I woke up on day four of our mini American Southwest road trip wishing I could stop time. Already, we’d driven a desolate stretch of Route 66, marveled at the Grand Canyon, stood on the shores of Lake Powell and explored Antelope Canyon. We’d done and seen so much already, but I wanted more. I’d quickly fallen for the RV life I wondered if I’d be able to adapt to, and suddenly I yearned for an open-ended adventure with no set date we had to return our keys.
But for now, we’d made the most of what we had. After our rainy and stormy first day on Lake Powell, we were thrilled to wake up to a clear-sky forecast for our second. We were completely enamored with the Wahweap Campground, which for less than $24 a night gave us access to the full facilities of the Lake Powell Resort, including a lake access beach, a fitness center, and one of the most vista-blessed pools I’ve ever taken a dip in — and that’s saying something. It was the most we paid per night to park our JUCY camper, but man, was it worth it.
While we had a pretty full day planned, we woke up at sunrise so we could squeeze in a bit of pool time before setting of on our latest round of adventures.
Our first stop of the day was the iconic lookout for Horseshoe Bend. I was impressed to see that in an area absolutely bursting with adventure tours and natural wonders, visiting Horseshoe Bend was the number one thing to do on Tripadvisor. I’m sure one aspect of its popularity is the fact that it’s totally free, despite being located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. And when we arrived at the parking lot, we realized it was not only free but completely uncommercialized. No paved pathway, no vending machines, no bathrooms, no tacky souvenir stands selling keychains with images of the river.
Just a big ‘ol lot and a humble sign pointing travelers in the right direction on a sandy path.
After a quick three quarters of a mile hike, we reached the rim. For the longest time all you see is flat red rock and then, boom — you hit the rim and that postcard bend is cracked wide open right in front of your eyes. Water flowing down from Lake Powell, a mere five miles away, curves gently along the floor of the canyon, making its way down the Colorado River all the way to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Just try not to get I’m On the Edge stuck in your head while you sit there.
Heading there yourself? Lucky you! Budget a minimum of an hour for the whole experience, and consider leaving dogs and sassy young kids at home for this one. There are no guardrails, and it’s a sheer 1,000 foot drop to the bottom. We did sit on the edge and pose for photos, but they look a lot riskier than we felt — we moved super slow and low, and didn’t linger too long at the rim after.
Despite the crowds, we found it easy to find space for ourselves to just enjoy and snap a few people-free pics. For photography, Horseshoe Bend is best visited in the morning when the sun is lighting up the canyon. Sunset is a popular time to visit as well, though you’ll struggle to photograph it as you’ll be shooting directly into the sun. A wide angle lens or better yet a GoPro can capture great images. That said, be careful with that selfie stick — I winced watching a few people turn their back to the canyon while teetings super close to the edge. That’s a recipe for losing your balance if I’ve ever seen one.
We could have lingered much longer, staring down into Horseshoe Bend. But we had a date to see it from below. We raced back to the center of town in Page to meet up with our afternoon tour, which brought us first to the Glen Canyon Dam.
We were on a half-day smooth water rafting trip down the Colorado River, a popular option for those wanting to see the canyons from below without signing on for one of the intense whitewater rafting trips offered elsewhere. No need to comparison shop here: Colorado River Discovery is the only company with concessions from the National Park Service to run tours along this portion of the river.
The tour does depart from the Glen Canyon Dam, which is very cool because you get to drive through restricted areas of the dam, but very not cool because it means you have to comply with a bunch of Homeland Security policies including wearing a hard hat for the ten second walk down to the boats, and you cannot carry any bags other than those made of clear plastic, vinyl, or PVC. So just remember to leave the purses, backpacks, and fanny packs in the car (maybe just leave the fanny pack in the car forever, actually.)
