Palo Duro Canyon State Park

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Sometimes you need to take a road trip, to a place you’ve never been. Living in Kansas, we have few options for a weekend, outdoorsy trip.  Even though we’re basically in the middle of the country, it’s takes some hours in the car to get anywhere. Usually we go to Colorado or Arkansas but wanting a chance of pace, we pointed our car south and drove to Palo Duro Canyon, located in the panhandle of Texas, near Amarillo.

things to do in palo duro canyon texas

Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States, you know, behind the big one…the GRAND Canyon. It features several multi-use trails (hikers, bikers and equestrian) with some pretty cool views. Be prepared to  ditch the cell phones because you won’t get reception down in the canyon (at least we didn’t) but no worries, with everything there is to do, you won’t even miss them.

Things to do in Palo Duro Canyon

Camp

Even if you live close by, grab your tent (or borrow one from a friend) and camp overnight. Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers primitive (backpack), primitive drive-up sites (tent only or as we like to say, car camping sites), sites with water and electric (RV sites), and equestrian sites.

Even though we were tent camping, we stayed at Hackberry Camp Area, which has RV sites. It’s been our experience that RV sites are quieter and for us, we don’t mind paying more to ensure we can get a good night’s sleep. For this trip, our campsite was very close to the bathrooms, which was very beneficial when traveling with our daughter. Aside from someone setting off their car alarm, we had two very peaceful evenings at our camp site. There is also a camp host if you have questions or concerns.

Stargaze

Since you’re away from the city lights, the stars are even brighter. You can easily spot all the major constellations and if you’re lucky, may even see a shooting star or two.

givens spicer lowry trail palo duro canyon

Go Hiking

More than likely, that’s why you came here in the first place, to hike. There are several trails to choose from, each with a different level of difficulty, which ranges from easy to difficult. The trails are clearly marked and have ample mile markers so you can keep track of your distance.

We took our 6-year old daughter and 10-year old dog hiking on the Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail or GSL Trail (which was right across the street from our campground) and the Lighthouse Trail. The GSL trail is rated as a difficult trail but don’t let that deter you. In my opinion the trails are rated a bit higher in difficulty than they truly are, especially if you hike on a regular basis. We hiked a mile and half into the trail, far enough to see Lighthouse Rock, before turning around.

Lighthouse Trail is a pretty easy trail. It’s flat with occasional, slight elevation gain and loss. The only difficult part (and it truly should be rated difficult) is the very last tenth of a mile where you are climbing up to Lighthouse Rock. Going up the short section is much easier than going down. This is a very popular trail so don’t expect quiet and solitude. You’ll likely pass groups of college students out for the weekend.

capitol peak palo duro canyon

Capitol Peak

Mountain Bike

Capitol Peak Trail is the only dedicated bike trail. The other trails are shared with runners, hikers and horses. Many of the trails are connected so even the experienced mountain biker will enjoy themselves.

My husband, who is a very experienced mountain biker, started on the GSL Trail, then connected to several other trails, to finally meet up with our daughter and me at Lighthouse Rock. Since I hadn’t been on a bicycle for a few months, I took it easier and rode the Sunflower and parts of the Rojo Grande Trail.

wildlife palo duro canyon

View Wildlife

We woke up to turkeys and deer outside our campsite. Luckily those were the only animals as the park is also host to bobcats, coyotes and many species of snakes and lizards.

palo duro canyon hiking trails

We visited the park in the middle of February, where temps were in the high 60s during the day and 30s during the night. A burn ban was put in effect a few days before we arrived, which meant no campfires, but we were still able to use our camping stove. This just made us plan ahead and prep camping friendly food. If you’re visiting the park in the summer, be smart about it and make sure you have plenty of water and apply (and reapply) sunscreen! Palo Duro Canyon is a great place to take the family for a long weekend and we already have plans to come back.

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About Sarah

Mom. Blogger. Runner. Hiker. Insomniac. Not necessarily in that order.

Comments

  1. Robin Rue ( says:

    Look at those amazing views. We just don’t have scenery like that here in New England.

  2. How gorgeous. I would love to visit Palo Duro Canyon with the family. I think this type of terrain has a certain stark beauty to it.

  3. Aside from California and a stop in New Mexico, I haven’t been to the southwest at all, so I’m missing out on sights like this one.

  4. Your images are amazing! How incredible to be out in nature, unplugged with family. I would love to do something like this.

  5. Catherine S says:

    This looks like a fun weekend road trip. We usually end up at the beach when we take a long weekend.

  6. Wow, Palo Duro Canyon looks like a beautiful place to visit. I definitely would not mind stargazing out there!

  7. I would really enjoy the wildlife. It looks like there’s quite a bit of sun out there to take in too. Very beautiful.

  8. I’d definitely do some prep before a trip to this State Park. It sounds lovely and I’d be excited to see some wildlife.

    • It was really neat waking up to the turkeys. There were about 20 of them surrounding our camp. My daughter didn’t know what to think.

  9. It appears as though you enjoyed this canyon state park, I love all of the photos and it really looks like an experience my family would enjoy!

    • We really did. I want to take my mountain bike back and ride all the trains, even the ones that scared me!

  10. This looks like a beautiful location. Some of my favorite vacations as a child were when my parents would take us places like this.

    • That’s what we’re hoping…that our daughter looks back on this someday and thinks it’s pretty special.

  11. Palo Duro Canyon State Park looks like a beautiful place to spend the day. I love to go for hikes and spend time in nature.

  12. Wouldn’t that be nice to see a shooting star there. It looks like a nince place to visit.

  13. We go camping every year for Father’s Day, and I haven’t booked anything yet! I need to look into Palo Duro. It looks gorgeous!

  14. This Canyon looks adventurous and beautiful. I have been wanting to take my kids out West. This looks perfect.

  15. Thanks for the post! Living in Oklahoma, I, too, understand the difficulty of finding good outdoor getaways without spending days in the car. I’m excited to visit Palo Duro.

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