Horseshoe Bend Paddling Adventure

horseshoe bend arizona on the scottsdale living


Paddling to Horseshoe Bend

By Jill Yen

Horseshoe Bend is one of the most captivating sights in the American Southwest, and the popular overlook to see this natural wonder is located off U.S. Highway 89 just a few miles south of Page in northern Arizona. While the famous landmark resides within the boundaries of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the overlook and the trail leading to it sit on Navajo tribal land.

If you already had seen Horseshoe Bend in person, chances are you did so from a sheer cliff rising 1,000 feet above the Colorado River. From that vantage point, the sandstone escarpment bounded by the meandering U-shaped river does indeed resemble a horseshoe. While standing at the overlook with other visitors jostling around you for the best selfie spots, did you notice any watercrafts on the beach below and wonder what it would be like to experience Horseshoe Bend and its stunning environs from a different perspective, and more importantly, in a more serene and laid-back way?

It’s an amazing experience, and in this article I will share with you how to do it.

Map of Colorado River Horseshoe Bend on The Scottsdale Living
Map of the Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and Lees Ferry

The nearest access point to Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River is Lees Ferry Boat Launch. Because Lees Ferry is located within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, you will need to pay an entrance fee ($30 per vehicle, good for 7 days) unless you have an America the Beautiful pass.

From the boat launch, you have two options: (1) paddle upstream (against the current) for 9 river miles to Horseshoe Bend, and (2) ride a “back haul” boat taxi as far as the base of Glen Canyon Dam and paddle downstream no more than 15 river miles back to Lees Ferry, where you started. FYI, there’s no road access between the dam and Lees Ferry. On our trip last fall, my husband and I chose the second option – going with the current sounded more appealing. At the time, we didn’t own a kayak, so we rented one from a local outfitter called Kayak the Colorado, and for the sake of convenience also used them for the taxi service. 

As of January 2024, Kayak the Colorado charges $80/person for its taxi service (no discount for youths; children under 5 are not permitted onboard), $50/day for an inflatable tandem kayak, $35/day for a single kayak, $35/day for a stand-up paddle board, and $80/day for a paddleboat or canoe. The company operates from March through the end of October. We were happy with their equipment and service, but if you do a Google search a few other companies will pop up. 

Kayak the Colorado offers multiple taxi departures a day ranging from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. depending on the season. Which time slot you pick depends on how much (or how little) you want to do on the river – you can ask the boat captain to drop you off at any point above Lees Ferry, meaning you don’t have to go all the way to Glen Canyon Dam. For example, you can start your river trip from Petroglyph Beach, just above Horseshoe Bend, about 10 miles upstream from Lees Ferry, and do nothing else except paddle back to Lees Ferry. Or, if you’re feeling energetic and ambitious, you can go all the way to Glen Canyon Dam and sneak in a few land-based activities, in which case you’ll want to start as early as you can, preferably 7 a.m., to allow yourself enough time to make it back to Lees Ferry by 4 p.m. to return any rental equipment.

Horseshoe Bend Arizona on The Scottsdale Living
View of Horseshoe Bend from the overlook off U.S. Highway 89. The name of this iconic landmark comes from the shape of the meandering Colorado River.

To enjoy excellent camping and trout-fishing opportunities, not to mention a more relaxed pace, you might consider an overnight trip. There are a few primitive camping areas along the 15-mile stretch of river, such as 6-Mile Camp, 8-Mile Camp, 9-Mile Camp, Ferry Swale Camp and Ropes Trail Camp; they all have vault toilets that day-trippers could also use. Just remember to park in the long-term lot at Lees Ferry; the lot closest to the Boat Launch is for day parking only. You don’t want to find a ticket on your windshield when you return to your car at the conclusion of your camping trip! Water from the Colorado is drinkable if properly treated, and please respect the backcountry tenet: “Pack it in, pack it out.”

Whether you’re planning a day or overnight trip, we recommend the following stops along the river that will get you onto dry land to explore both sides of the canyon:

Ropes Trail

This is a steep and exposed trail that delivers hikers from the Colorado River to the rim of Glen Canyon. It is 3.5 miles round trip with 700 feet of elevation gain. About 15 minutes into the hike, there is a fixed rope/cable to help you climb up a slope, and further on you will encounter several narrow chutes that will test your scrambling skills. Higher up, metal poles serve as trail markers, so follow them if you’re unsure of which way to go. Use extreme caution and be realistic when assessing your own comfort level – you don’t have to go all the way to the top to enjoy a good walk and some great views.