At the dock, our group of thirty or so was split into two pontoons. Zoe and I immediately took a liking to our Navajo guide, who was clearly bursting with pride for the gorgeous land she called home. She patiently and thoughtfully answered our dozens of questions about not just the canyon but also what it was like to grow up on a Native American reservation, how she felt about the current state of the area’s tourism, and what it was like to introduce travelers to this magical place day in and day out.
After our frustrating experience with our guide the day prior, it was so refreshing to really connect with someone who seemed as genuinely excited to chat with us as we were to chat with her.
At one point, we stopped briefly along the banks at a set of ancient Ancestral Puebloans petroglyphs. While they were beautifully preserved, we found ourselves most captivated by the tragic story of their defacement. In 2010, a park ranger visiting the site in the afternoon was alarmed to see “TRENT” carved crudely into the 1,000 year old petrogylphs, an unwelcome addition to the site that hadn’t been there just that morning. Realizing the perpetrator was probably still on the river, the ranger radioed down to rangers at further docking sites, who called out “Trent!” every time a group approached until someone inadvertently gave themselves up by responding. The stunt cost him $10,000 and 100 hours of community service.
In addition to soaking up the story of that scandal, this little stop included the chance to stretch our legs and brave the icy waters of the Colorado River. Even in the height of the August heat, the furthest most of us could muster was a quick dip to our ankles, though Zoe drew big cheers by heading in shoulder deep.
Back on the raft, we soaked up the sun, admired rock formations (see the wolf’s face, below?) and chatted more with our lovely guide. The other guests, not so much — they definitely seemed to be having a collective “no more rocks” day.
One of the themes of our road trip was exclaiming how amazing it was that we were on this trip, how much we loved this part of the country, how we couldn’t believe our parents didn’t bring us here as teenagers… followed quickly by how we never would would have appreciated it as teenagers. This particular tour was a reminder of the fact that we were doing this trip at the exact right time in our lives to appreciate it, filled as it was by disgruntled senior citizens and vaguely miserable looking families who didn’t speak a word to a each other the entire trip. I had to really fight the urge to give them all hugs and launch an Oprah-style intervention asking them to dig deep and tap their wells of gratitude and awe. But then I remembered that I’m a cranky brat sometimes when I travel too, and I let them stare disinterestedly into the distance in peace.
And then suddenly, the centerpiece of the trip was looming above us — Horseshoe Bend, from below! We looked up at the ledge we’d been sitting on just a few short hours before and tried to make out the matchstick-sized figures we furiously waved to above. It really was something, getting to see this gift of nature from so many different angles.
And with that, we turned around for the upriver journey back to Glen Canyon.
For those planning trips of their own to this area, there is an option for a full day tour that goes all the way to Lees Ferry, where you then board a shuttle back to Page. Depending on the time of year there are one or two departures per day, typically an afternoon and a very early morning option. There are options to package the tour with a helicopter trip, with a kayaking tour of Lake Powell, or with a slot canyon trip. Note that the slot canyon trip does not go to the famed Antelope Canyon, rather to an alternative slot canyon known as “Secret Canyon.” On the upside or downside, depending on your point of view, the trip is made by Hummer.
This tour was a big splurge for us at $92 per person, but I felt it represented good value. The company was extremely organized and eco-conscious, our guide was fantastic, and it gave us access to an idyllic area we wouldn’t be able to see otherwise, outside of a logistically intense camping and kayaking adventure.
It was with a heavy heart that we drove away from Arizona. We spent two nights in Page, but I easily could have done four or five. They say the more you travel, the longer your bucket list becomes and Lake Powell proved ’em right — I’m already daydreaming of spending a week on a houseboat out there, someday. While we got an amazing overview of the area, there were a million more things I wanted to do and places I wanted to see. Take a dam tour, take a boat ride to Rainbow bridge, photograph more slot canyons, stand up paddle on Lake Powell, drive out to Monument Valley… the list goes on.
But Utah was calling.
Stay tuned for the very last day of our mini American Southwest road trip!
