues, though NPS officials aren’t sure when it might open to the public.
For years, Horseshoe Bend was popular only with nearby residents who would make the half-hour drive from Page and have a picnic along the rim. Below, the Colorado River makes a sharp turn, almost bending in on itself, making for an unusual and stunning view.
The Instagram effect
Social media played a prominent role in its ascent to tourism fame. Horseshoe Bend became one of the country’s most Instagrammed destinations. More than 1.5 million tourists visited in 2017, approaching 2 million last year.
With facilities woefully adequate to support those numbers, officials from Page and the National Park Service devised a plan to cope with the tourism crush, which included a fee schedule.
Work on the parking-lot expansion continues and is expected to be completed by May.