Kayak Horseshoe Bend offers a number of options to best meet you and your partners’ needs:
All kayak and paddleboard or SUP rentals include paddles and personal floatation devices or PFDs … no extra charge for these.
$75 per person from the Lees Ferry boat launch area to Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon Dam or wherever you choose to be dropped off. This includes up to 100 pounds of watercraft, luggage and gear. There is a two person or $150 minimum for the backhaul boat.
If you are making the trip solo, our crew will make every attempt to pair you up with another kayaker or small group to avoid the minimum fee. You might need to wait for a few minutes up to an hour.
With keel inserts in the bow and stern and a removable skeg, the STAR Paragon Inflatable Kayak handles and tracks like a hard shell with the stowing capacity we've grown to love in an inflatable. $35
High-pressure drop-stitch floor insert gives the boat the rigidity of a hard shell kayak. Bow and stern rigid keel inserts provide outstanding tracking and stability for efficient flatwater touring. Adjustable high-back kayak seat and foot braces add support and can be repositioned to accommodate your body, gear and paddling style. Bungee deck rigging for storing gear while keeping it accessible. $35
With 16 more inches of length than the standard single kayak, the STAR Paragon XL inflatable has the hauling capacity for extended flatwater tours with the same tracking and efficiency that rivals a hard-shell boat. Perfect for the larger guy. $45
Great for campers and bigger guys. Bow and stern rigid keel inserts provide outstanding tracking and stability for efficient flatwater touring. Adjustable high-back kayak seat and foot braces for added support can be repositioned to accommodate your body, gear and paddling style. Stash gear under the bow and stern splash covers for protection. $45
This is a great kayak for the more experienced kayaker. The elevated design of the Aero Paddle Seat and self-bailing floor of the Zeppelin keeps you comfortable and dry during your time on the water. Peak rigidity and performance. $45.
Designed for two paddlers, the Paragon Tandem includes two high-back kayak seats and two sets of foot braces, which can all be adjusted to accommodate the paddlers' needs. Non-bailing, high-pressure drop-stitch floor insert gives the boat the rigidity of a hard shell kayak. Comes with bungee deck rigging for storing gear while keeping it accessible. Perfect for a kayaking couple. $55.
Plenty of room for a cooler and tackle box, plus the stability for standing and sighting fish, this is the answer to touring Horseshoe Bend and catching a few Colorado River trout whether fly-casting or spin fishing. Comfortable aluminum-framed suspended mesh seat elevates anglers for optimal visibility and easier standing. Collapsible seat back for easy transport. Screened drain port under the seat eliminates standing water on the deck. $45.
The XL Cruz is wider and longer, offering a little more stability for the wobbly rookies or a solid platform for larger paddlers. Highly stable and beginner-friendly from the start, there are six more inches to the length and four more inches of width to the Cruz XL. With 261 liters of air volume, the 5-inch-thick Cruz XL provides optimal performance and stability for paddlers up to 220 pounds. There is a sturdy webbing handle in the center of the board for easy carrying. $35.
There are five (5) campgrounds along the Glen Canyon run of the Colorado River between the Glen Canyon Dam and Lees Ferry boat launch. (Camp sites are listed and described below).
There is a maximum 14-day limit on camping at any campground.
All campgrounds are first-come-first-served. All campsites should have three dispersed fire rings; if you share a campsite, camp in an area that offers you and your nearest neighbor as much privacy as possible.
Camp only in designated camping areas. The designated camping areas have composting toilets and fire rings. There are three areas that have composting toilets that are not campgrounds: a series of toilets at River Mile 10 (the Petroglyphs), a couple of toilets (River Mile 7 on river left), and a single toilet on the bench above River Mile 4, on river right.
If you have neighbors, communicate with them about where to set up camp so that everyone has a pleasant experience. Keep noise down and be respectful of others. No loud music; respect the beauty of the dark sky experience and keep lights and lanterns dim. No gas generators allowed.
You need to be flexible in your planning and execution of which campsite you are going to use for overnight visits along the Colorado River in Glen Canyon.