Many thanks to JUCY for our sweet ride! As always, you receive my honest thoughts, full opinions and poorly written jokes regardless of who is footing the bill.
OOOHHHHH. So beautiful! And I LOVE LOVE LOVE the stupid crook story. Trent! Shame on you!
Lees Ferry is where we will start our Colorado River rafting trip, someday 😉 We can check out Horseshoe Bend on the way out!
Looks bloody amazing. Definately one to place on my list!
Yes indeed! I know I will be back.
I think all camping grounds should have pools with a view like this! 😉 And it’s good to hear that Horseshoe Bend still feels uncommercialized despite its popularity – I have seen the classic shot pop up on Instagram so often that I feared it could have lost its sparkle due to the crowds, so I’m really happy and relieved that this isn’t the case!
There were definitely plenty of people milling around but considering the huge, wide open area you could roam around the enjoy the view it really didn’t feel crowded to me. That said, I’ve heard sunset can be another story entirely!
I love your blog! What gorgeous photos!!!
Aw, thanks Miss Andi. I’m so excited to see your house renovating/decorating posts pop up eventually!
That defamation story makes me so angry! What an asshole! And the worst part is it’ll never look the same again, no matter how much Trent had to pay up. But it does sort of make for a funny story…
Yeah, we talked a lot about this (road trips definitely require a lot of talking) and we really went through an emotional roller coaster. Oh my god, Trent is an asshole! Well, maybe he was just uneducated. He doesn’t sound very bright. Wow, he must feel so bad. How humiliating. He’ll never escape it. And seriously, ten thousand dollars. Oh my god, Poor Trent.
Insert cry laugh emoji here.
People are jerks. Gorgeous photos!
Oh, Trent. May your story inspire others to not deface public lands…
Wow. Just stunning! It’s hard to believe sometimes how much beauty is right at home in the USA! I can’t wait to discover more of it on my road trip this spring! I’m going from Cincinnati to LA! Also one of my lifelong dreams is to live in a trailer and just drive all over North and South America, so I can totally relate to never wanting to stop the road trip!
Oh man that sounds amazing Eva! I’m jealous 🙂 Trying to figure how to fit in a road trip of my own this summer, probably somewhere in California.
Your photos are (as always!) so beautiful. I’m thinking about doing a road trip like this one this summer. I did a similar trip a few summers ago, so I’d like to see new sights this time. I’m sure you’ve mentioned this already, but how long did you spend on this road trip in total?
This was just a little baby five day trip! We definitely wished a million times that we’d had longer 🙂
Absolutely LOVE your road trip series! The photos are gorgeous!
Thanks Miriam! So sad there is only one post left to go…
This trip is reminding me so much of the summers I lived in AZ in college and also the epic RV trip I took with SVV five years ago! LOVE.
I never knew you lived in AZ! I definitely remember your road trip — I hung on every blog post and was so amazed by the entire adventure. Would love love love to copy it someday.
Yep! Worked on a ranch in northern Arizona in 2002 and 2003 (when you were in diapers) 😉
Stupid Trent!! I love white water rafting, and this looks so amazing. As usual, beautiful pictures and captivating words!
My mom and I speak often about doing one of the longer white water trips down the Colorado River someday. I hope we make it happen!
I love those petroglyphs 🙂 can’t wait to see your Utah posts! I’ve been obsessed with Zion NP lately – did you go there? 🙂
Sadly no! Will need to return for that one 🙂
Gorgeous photos! I still haven’t been to the Grand Canyon…been busy exploring the rest of the world. Some day we’ll live back in the U.S. again. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your adventures with us!
I’ve felt the same for a long time. Now finally starting to slowly explore the US more during my summers at home. It’s such a gorgeous part of the world!
Gorgeous photos! Looks like such a fun road trip! I love the US Southwest.
I understand why! This trip was really just a taste of it. Can’t wait to see more.
