Travel & Photo Guide to Horseshoe Bend at Sunrise

Plan the ultimate sunrise trip to Horseshoe Bend, Arizona. Learn the best time to visit, tips for the easy hike, my top photo spots, and more.

Visiting Horseshoe Bend has been on my USA road trip bucket list for as long as I can remember. And, as a photographer, I knew I had to visit at sunrise to capture the early light paint the sandstone cliffs and Colorado River in hues of gold and orange.

In this quick guide, I’ll provide essential tips for making the most of your visit to this iconic Arizona landmark during the early morning hours. I’ll also include some of my sunrise photos from the bend with tips for your visit.

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Haylea soaking in the sunrise views

My Experience Hiking to Horseshoe Bend at Sunrise

  • Hike Distance: 2.4 km return (1.5 miles)
  • Duration: 20-30 minutes each way
  • Grade: Easy (out and back)
  • Ascent: 50 meters (165 ft)

Visiting Horseshoe Bend at sunrise was one of the clear highlights of our American road trip, especially since we knew just how picturesque this place was for photography.

I left Page, Arizona, just before 5:00 am to ensure I made the most of the sunrise. The drive to the parking lot off Highway 89 takes about 10 minutes. Though it’s an early start, the experience at sunrise is more than worth it due to fewer crowds and better lighting.

We immediately jumped out of the car with our camera gear and walked along the easy-to-follow trail toward the main viewpoint.

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The hiking trail to the viewpoint

The Trail to the Viewpoint

Honestly, you don’t need to read a blog to prepare for this hike. The trail itself is very straightforward. My Garmin watch recorded a total of about 2.4 km (1.5 miles) out and back, with a barely noticeable ascent of about 50 meters (148 feet) in total and the directions are very clear.

This makes the hike easy and doable for almost anyone, including those who aren’t regular hikers. The path is sandy and wide, allowing you to walk at your own pace comfortably. The path is wide and graded, and there are even some makeshift fences along some sections that I thought were pretty useless.

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People started to gather early in the morning

You get the first glimpse of the bend after about 0.4 miles, and from there, the trail continues to the official viewing area, which is wheelchair and stroller accessible. There is a steel barrier at the main section where most people congregate.

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Main view of the whole bend just beside the viewing area

Finding The Best Sunrise Photo Positions of Horseshoe Bend

For those seeking a bit more adventure and possibly a unique angle for photos, you can continue past the main viewing area.

We decided to hike up a path along the cliff to the right. This “unofficial” path leads us across a wash and up onto higher rocks. Here, we got a unique perspective over the Colorado River and can look back toward the line of people along the rim, adding a dynamic element to the shots.

The only issue was that from this perspective, we were too far back and couldn’t get the whole bend into the frame.

I found my favorite vantage point a bit off the beaten path, right at the edge of the rim below a rock outcrop. This spot allowed me to escape any residual crowd and fully immerse myself in the natural spectacle in front of me. Photos below.

Practical Tips for Visiting Horseshoe Bend for Sunrise

Below are some tips and information to help you plan an epic photo stop at the Horseshoe Bend.

How to Get to Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend is a staple on any road trip through the American Southwest, particularly for those traveling between the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, or heading into Utah’s national parks as we did.

To reach Horseshoe Bend from Flagstaff, you’ll take Highway 89 north for approximately 125 miles. The route is straightforward and scenic, passing through parts of the Coconino National Forest before the landscape opens up as you approach Page.

Be sure to watch for the parking lot on the west side of Highway 89 at mile marker 544. It’s not uncommon that the parking lot is full (maybe not at sunset) but if it is, Arizona Parks says not to stop on the highway to drop people off.

Tip: Positioned just over two hours from the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend was an ideal stop between Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon. It’s a short detour to Horseshoe Bend but definitely worth it for sunrise (or sunset)!

Best Time to Visit Horseshoe Bend

We visited Horseshoe Bend at sunrise to avoid crowds and for optimal photography conditions. The early morning provided cooler temperatures and fewer visitors, allowing for unobstructed views and not having to line up behind wannabe influencers.

In terms of seasons, The best times to visit Horseshoe Bend are during the spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) when the weather is mild and comfortable for hiking and photography.

Sunrise or Sunset?

From a photographic standpoint, the sunrise light is ideal in my opinion. The light is usually softer and reflects well, casting a warm glow on the cliffs and the Colorado River from this position.

  • Choose sunrise for a quieter, cooler experience with soft lighting, perfect for a more enjoyable photography experience.
  • Opt for sunset if you prefer vibrant skies and don’t mind a more social setting, making the most of the striking colors and warmer atmosphere (just be prepared for the hordes).

My Sunrise Photography from Horseshoe Bend

Yes, Horseshoe Bend is one of the most photographed spots in the country and there are no shortage of photos online. Still, here are some more of my photos that I hope will inspire your trip!

Photo Tips

  • Camera Settings: Aim for a f/8 to f/11 for a sharp, deep focus across the scene
  • Lense: I used a Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8L wide-angle lens for all my photos here which was ideal for capturing the vast expanse.
  • Filters: I’m a big fan of polarizing filers as they enhance the sky and water contrast below while reducing the sunrise glare on the Horseshoe Bend.
  • ISO: Keep as low as possible, around 100-200, to minimize noise.
  • Shutter Speed: Adjust based on light but I was shooting at around 1 second for the shots below. Use a tripod for longer exposures at dawn or dusk.
  • Panorama: If you can’t fit the whole frame in, try the panorama feature, where you take a vertical portrait frame from left to right and combine the shots in “panorama” using Lightroom.

And that’s a wrap. I hope my experience photographing Horseshoe Bend at sunrise has inspired you to get out of your camp early and beat the crowds! Check out more guides below for more inspiration.

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Haylea happy after a successful morning at horseshoe bend