Sunset is by far the most in demand time of day to hike and photograph one of the most famous natural geological features in the US – Horseshoe Bend near Page in Northern Arizona.
But is sunset the best time to hike down to Horseshoe Bend?
Well, we revisited Horseshoe Bend on our second road trip through Arizona in December 2021, and this time our hike was specifically for sunrise photography in order to draw a sunrise vs sunset comparison.
In this guide we cover:
- Exactly what you can expect from Horseshoe Bend at both sunrise and sunset
- Where to park and entry fees
- Information about the short hike
- Sunrise and sunset photography tips
In addition, we will provide genuine pros and cons as we saw it from our own experience. Here’s a hint – it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
Let’s hike to Horseshoe Bend in Arizona!
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Horseshoe Bend Factfile
Geological Feature: Horseshoe Bend
Known As: East Rim of the Grand Canyon
Nearest Town: Page
Address: Horseshoe Bend Overlook, Page, AZ 86046
Things to do: Hiking, Sunrise, Sunset, Photography
Waterway: Colorado River
Open: All year
Annual visitors: ~ 2 million
What Is Horseshoe Bend?
Horseshoe Bend is an extraordinarily striking 270 degree U-shaped meander in the mighty Colorado River, close to the Northern Arizona border and wildly popular Utah Mighty 5 National Parks.
When forging a path through super-strong Navajo sandstone, the Southwest flowing Colorado River hit a dead end. But water is relentless.
When water can’t go straight ahead, it will simply break through whichever side is weakest.
The result of water, time and eroding sandstone is a unique postcard-perfect horseshoe shaped canyon with 1,000 ft high cliffs, a man-made viewing terrace and spectacular sunrise or sunset scene to boot.
Where Is Horseshoe Bend?
Horseshoe Bend is located 5 miles Southwest of the small town of Page in Northern Arizona on highway US-89. Find the parking lot by inputting “Horseshoe Bend Overlook Parking Lot” into your GPS navigation device.
Distances and drive times to Horseshoe Bend from nearby cities and landmarks include:
- Grand Canyon South Rim to Horseshoe Bend – 132 miles (2h 20m)
- Zion National Park to Horseshoe Bend – 115 miles (2h 20m)
- Bryce Canyon National Park to Horseshoe Bend – 150 miles (2h 40m)
- Monument Valley to Horseshoe Bend – 120 miles (1h 55m)
- Moab to Horseshoe Bend – 275 miles (4h 20m)
- Las Vegas to Horseshoe Bend – 270 miles (4h 30m)
- Phoenix to Horseshoe Bend – 275 miles (4h 15m)
- Antelope Canyon to Horseshoe Bend – 10 miles (20 minutes)
- Kanab to Page – 74 miles (1h 10m)
Closest Airports To Horseshoe Bend
The nearest airports to Horseshoe Bend are:
- Las Vegas McCarran – 283 miles (4h 37m)
- Flagstaff Pulliam (Only from Denver, Phoenix and Dallas/Fort Worth) – 134 miles (2h 12m)
- Phoenix Sky Harbor – 277 miles (4h 15m)
Are you including Horseshoe Bend as part of a visit to Zion or Grand Canyon?
Read our comprehensive guides to:
- 4 Closest Airports To Zion National Park
- 5 Best Airports To Use For Grand Canyon South Rim
- 15 Expert Tips To Save Money Booking Flights
Parking and Entrance Fee at Horseshoe Bend
Parking at Horseshoe Bend was once a case of pulling over on the shoulder of highway 89.
However, since the rise of social media platforms transformed Horseshoe Bend into one of the most sought after selfie spots in the US, a brand new parking lot featuring restrooms and pay station were introduced to handle the unprecedented spike in tourism.
The entrance fee to visit and hike Horseshoe Bend is US$ 10. You are not paying to see the natural attraction, you are paying to park and for use of restrooms as pictured below at the far side of the lot.
There are no places you can park along highway 89 and walk into the lot.
The parking lot is huge with plenty of spaces to accommodate tourists. However, it may fill during peak seasons or on weekends and holidays.