I’m new(ish) to your site, but since I discovered you a few weeks ago I’ve been loving winding my way through your amazing photos and helpful posts.
Thank you so much for this post! Two friends and I took a spontaneous roadtrip from our home in MN to the Grand Canyon not long ago. We only had 3 days to make the trip. It was quite the whirlwind! Sadly, we had to miss out on Horseshoe, which I’d been looking forward to most. This post confirms it: I’ve got to go back!
I can’t wait to see your photos from Utah. That was my favorite scenery from my own trip. Breathtaking!
Sadly we really rushed through Utah. But I’ll say the same as you — I’ve got to go back 😉
Ah! how about the green hanging on to the edges of that bend…Why is it so difficult to be a traveler in your own backyard? There are very amazing places to see and experiences to have. That JUCY ride makes for a pretty killer way to roadie it too.
Indeed! We felt like rockstars giving tours almost everywhere we went. People were fascinated with it!
I’ve been loving your amazing photos and posts its great
Thanks! I loved this trip so much, reliving it is fun!
Thank you for the horseshoe bend pictures! I am going on a US road trip this summer, and only just put horseshoe bend on my itinerary last week 🙂 These pictures definitely just made me more excited about it.
Ah, enjoy! It’s an amazing little stop — quick, easy, and FREE!
When I saw your selfie picture I was about to warn you about the dangers, until I saw you mentioned them as well 🙂 India has banned selfies in certain areas, and I can certainly guess why when I can see people backing up on a ledge focussing only on the camera in front of them!
This whole trip looks amazing! I’m starting to wonder if I’m doing the right thing by saving the US for one grand road trip one day. Every time I see US related posts, more items are added on to that road trip that it’s becoming almost infeasible to do it all in one go 🙂
Yeah, we took our selfie while sitting on the ground — seemed a little safer that way than teetering over the edge! And yes, I think the US might take a couple road trips to conquer 😉
This sounds so amazing! The southwest really is spectacular; it’s completely different than anywhere else in the country. Now I reeeeally want to take a road trip to Page 😀 While you were there you could’ve also checked out the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. Though it seems you wouldn’t really have had time!
Nope, but I’m grateful for a suggestion for what to check out next time! Definitely can’t wait for next time 🙂
I am so enjoying the posts from this road trip!!! I grew up with annual vacations to the Rockies and always considered myself a mountain girl…until I discovered Arizona and Utah. In my opinion, two of our most amazing states and where I plan to head when I quit my job next year!
Much like yours, my first trip was a whirlwind road trip and I’ve since been back several times to hone in on certain areas. Make sure you put Zion NP (actually all the Utah National Parks) on your list for next time 🙂
Oh man, Zion is SO on the list. Enjoyed your post about it! Hoping to be back out there sooner rather than later.
“They say the more you travel, the longer your bucket list becomes”
.. Truer words have never been spoken, and I would say it applies to when other people (whether you know them in person, read about their lives in a blog, or watch their adventures in videos) travel also. This tour looks amazing and well worth the expense.
Hope I added it to YOUR bucket list as well then 🙂
I have no clue how, but I totally missed Horseshoe Bend on my first trip to the Southwest. Can’t wait to finally see it next month! (And thanks for the tip to go in the morning for good light – I’ve made a note!)
That’s the kind of info I’m ALWAYS looking for when I’m planning 🙂
When I first saw the title stating Lake Powell and Horseshoe Bend, I thought you’d come to Idaho! Then I saw the photos and realized, nope, that’s not here…lol. The pictures look amazing. Glad you had a fun time!
I WILL visit every state someday, so Idaho is definitely still in the cards for the future 🙂 I’m determined!
Horseshoe Bend is such an amazing place! I don’t know if you noticed how still and lifeless it seemed down there, it was kind of creepy but in a beautiful way. Love your pictures!
It was really cool to see it from above and below! When we were down at the bottom and looking up, everyone just looked like itty bitty specs. I loved it!