This is the furthest upriver campsite located on the corner of the bend at “river right” (right side of the river when looking downstream), at approximately River Mile 14 (14 miles above the boat ramp at Lees Ferry) or about 2 miles below Glen Canyon Dam. There is a very small beach at the base of a tall cut bank and a worn trail that leads up to the campsites. This campsite is about 30-feet above the river. The small beach area in front does not offer much access to the river for fishing or boat storage. This campsite offers a large camping area with some shade.
Approximately River Mile 11, about 3 miles below Ropes Trail Campsite and 5 miles below Glen Canyon Dam. This is one of the more popular campsites. Expect this camp to be occupied for much of the year and often fills before others. This campsite is perfect for large groups and offers considerable beach access as well as hiking on the bench above the river. It also offers some of the best fishing access, allowing one to cover more than a mile of shoreline. It has limited shade with a large beach area.
At the head of Horseshoe Bend at River Mile 9 about 2 miles below Ferry Swale Campground. This is a large campground offering good dispersed camping. Again, like Ferry Swale, this campground often fills first. This area offers plenty of beach and good hiking on the bench and along the river. It allows one to fish for a mile or more along the river. Has limited shade with decent beach area with sand and gravel.
This is 1 mile below Horseshoe Bend, on the bench above the river on River Mile right. This is likely the least-used campground in the Glen Canyon river corridor. It is a large campsite with some shade. The beach area is adequate to park boats. Hiking on the bench. It’s possible to hike all the way up to Horseshoe Bend Campsite and beyond. Good fishing access. Small beach area.
On the bluff at River Mile 7, river left. This campground has no toilet and you can only use it if you have your own approved portable toilet. Gorgeous spot with decent fishing access, but very limited hiking and a small beach.
6 miles above Lees Ferry and 10 miles below Glen Canyon Dam on river right. This is the first campground you encounter from Lees Ferry and the last one that you will find on the way down river from the dam. Often busy and sometimes full. Be sure to have an alternative plan and option to float to Lees Ferry if this campground is filled to capacity. Very limited hiking and fishing. There is no camping below this campsite until you get to the NPS campground at Lees Ferry. Most of the river front of this campsite is boulder-strewn with no beach.
Kayak Horseshoe Bent, the Colorado River, Lake Powell, and Glen Canyon Dam family vacation visits are often combined with National Parks that range from a 90 minute drive to nearly a day away. These include:
Arches National Park is one of the top national parks in America: it’s a 73,234-acre wonderland of eroded sandstone fins, towers, ribs, gargoyles, hoodoos, balanced rocks, and, of course, arches northwest of Moab. 370 miles from Lees Ferry.
An alpine forest with as many red rock hoodoos as trees. At dawn and dusk, mule deer graze the forested plateau along the road into Bryce Canyon. 145 miles from Lees Ferry.
Canyonlands is home to numerous types of travel experiences, from solitude in the more remote stretches of the park to moderate hikes through the Needles district to the opportunity to create your own version of one of the west's most photographed landforms, Mesa Arch. Canyonlands is generally considered to be the beginning of Glen Canyon National Park. It is 85 miles from Lees Ferry.
Whether trying to catch your breath while climbing the trail to Observation Point or watching the shadows constantly changes the mood of the Court of the Patriarchs, Zion National Park is always ready to quench your appetite for outdoor wonder. 114 miles from Lees Ferry.
It is difficult to rival Capitol Reef National Park’s sense of expansiveness, of broad, sweeping vistas, of a tortured, twisted, seemingly endless landscape, or of limitless sky and desert rock. 262 miles from Lees Ferry.
Every sport has its ultimate destination. For a golfer, it’s St. Andrews in Scotland; for a kid in Little League, it’s Yankee Stadium or Wrigley Field and for anyone who has ever paddled a kayak (or thought about paddling one) it’s the Colorado River as it courses through Glen Canyon.
But for the average person or family – not an Olympic athlete or hard core explorer – the most important kayaking river distance is those approximately 15 miles in Glen Canyon between Glen Canyon Dam and the Lees Ferry launch ramp. Sorry, there are none of the whitewater thrills to be found in the upper stretches of the waterway in Colorado, to be sure, but the Lees Ferry stretch of water offers nearly everything else.
It’s about 15 miles of family-friendly water with five campsites, if you’d like to sleep under the stars. There’s world class trout fishing with either spinning or fly-fishing gear. There are desert bighorn sheep and wild horses. There are some 300+ species of birds including California condors, Peregrine falcons and various long-legged wading birds to see.
