Horseshoe Bend to Zion National Park

horseshoe bend - horseshoe bend to zion national park

Want a short road trip that packs in a ton of adventure? The drive from Horseshoe Bend to Zion National Park will get you there. The 106-mile drive takes about an hour and 50 minutes through incredible country, and with world-class destinations on either end, this manageable trip will surprise you with its beauty on every front.

We’ll start your whirlwind adventure at Horseshoe Bend.

Horseshoe Bend

This incredible spot is probably one of the most dramatic river bends on Earth. We’ve all seen the pictures of this sweeping sandstone landscape and the Colorado river that curves through it, and as breathtaking as they are, the pictures do not do it justice.

It’s a photographer’s dream and a tourist favourite, being just an easy, accessible walk from a well maintained parking lot.

Horseshoe Bend is just 2 hours north of Flagstaff, in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Coming from the Grand Canyon will take you about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Only 8 minutes away, Page, Arizona is the closest town and makes a good jumping-off point for exploring the area. 

Visitors access Horseshoe Bend from the parking lot located at mile 544 on Highway 89, on the west side of the highway. Note that during very busy times the lot can fill up and in that case, you’ll be asked to come back or to use a shuttle from Page.

Mornings and later afternoon/early evenings are the most popular times to see the Bend, since that’s when its spectacular colours are most on display. To avoid the crowds, consider heading there to watch the sun rise. Early afternoons are less busy, as well, but during the summer, heat becomes an issue.

The hike to the Horseshoe Bend lookout is 1.5 miles round-trip. There’s a viewing platform with railings, but the path to the sides of the platform give you an unimpeded view, if you prefer. 

How long you spend here gaping at the beauty of nature is up to you, but most folks spend about an hour and a half. Again, crowds can be a factor. If you go during a busy period, you’ll be lining up to take your pictures, so plan some time for that.

Things to Do Around Horseshoe Bend

If you want to linger around the area, there are plenty of other things to do. Lake Powell is located within Glen Canyon, as well, and offers a wealth of outdoor activities. People flock to the lake for boating and water sports, but there are miles of shoreline walks and reasonable day hikes for those who like to stay on land.

Antelope Canyon is a must while you’re in the area. It’s only 10 minutes east of Page and once you’re there, you’ll see why it’s an internationally renowned spot for nature photographers. 

There are a few spectacular hikes to take through this sandstone slot canyon, each affording visitors with opportunities for snapping unforgettable pics of the canyon’s famed pink, gold and orange walls: You can only access it with a tour guide, but the price (which runs between $40 and $90, depending on the season) is well worth it. 

You can also take a tour at Horseshoe Bend to see some cool ancient Anasazi petroglyphs. The petroglyphs are accessible from the Colorado river itself, so you’ll need to either have a boat, rent a boat or take a tour. Once you’re at the trailhead, however, the hike is easy and there are some neat interpretive signs at the site to help you understand what you’re looking at.

The Drive from Horseshoe Bend to Zion National Park

lake powell - horseshoe bend to zion national park

You’ll take Highway 89 from Page to get to Zion. There are few towns between Horseshoe Bend and Zion National Park, but there are some fantastic hikes and lookouts that are well worth stopping for. 

As a caution, some of these spots are off-road excursions which should definitely not be attempted if it’s rained or if rain is in the forecast. Check local weather updates and ask a knowledgeable local before attempting them.

Only 10 minutes down the road is Wahweap Overlook. It’s much less visited than some of Arizona’s other overlooks, which is strange because it’s a stunning vista taking in a sweep of Lake Powell, as well as Glen Canyon Dam. There’s a shaded picnic bench if you want to stop and have a bite on the road.

A further 8 minutes down the highway is Stud Horse Point, a much less-visited spot with some lovely views, fascinating hoodoos and rock formations and a slot canyon. You’ll need to travel west down a gravel and dirt road for about 2½  miles before starting out on the trail. A GPS is essential. The trail itself is 5 miles, round trip. This isn’t a well-marked trail, so be ready to find your own route. FYI.

If that’s not enough adventure for you, consider doing some off-roading to visit Skylight Arch, a natural stone arch with fantastic views of Lake Powell. You’ll need a suitable off-road vehicle, a GPS and good maps of the area to find the trailhead. Even then you still might get lost, but maybe that’s part of the adventure??

2 minutes down the road from the Skylight Arch/Stud Horse Point area is Blue Pool Mesa lookout. If you’ve been bombing around the backcountry, this might be an excellent place to stop and enjoy the views. 

That said, Blue Pool Wash is accessible from the parking lot if you’re in the mood for some canyoneering. Those without climbing gear can explore part of this slot canyon, which runs underneath the highway. If you want to explore the entirety of it, get ready to rappel. 

Head another 15 minutes down the road to the Toadstool Hoodoos trailhead for an easy, 1.8-mile total trail through dramatic scenery and impressive rock formations. Again, the trail is unmarked, but it’s pretty simple to find your route.

At Milepost 31, 11 minutes further along the highway, you’ll find the Paria River Valley Road. If you have an off-road vehicle, you can take it up to the ghost town of Paria. While little remains of the 19th-century town, it’s set amidst some amazing multi-coloured cliffs and since it’s less well-known, you might even have the views all to yourself.

The next point of interest is the town of Kanab, an hour and 11 minutes from Page. Kanab makes a great place to base yourself if you have some time to explore the area. It’s close to an almost unfair number of brilliant national and state parks, geological attractions and outdoor adventure possibilities. 

Aside from that, you can visit the Kanab Heritage Museum, the Red Pueblo Museum and a variety of heritage sites and galleries if you want to soak up the southwestern American culture.

From Kanab, you can make a pit stop in Mt. Carmel Junction, 19 minutes north, before taking Highway 9 west on into the Park.

Zion National Park

the narrows - horseshoe bend to zion national park

Zion is the kind of park it takes days to really appreciate. There’s a ton of things to do, and breathtaking scenery around every corner. We’ll just highlight a few top attractions that you should consider putting on your itinerary. 

The Narrows is one of the park’s most popular and versatile hikes. It can be a one-mile paved excursion from the Temple of Sinawava, a natural amphitheater at the opening of the canyon, along the river. Or it can be a ten-mile hike to Big Spring or even a 16-mile trek from Chamberlain’s Ranch back to the Temple of Sinawava. Exploring the Narrows will mean venturing into the river, unless you take the paved Riverside Walk, so bring waterproof shoes and a hiking pole. If you’re not a fan of crowds, plan to go early. 

Angel’s Landing is another hike that’s a favourite with visitors. Not for the faint of heart, trekkers will need to navigate challenging switchbacks and steep ascents with grasping chains. Once you reach the top, however, you’ll be very glad you made it. Give yourself at least a half-day for this 5.4-mile round trip journey. 

The Canyon Overlook Trail is a much easier walk that ends with incredible views of Zion Canyon. The trail itself is a mile, round-trip, although there are some sections that could be challenging for young kids.

If hiking isn’t your speed, you can still enjoy the scenery from the road along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. It’s a 54-mile drive that passes park attractions such as Angel’s Landing and the Court of the Patriarchs. During peak season, the drive is accessible by shuttle. From December to February, however, visitors can take their own cars. It’s open to cyclists year-round. 

Those, of course, are just a few of many possibilities. And from Zion, you could be off on your next adventure. Have fun and travel safe!

Written by Anne Elliott

Feature image: Pixabay; Image 1: Simone Coltri; Image 2: Robert Schrader

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