Avoid Peak Times
The busiest periods at Horseshoe Bend are 4.30pm – 6.30pm for sunset, but also 9.00am – 11.00am in mid morning. Avoiding these peak times of day will give you a better chance of getting parked.
Two things to note here:
- Sunset is clearly a popular time to hike Horseshoe Bend but it is going to be busy and you may have to take a shuttle.
- The morning rush is after sunrise. People hate getting up early, which means you can hike to Horseshoed Bend for sunrise without the crowds and enjoy a more relaxing experience.
Visiting Horseshoe Bend in the off season like we did in October first and December second will result in no issues getting parked.
Hike The Short Easy Trail To Horseshoe Bend Overlook
The 0.75 mile one way hike from Horseshoe Bend parking lot to the overlook area is quick, easy and almost completely flat as it follows a newly built hard surface in a wide arc around a sand dune.
- Horseshoe Bend Hiking Distance: 1.5 miles roundtrip
- Horseshoe Bend Hiking Difficulty: Nice and easy
There are information boards underneath shelters at two points along the short hike. Summer visitors may find a brief respite from the sun a welcome relief.
During our first visit in 2019, we walked from the parking lot directly over that very sand dune to reach the overlook (pictured above). It was tough going with deep sand and not accessible.
However, the new hard path means everyone is able to appreciate the awe inspiring Horseshoe Bend view. Another benefit is you won’t end up with half a beach inside your shoes when you get back to your car.
What Can You Expect From Sunrise At Horseshoe Bend?
Sunrise at Horseshoe Bend is peaceful, relaxing and beautiful. The morning rush crowds won’t begin to arrive until at least an hour after sunrise, which means you can access every area around the overlook easily.
Professional photographers and serious hobbyists will likely hike down to Horseshoe Bend overlook for sunrise in an attempt to capture stunning photos while avoiding the overcrowding issues around sunset.
Let’s take a look at positives and negatives from hiking to Horseshoe Bend at sunrise.
Horseshoe Bend Sunrise Pros
Sunrise is often a quieter time to visit attractions when compared with sunset. Mesa Arch in Canyonlands is one exception to the rule, but almost always sunrise is less stressful.
Horseshoe Bend is certainly a place you will be able to relax more at sunrise and here are our top pros:
- You will have no problems getting parked for sunrise at Horseshoe Bend during any month of the year.
- The overlook area will be quiet enough for you to set up your tripod anywhere you like, whether that be in the fenced area or on a boulder to either side.
- Golden hour with soft light before sunlight even touches the sandstone rocks ahead is a stunning time to be at Horseshoe Bend.
- Once sunlight hits the distant sandstone rocks and begins to creep closer toward your position, the light is deep red and beautiful.
- If you’re lucky enough to have clouds in the sky, you might be able to shoot some stunning photographs at sunrise.
Get your photos taken early before the sun really gets up in the sky behind you.
Horseshoe Bend Sunrise Cons
Sunrise at Horseshoe Bend might be the quieter time of day to visit, but what about photography?
Let’s take a look at the cons:
- The sun rises directly behind you, which means Horseshoe Bend is in a deep and very dark shadow as soon as the sun is high enough to light up the rocks beyond the bend as you look West.
- You have to wake up early and may miss breakfast included with your hotel stay in Page. Check times to see if you can make breakfast after leaving Horseshoe Bend.
- The light and colors aren’t as attractive when compared to sunset.
- Sunrise is typically colder vs sunset at Horseshoe Bend. During our visit in December, sunrise was freezing cold and we had to bundle up in serious gear.
- Without clouds in the sky, your images will appear bland and boring.
What Can You Expect From Sunset At Horseshoe Bend?
Sunset at Horseshoe Bend is a hive of activity with dozens of groups and all of the selfie sticks ever manufactured, but it is a wonderful sunset landscape.
When visiting any new place, it can be easy to let a few negatives impact your overall opinion.
We can confidently say the negatives at Horseshoe Bend did not outweigh its beauty and we highly recommend sunset as one of the best times to hike the short trail.
Let’s dig a little deeper and start with the positives.