Colorado River kayaking Arizona is an aquatic world unto itself highlighted by Horseshow Bend, a world-renowned natural phenomenon. In reality, Horseshoe Bend is an “entrenched meander,” a wide sweep around a sandstone escarpment. Before paddling through it, see Horseshoe Bend from a viewing area in nearby Page, AZ. From the rim high above the river, you’ll capture the stunning grandeur. That view gives you a far greater perspective and appreciation during your subsequent Colorado River kayak trip with the Lees Ferry outfitter, Kayak Horseshoe Bend.
A licensed U.S. Coast Guard-approved captain will pilot your shuttle or backhaul boat up river with your kayak or canoe and personal gear stowed aboard from the Lees Ferry launch ramp and parking area to the base of Glen Canyon dam. Then, just a short distance below your launch site, you will enter the Jewel of the Colorado River: Horseshoe Bend.
Savor the experience as you would a Renoir painting or a fine glass of wine. Let the moment soak every sense – sight, sound, smell. It is not often you will experience something 175,000,000 years old.
If you don’t have the time on your itinerary for the full 15 mile float – or it’s a little too long a day for kids and family – ask your boat captain for his or her suggestions for a good starting point. Just remember to stop when you float back to the boat launch! If you miss it, the next stop is all the way through the Grand Canyon of the Colorado … more than 200 miles away.
You might never have the ability to hit a golf ball at St. Andrews or a baseball at a major league stadium, but you can definitely paddle a kayak down the Colorado River at Lees Ferry. Do it.
For information, please phone 928 355 2261.
Glen Canyon, named by explorer and naturalist John Wesley Powell following his epic voyage of discovery, today is a 1.2 million-acre park that spans the scenic desert landscape from the bottom of Canyonlands National Park to the tip of Grand Canyon National Park, including buttes, cliffs, canyons, and mesas.
It is where Horseshoe Bend is located. The bend itself is just downstream from Glen Canyon Dam, which created and now holds Lake Powell.
According to National Park Service documentation, approximately 1,500 historic and pre-contact structures in varying condition exist in the park They include Ancestral Puebloan architecture, hogans, brush structures, and cabins, and are associated with the tribes and bands of the Hopi, Paiute, Navajo, Ute, and Zuni, as well as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, cattle ranchers, miners, and others.
Securely beach your kayak and hike various trails to see various historic objects. Trails and their access points are listed and defined in National Park Service documents.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area contains several historic properties that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places These include the Davis Gulch pictograph panel, the Hole-in-the-Rock and Hole-in-the-Rock Trail, Defiance House, the Lees Ferry/ Lonely Dell Ranch National Historic District, and the Charles H Spencer remnants of a steamboat.
Almost 900,000 objects and archival records in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area museum collection are in good condition and housed in two repositories.
Of particular interest to those traveling by kayak, canoe, and paddle boards floating the Colorado River are the 19 Native American Indian tribes and bands that are associated with Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and are the contemporary descendants of those American Indians who left behind what we call “archeological” or cultural sites.
As you kayak, canoe or SUP the Colorado through Glen Canyon to Lees Ferry, look upward at rock faces to see 100- to 150-year old “graffiti” of names and dates inscribed by young Mormon couples as they made the journey from Utah to northern Arizona on what became known as the Honeymoon Trail.
If you are interested in Honeymoon Trail stories, there has been much documented and written about John Doyle Lee and Lees Ferry, the Mountain Meadow Massacre and so much more.
To the uninitiated or just a newcomer, Arizona is often thought of as a desert cactus flower in a dry river bed. Wrong! While the state may not be comfortably compared to Minnesota with its 10,000 (more or less) lakes, the Grand Canyon State has miles upon miles of kayak-friendly waters. Here are a few of the best places to kayak in AZ:
Peer deep into the Colorado River along the 15 mile stretch in Glen Canyon between Glen Canyon Dam and Lees Ferry from your yak or SUP and you’re likely to see the biggest rainbow or brown trout in your life. Kayaking this 15 mile stretch also takes you through the natural wonder of Horseshoe Bend. See desert bighorn sheep, wild horses, California condors, Peregrine falcons, and so much more. You can paddle both up and down, or take a convenient motor-powered backhaul boat or shuttle upriver, then paddle down at your own pace. Rental of single or tandem kayaks and other services are available through outfitter Kayak Horseshoe Bend at Lees Ferry.
