Exploring Marble Canyon, the Start of the Grand Canyon
Marble Canyon is located inside the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which offers visitors a range of other recreational opportunities, besides this one particular canyon. Bordered by the Grand Canyon and the Navajo Nation, Marble Canyon is a great place to stop to stretch your legs when visiting other parks in the area. However, if you have the time to spend a full day here, there is plenty to fill that time up with.
Its most well-known feature is the Navajo Bridge in Lee’s Ferry, which is an iconic steel arch bridge spanning the Colorado River. There is also a small visitor’s center at the bridge as well, which, I think, is the best place to begin the visit at.
Getting to Marble Canyon
Address of the visitor’s center at Lee’s Ferry: 1000 US-89A, Marble Canyon, AZ 86036
GPS coordinates of the visitor’s center parking lot are 36.818034, -111.634117
Marble Canyon, Arizona is located just below the Glen Canyon Dam and extends about 60 miles down the Colorado River until the confluence of the Little Colorado River. The canyon is situated about 40 miles south of Page, Arizona, and approximately 2 hours north of Flagstaff.
To get to Marble Canyon, visitors can drive from Page or Flagstaff and follow the signs to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The best place to start your visit to Marble Canyon would be at the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center in Lee’s Ferry, which located right beside the Navajo Bridge on US Highway 89A as it crosses the Colorado River.
There is a free and paved parking lot at the visitor’s center that holds maybe a dozen cars.
What is Marble Canyon?
Marble Canyon is a breathtaking natural wonder located in Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon marks the Grand Canyon National Park‘s western boundary, while the Navajo Indian Reservation flanks Marble Canyon on the east.
In 1969, the Marble Canyon area was designated as a US National Monument. However, only six years later, President Ford signed the Grand Canyon Enlargement Act, abolishing the national monument and incorporating Marble Canyon into Grand Canyon National Park.
Spanning over 60 miles in a southwest direction, Marble Canyon offers visitors a unique opportunity to witness the stunning beauty of nature.
The hub of Marble Canyon is Lees Ferry. Named after its infamous settler, John D. Lee, Lee’s Ferry was established for his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints settlement, and was used as a ferry to cross the Colorado River until the Navajo Bridge was built in 1929.
Despite its name, Marble Canyon is not composed of marble, but rather sandstone and limestone. The red rocks get their bright red colors from the iron oxide that eventually rusts as it comes in contact with the elements.
What to do at Marble Canyon
Marble Canyon is a great place to quickly stop at on the way to another park, like the Zion or Bryce, but it also has a lot more to offer if you can spend a little more time here.
While likely an all-day event, one of the most popular activities here is river rafting and kayaking. You can either launch your own boat from Lee’s Ferry, or take one of the many Grand Canyon water tours that also start here. River tour companies such as Grand Canyon Whitewater and Canyon REO offer a range of rafting and kayaking experiences for visitors to enjoy, all starting in Marble Canyon.
In addition to river rafting and kayaking, Marble Canyon is also a great destination for fishing. Known for its excellent trout fishing, the canyon is also home to the endangered California condor, which can often be seen in the area.
Navajo Bridge & Visitor’s Center
Another highlight of Marble Canyon is the Navajo Bridge, which crosses the Colorado River and is part of US Highway 89A. The bridge was rebuilt in 1995 to meet modern standards and now spans 909 feet wide, 470 feet above the river.
There is a pedestrian walkway on the bridge, offering breathtaking views of the canyon, just past the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center, which is located on the west side of the bridge. The walkway is windy, high and hot (in the summer at least). The views down the canyon were spectacular, and the Colorado River looked almost green from our vantage point.
The center, which was built at the site of an old rest area, has a visitor center, bookstore, and a range of educational exhibits. While there are no trails at the bridge itself, visitors can explore the surrounding area for even more breathtaking views of the canyon.
The Iconic Horseshoe Bend
One of the most popular attractions in Marble Canyon is Horseshoe Bend, a stunning natural wonder that can be viewed from a trail or overlook. To reach the Horseshoe Bend site, visitors can hike to the overlook or take a short trail that provides stunning views of the canyon.
Located about 35 miles north of the Navajo Bridge along Highway 89, the paved Horseshoe Bend parking lot has room for dozens of vehicles. It does fill up during weekends and peak tourist season, but finding a spot shouldn’t be too hard. The trial to the overlook will also be very crowded this time of the year as well.
The trailhead to the Horseshoe Bend Overlook starts from the back of the parking lot, and is only a half mile easy hike over a small embankment. The trail is dirt all the way, and is relatively wide and flat.
Marble Canyon Weather
In July 2019, we stopped on our way from the Grand Canyon to Zion. Since it was July, you can imagine how hot it was. It actually was so hot we didn’t feel safe being out of the car’s A/C for more than 20-30 minutes. The air is dry and hot in the summer, regularly over 100, and feeling even hotter due to the heat emanating from the rocks and concrete.
Winter sees occasional snow and highs in the mid-50s, with temperatures quickly climbing into the 80s by May.
Where to stay at Marble Canyon
You can usually find an Airbnb or hotel room in Page, AZ. If you are coming from the south, Flagstaff, AZ is always an option as well, but it is about 2 hours away from Marble Canyon. There are three lodges in Lee’s Ferry that may have some availability if you are planing your trip early enough: Marble Canyon Lodge, Cliff Dwellers Lodge and Lees Ferry Lodge at Vermillion Cliffs.