Horseshoe Bend Sunset Pros
Horseshoe Bend truly is a staggeringly attractive geological feature and you will no doubt be mightily impressed by the dramatic U bend carved into the canyon at sunset.
Let’s take a look at what makes a Horseshoe Bend sunset so popular:
- From Horseshoe Bend overlook, you are looking directly West at the bend and sun. That means a beautiful orange and yellow sunset is straight ahead of you.
- Between you and the sun are Horseshoe Bend in the immediate foreground and a spectacular flat table-top expanse of rock as far as the horizon, covering your middle-ground and background view.
- The colors of sandstone turn from a sun-washed yellow to cool and soft oranges and pinks as the sun is setting.
- You don’t have to wake up early and you can time a sunset visit around dinner in nearby Page.
- Clouds may turn gorgeous pinks and purples at sunset, but even without clouds in the sky, your photos will still be more interesting because you can use the sun.
The key for photography is to stay for 30 minutes after the sun has set. Watch how quickly everyone thins out and misses the best colors in the sky with no shadows inside Horseshoe Bend.
One final thing – don’t forget to cheer with everyone as the sun sets on the distant horizon!
Horseshoe Bend Sunset Cons
We rarely list our negative thoughts on a place we visit but we feel compelled not to give a fairytale story about Horseshoe Bend. That way you can manage your expectations when you visit at sunset.
Horseshoe Bend has become wildly popular and particularly at sunset.
OK, so what’s the problem?
Well, at the risk of sounding like party poopers (which we promise we’re far from!) let’s take a look at what we personally felt were negative aspects to visiting Horseshoe Bend at sunset:
- Horseshoe Bend overlook is a very small fenced area which quickly fills, so people are forced to fan out onto nearby boulders on either side where there are no barriers and dozens are vying for position to get unobstructed views.
- At least when we visited, there were more than a few heart in mouth moments watching people trying to get the most daring selfie.
- People sitting on cliff edges and sliding down, balancing on one leg right on the edge or jumping between boulders with drops below is common at sunset.
- Watching a sunset is supposed to be relaxing, right? Well the sheer volume of bodies, noise and jostling for position can make it difficult to actually unwind.
- The sun is directly in your face throughout the lead up to sunset, which means you need sunglasses and you will have to use your hand to shield the sun.
The hours leading up to sunset are definitely not the best times to photograph Horseshoe Bend, you will have to wait until the sun is just about to disappear to get good light and no shadows.
Horseshoe Bend Sunrise vs Sunset
Is sunrise or sunset better at Horseshoe Bend?
Well, it depends on your personal preferences and how important photography is during your visit.
Let’s take a look at 2 photos from different visits at sunrise and sunset with a speedboat in almost exactly the same place on the Colorado River.
Sunrise photo at Horseshoe Bend, wide angle 16mm frame.
Look at how intense the sunlight illuminates the rocks behind the formation and slowly but surely works its way down inside the bend.
Sunset photo taken around 1 hour before the sun set and light beams flooding in from the left side. The rocks behind Horseshoe Bend are the first to light up at sunrise and the last to stay illuminated at sunset.
Visit Horseshoe Bend at sunrise if you want to avoid overcrowding and enjoy a tranquil start to the day overlooking a breathtaking natural formation.
Visit Horseshoe Bend at sunset for the best chance of shooting incredible photography but understand that it is going to be crowded.
Just like when comparing sunrise and sunset at Grand Canyon South Rim, we personally preferred sunrise at Horseshoe Bend because it was so much quieter. We were unlucky not to get any clouds in the sky which led to a fairly dull sunrise but we still preferred the atmosphere.
Given the choice of perfect photography conditions at sunrise or sunset at most popular location we would almost exclusively choose sunrise.
Which time of day would you choose?
Horseshoe Bend Arizona Sunrise and Sunset Photography
Let’s take a look at Horseshoe Bend photography at both sunrise and sunset, with tips and suggestions for your visit.
Below is a photo of our set up the first time we visited Horseshoe Bend during sunset.