Above Glen Canyon Dam, Lake Powell stretches some 180 miles and contains about 100 side canyons ripe for exploration. It’s these canyons where boaters in kayaks and canoes go to get away from the lake's hubbub. Favorites include Antelope Canyon, Labyrinth Canyon with its maze of sandstone walls, and Lone Star Canyon. The water is suitable for both experienced kayakers and beginners and it is truly one of the best places to kayak in Arizona.
If you’re looking for someplace different to go, Lake Pleasant, 45 minutes northwest of Phoenix, is excellent for kayaking Arizona. Canyons and cliffs tower over the six-mile lake, islands dot the middle of it and slot canyons hide on the northeast side. There are a lot of Arizona landscapes to explore on a kayak or canoe, so prepare for a full day for boating. There are power boaters on the lake, so stay close to the shoreline for a smoother ride.
Just four miles from Prescott, consider Watson Lake. This kayaking spot offers calm waters and up-close views of the Granite Dells. These boulders – rippled into shape by erosion – are said to be 1.4 billion years old, rising from the water and lining the lake's shores. Launch your own kayak or rent one from Prescott Outdoors. They offer solo and tandem kayaks plus canoes and stand-up paddleboard or SUPs.
If you’re seeking near-town kayaking and canoeing, visit Mesa, near the eastern border of Phoenix. Launch from the north end where you can spot wild horses, deer and other wildlife of the Tonto National Forest as well as wildflowers on Bulldog Cliffs. There are some rapids at the beginning of the river, but kayakers can pretty much go with the flow. Leave the river at the southern end near Phon D Sutton. There are no shuttle services so you’ll need two vehicles for drop-off and pick-up.
If you seek cooler temperatures in the heat of summer, think about Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest with temps in the mid-80s. Fool Hollow Lake offers pristine waters perfect for all kayaking skill levels. The 150-acre lake sits in the shade of the world's largest belt of ponderosa pines and the boat-motor restrictions mean no boat wakes. Kayak and canoe rentals are available. There are entrance fees.
There are so many attractions at Canyon Lake located in the Tonto National Forest, it could be hard to choose: jagged red-rock cliffs, secluded coves, bighorn sheep or the wildflowers that sprout along the shoreline in spring. You'll be able to see all of those and more from a kayak or canoe. The lake's waters can get a little choppy, so stay close to the edges for easy boating. A Tonto Pass is required.
Kayakers seeking solitude and cooler weather can do no better than Big Lake Recreation Area, 25 miles south of Springerville at an elevation of 9,000 feet. It’s popular with anglers, thanks to its plentiful supply of rainbow, brook and cutthroat trout. Blue Lake, at 450 acres, is also one of the best places to kayak in Arizona. Tucked away in the White Mountains, Blue Lake offers tranquil waters, scenic vistas, and a remote, away-from-it-all locale. From Springerville, go 5 miles west to AZ-261, then travel 18 miles to FR-113. Turn left. Drive 2 miles to FR-115 and then right at the entrance.
On the Mogollon Rim, Blue Ridge Reservoir offers some of the most relaxed paddling in Arizona. There’s hardly any traffic along the reservoir and motorboats aren't allowed, so for kayakers in search of solo time, Blue Ridge is ideal. No permit is required to put in. To reach Blue Ridge Reservoir, drive 55 miles south of Flagstaff to Clints Well on FR- 3 (Lake Mary Road). Turn left on AZ-87 and go 4 miles to FR-138. Follow this to the Blue Ridge Campground and Blue Ridge Reservoir. The reservoir is closed to the public during winter.
Considered an AZ kayaking and canoeing favorite, Patagonia Lake State Park in Santa Cruz County was created by damming nearby Sonoita Creek. While paddling Patagonia Lake, keep your eyes open for birds that call this area home – great blue herons, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher and various species of hummingbirds. If you seek calm waters, head to the lake's east end where there are no-wake regulations. Patagonia Lake also offers boat-in-only campsites, which line the shores and are remote and private.