Ropes Trail Horseshoe Bend Arizona on The Scottsdale Living
The Ropes Trail is not for the faint of heart! For scale, the two white specks in the water below are kayakers.

Petroglyph Beach

To get to the petroglyph viewing area, find the break in the Tamarisk bushes and the mostly level path that leads from the riverbank to the base of the cliff. On the canyon wall you will find petroglyphs of bighorn sheep, Pueblo figures and a few other designs. Nearby interpretive signs reveal interesting information regarding these etchings.

Petroglyph Beach Horseshoe Bend Arizona on The Scottsdale Living
Amazing petroglyphs near River Mile 10. There’s no better place to stretch your legs than at Petroglyph Beach!

Horseshoe Bend

Don’t pass up the chance to stand on the protruding sandstone escarpment of Horseshoe Bend and wave at the people gawking at you from the overlook. There are no established trails here, so feel free to wander and explore. Be forewarned that you might find sacred datura in bloom, a highly toxic hallucinogenic plant used by ancestral Native Americans to aid in vision quests. Do not touch, inhale or eat any part of the white, trumpet-shaped flowers if you’re going to be operating a watercraft on the Colorado superhighway.

Horseshoe Bend Cliff Views From the Water on The Scottsdale Living
Looking up at the onlookers at the Overlook from Horseshoe Bend. If only you could see the envy in their eyes!

Waterholes Canyon

This is a short, interesting walk through the lower section of a photogenic canyon that ends abruptly when you arrive at a small pool of water near the base of a sheer cliff; going further requires technical climbing and canyoneering skills. The walk is about a mile long and mostly flat, but it does require some easy scrambling over large boulders.

Waterholes Canyon Arizona on The Scottsdale Living
A hiker at the mouth of Waterholes Canyon. You can’t get lost in there, so wander to your heart’s content before retracing your steps back to the river.

Spencer Trail

Spencer Trail. This strenuous hike – climbing over 1,500 feet in 2 miles – begins at an unpaved lot near Lees Ferry Boat Launch. Your reward, should you accept the challenge, is fantastic panoramic views of the Colorado River. You will start out on the River Trail, walk past the Historic District containing remnants of gold miner Charles Spencer’s Lonely Dell Ranch, and soon come to a signposted junction. The Spencer Trail veers to the left and zigzags up the canyon, eventually reaching an overlook. Watch your footing as some places on the trail are narrow and slippery.

With so many activities to choose from and sights to see, you will want to start your day early. We drove from Phoenix to Marble Canyon the evening before our adventure and stayed at the Lees Ferry Lodge at Vermillion Cliffs located a little under 10 miles from the boat launch. Marble Canyon Lodge, on the west side of the historic Navajo Bridge, is closer. For campers and owners of recreational vehicles, Lees Ferry Campground provides another convenient option. Finally, if you’re coming from the north, Page offers plenty of lodging choices.

So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your adventure on the Colorado River! It’s going be

About the author: Jill Yen

Jill lives in Phoenix with her husband, son and dog. She is an avid hiker who hopes to inspire others to explore, and fall in love with, the scenic wonders of the American Southwest. When she’s not on the trail, she’s passionate about using her legal background and bilingualism (Mandarin) to help clients achieve their objectives in Arizona’s highly sought-after real estate markets. She handles both residential and commercial transactions at R.O.I. Properties, a brokerage and property management firm in Phoenix.

Explore Lake Powell's Wonders

Plan your unforgettable getaway easily with our Lake Powell Weekend Adventure guide.

More Road Trip Guides You May Like:

More Road Guides
You May Like:

sedona adventure from the scottsdale living
prescott adventure from the scottsdale living
grand canyon adventure from the scottsdale living
Grand Canyon
jerome adventure from the scottsdale living

sponsored by

vip vascular & interventional partners interventional radiology scottsdale on the scottsdale living

Vascular & Interventional Partners

Arizona’s premiere Interventional Radiology practice in the Phoenix area! The doctors at Vascular & Interventional Partners are renowned in the Phoenix area for their knowledge and specialized procedural skills. Our expertise comes from decades of combined experience treating some of


sponsored by