You’ll see our old tripod with beginner camera gear struggling to reach over the fenced overlook, so we couldn’t get the correct angle of the river bend.
And now let’s take a look our set up the second time we visited Horseshoe Bend, this time with upgraded equipment and at sunrise.
You’ve probably seen amazing photos of Horseshoe Bend plastered all over the internet. Well, it’s not quite as simple as you might imagine to capture those images.
See how much higher above the fence level we could go? That allowed us to angle the camera down for a wide angle shot and get the whole frame in shot.
- Ideally, you want to take the photograph from dead center to get perfect symmetry in your frame.
- The overlook safety barrier is definitely required for protection, but it makes framing Horseshoe Bend difficult because it is angled at around 45 degrees.
- You’ll need to get creative unless you have a tripod with center column reaching high over the barrier to angle down and a wide angle lens (12-24mm).
- Golden hour before sunset is the worst time to photograph Horseshoe Bend. The sun is slightly left of center in your frame, causing a ton of angled lens flare / green dots. Unless, you are lucky enough to have a cloudy sky with stunning sunset colors.
- However, if you do visit on a clear day with nothing to block the Sun, you have a good 30-40 minutes of prime time Horseshoe Bend photography once the sun has completely disappeared.
- Midday is a surprisingly good time to photograph Horseshoe Bend because the position of the sun high in the sky creates fewer shadows inside the canyon. Plus, you have plenty of light to hand hold with a fast enough shutter speed to avoid blur without the need for a tripod.
- Mid-morning and mid-afternoon will cast deep, dark shadows inside the bend. Avoid those times at all costs.
Beginner Photography Tips
The first time we visited Horseshoe Bend for sunset, we had an entry level Sony a-6000 and Sigma 16mm f1.4 (24mm for crop). Our old travel tripod was flimsy and didn’t extend past the top of the overlook barrier.
24mm was not wide enough to capture the whole scene in one frame and the view over Horseshoe Bend is almost immediately below the fenced overlook area.
If you have a 12-24mm, 16-35mm or fish-eye lens, you’ll have no trouble framing the full bend with walls to each side, the bottom included and even some sky.
If you don’t have an ultra-wide lens, you’ll likely need to create a stitch and merge them together in post editing.
You will need a tripod because of low light right around sunrise or sunset and the lens has to be pointing down to capture the bottom part of Horseshoe Bend.
Improvising with clothes or a bag are unlikely to provide the correct angle you will need.
Here’s how to capture the full scene as in the photo above (without a wide angle lens):
- Wait for the sun to lose intensity so you don’t get lens flare.
- Turn your camera vertical and imagine dividing the landscape into 3 vertical shots.
- Begin with the left third, move to the center third and overlap with your first image, move to the right third and overlap with center shot.
- Keep the same settings and horizontal plane (ie try not to move the entire tripod, just gently pan the head).
- In Lightroom, highlight the 3 images, right click, select Photo Merge and Panorama. That’s it!
You’ll be amazed at how quickly hundreds of people fizzle out to a handful once the sun turns in for the night.
But this is the time to relax after a crowded sunset, pull out your hot chocolate and extra hoodie, wait for the Milky Way to dazzle and fire the camera back up.
Stargazing at Horseshoe Bend is only worthwhile in Summer when the Milky Way stretches across the sky and you can capture the Milky Way in frame with Horseshoe Bend as your foreground.
The problem with astrophotography in Summer is you typically have to stay out late waiting for total darkness.
The small town of Page doesn’t emit very much light so the sky isn’t polluted, plus the sand dune behind you blocks a lot of the light anyway.
Remember head torches if you do stay for stars, the walk back to your car is unlit.
Best Time To Visit Horseshoe Bend Arizona
The very best time to visit Horseshoe Bend in Arizona is sunrise or sunset on a weekday in Spring or Fall when you will benefit from the best weather and hiking conditions, pick up a hotel room at a good price and enjoy a relatively crowd free hike.
Let’s take a quick look at the best seasons to visit Horseshoe Bend in Arizona based on high, low and average annual temperatures in Page.