The question of “how long does it take to kayak Horseshoe Bend?” is almost like “how high is up?” A normal float with a “stretch your legs” stop or two and maybe a quick swim for the kids is generally five to seven hours. But, as stated above, if you don’t have all day, ask your boat captain for suggestions on where to begin your journey … a few miles, 5 to 10 miles or the entire 15 miles.
As for timing your trip, it is probably best to avoid Dec., Jan., and Feb. Cold winds and freezing temperature can put a crimp in things. But from mid-March to mid-Nov., every paddle stroke will be a new view, a new adventure.
Kayak the Glen Canyon section of the Colorado River through Horseshoe Bend and see for yourself one of the greatest sights on Planet Earth! You’ll remember it always.
Trout fishing can be spectacular the entire 15 miles between Glen Canyon Dam, through Horseshoe Bend, and down river to the Lees Ferry boat ramp. Rainbow and brown trout are your targets.
For fly-fishers, the 15 mile stretch of water from the dam face to the Lees Ferry boat ramp attracts anglers from across the United States and around the world. Cast and drift a small barbless zebra midge, San Juan worm or other pattern. Or, if you prefer, use a de-barbed bead-headed olive wooly bugger on a sink-tip, #5 weight-forward fly line. Strip and pause, jiggle the fly, stop and start. The strike of a 14- to 18-inch trout will definitely get your attention and only add to your Kayak Horseshoe Bend vacation adventure.
If you are a spin fisher, pack a lightweight spinning rod and reel loaded with 4-pound test line. Flip a Mepps, Panther Martin, Kastmaster, Rapala or similar lure into deeper waters and swing it across the current. Your kayak will need to be stopped as you cast and retrieve so that you are not casting at the same rate that the kayak is drifting.
While you drift through the last remnants of Glen Canyon – what many call “the most spectacular canyon on earth” – paddle quietly and listen for the screech of a diving Peregrine falcon, the whinny of a wild horse or the barely audible click of desert bighorn sheep’s hooves on a sheer rock wall on your right side as your move down river. Use binoculars to look for bighorn sheep in every nook and cranny. Rams (males) have large curved horns, while females (ewes) have short horns with only slight curvature. They are the largest native animal in the park, with rams weighing up to 250 pounds.
Wild horses can best be seen in the grassy areas adjacent to beaches on the left hand bank as you head downstream. Do not attempt to ride one or take one home for the kids. They are faster and kick much harder than you.
You will not encounter any whitewater or rapids on your Horseshoe Bend river float. It is all flat, soft water, perfect for the beginner, a family outing or as an adjunct to bird watching. With the large open water habitat of Lake Powell and the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (NRA) is highly diverse with 315 documented bird species. This diversity can be attributed to the colonization of Lake Powell by aquatic birds, augmented by the presence of the Colorado River, which is most likely a migration corridor for aquatic and riparian birds.
King of the birds is the California condor. The California condor is one of the world’s largest and rarest birds, with a wingspan of 9 to 10 feet and weight of up to about 25 pounds. The condor is closely related to the turkey vulture and Andean condor. There are an estimated 300 wild condors on your kayak river route from the base of Glen Canyon Dam, through Horseshoe Bend to the Lees Ferry boat ramp, so your chances of seeing one or more are very good. Just stop paddling and look up at the 1,000 foot cliffs on your right every few minutes.
Cliff Dwellers Lodge consists of the main unit with multiple living accommodations to meet the needs of kayakers, vacationing families, Grand Canyon rafters, hikers, astronomers, rock hounds, bird watchers, fishing people or any combination. Additionally, there is a separate three-bedroom house designed for families or groups located 100 yards or so up the adjacent hill.
Some call the adjacent Cliff Dwellers Restaurant a high desert jewel; others refer to it as an oasis, but whatever your definition, it is a classic, old-fashioned place to get a good, honest meal. Don’t take our word (obviously, we have a good opinion) but believe it when Arizona Highways Magazine heaped lavish praise and the restaurant has won continuous Trip Advisor Awards. Cliff Dwellers Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers full bar service. Both the lodge and restaurant are wheelchair accessible.
For accommodations or Cliff Dwellers Restaurant reservations, phone 928 355 2261.