Horseshoe Bend Arizona Weather And Average Temperatures
The Spring months of March, April and May, as well as the Fall months of September, October and November are the best times of year to visit Horseshoe Bend for comfortable temperatures.
Winter months of December, January and February are going to be cold around sunrise and sunset at Horseshoe Bend overlook.
The Summer months of June, July and August are best for sunrise and sunset temperatures, but the middle of the day in Summer is extremely hot around Horseshoe Bend and all of Northern Arizona.
Best Time Of Day
The best time of day to visit Horseshoe Bend is up for debate. We have compared sunrise vs sunset in this guide, but you could also choose to visit during the middle of the day.
Visiting Horseshoe Bend between 11am-4pm means you are likely to avoid the worst of the crowds but if the sun is out and there are no clouds, you will see significant shadows inside the U shaped bend.
However, if the weather is overcast or cloudy, you can visit any time of day without shadow concerns.
Our top recommendation would be to consider the priorities of your trip to the region. Is Horseshoe Bend one of your bucket list landmarks?
If yes, plan to visit at sunrise or sunset when light is the best. If no, don’t plan your trip around Horseshoe Bend and instead fit it into your overall itinerary logically.
Are you sure you want to choose one of the golden hours?
Here’s our final verdict: Sunrise is quieter but not as beautiful, whereas sunset is more photogenic but incredibly busy.
Pick your poison.
Where To Eat Near Horseshoe Bend
Page is the best place in the immediate area around Horseshoe Bend to fuel up with food before onward travel to Kanab, Moab or Grand Canyon.
We found many of the towns in between Grand Canyon and Moab to be short on food options and often there were unpredictable opening hours. Plan your meal times around eating in Page to be sure.
Here’s a roundup of the top rated restaurants in Page Arizona for you to consider:
- Big John’s – Texas Barbecue
- El Tapatio – Mexican, Southwest
- Sunset 89 – American, Southwest
- State 48 – Gastropub & Tavern
- BirdHouse – Chicken
Best Hotels Near Horseshoe Bend
Are you looking for the best hotels in Page Arizona? Spending the night in Page makes life much easier for a sunrise or sunset hike to Horseshoe Bend.
You’ll be pleased to hear there are a dozen or so highly rated hotels offering great rooms for exceptional value in Page. We’ve scoured the complete list of hotels and picked out 5 of the best value for money places for you to consider.
Tip: Our hugely popular guide on booking cheap hotels might help you save money on your trip to Arizona.
Click or tap any of the links below to check availability and prices for our highest recommended hotels in Page, Arizona.
Baymont is located close to Glen Canyon Dam Overlook just a few minutes drive from the restaurants in town.
This is the cheapest of our recommendations at around US$ 45 per night, but it still includes indoor pool and hot tub, plus breakfast.
Best Western is close to many of Page’s restaurants and its higher elevation is complimented by a first floor terrace featuring views over Glen Canyon Rim.
Facilities include outdoor pool, hot tub, fitness center and breakfast is included. We stayed here on our second visit to Page and it was great.
One of the closest hotels to Horseshoe Bend is also one of the most highly rated in Page, AZ.
Country Inn & Suites also features a fitness center but its pool and hot tub are indoors. Breakfast is included.
Note: If you don’t want to stay in a hotel, there are several NPS, private and primitive campgrounds in Glen Canyon recreational area. Find more camping information here.
Map Of Horseshoe Bend Arizona
Click into the interactive map, zoom in / out and move around the area to find all recommended restaurants, hotels, points of interest, parking lot, trailhead and Horseshoe Bend overlook.
- Purple – Hotel recommendations in Page, AZ
- Light Red – Restaurant recommendations in Page, AZ
- Blue – Horseshoe Bend hike trailhead
- Maroon – Horseshoe Bend parking lot
- Orange – All points interest
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We hope this guide to sunrise and sunset helped you plan your hike to Horseshoe Bend in Arizona!
Have you been to Horseshoe Bend? What time of day do you think is best for visiting?
Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help planning your visit in the comments below.
Don’t forget you can look at more of our USA travel guides to help plan your next trip!
Mark and Kristen
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