Best Things To Do In Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Palo Duro Canyon is one of the most popular Texas State Parks, and for good reason. The Grand Canyon of Texas is a beautiful collection of diverse habitats that attracts deer, wild turkeys , coyotes, bobcats, roadrunners, and more.
The Civilian Conservation Corps built the Canyon Gallery and Visitor Center, located a short half-mile inside the park entrance near the top of the canyon. Youll drive past the parking lot for the Overlook to get to the historic structure.
Exhibits tell the story of the canyon, and theres a gift shop offering Southwest art and pottery and jewelry made by Native Americans.
Hiking is one of the most popular things to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. There are more than thirty miles of trails, and some are available for biking.
Some of the easier hikes are Paseo Del Rio and Sunflower Trail. Rylander Fortress Cliff is an easy hike along the top of the canyon walls. The most popular is Lighthouse Trail, a moderate 2.8 mile walk to a unique hoodoo formation. Youll definitely want to take lots of water on this trail its where the majority of heat-related injuries happen.
For those looking for a real workout, Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail is a difficult 3.1 mile challenging trek featuring beautiful scenery.
If youre into mountain biking, Capitol Peak has three levels of difficulty, so its suitable for various skill levels.
Best Hikes And Trails
Hiking is one of the best ways to get the lay of the land and experience the unique flora and fauna of Palo Duro. Here are some of the trails to check out, ranging in order from shortest to longest :
- This flat, moderate, 2.2-mile trail winds along the river watch for the colorful Spanish Skirts rock formation along the way.
- Civilian Conservation Corps Trail: Cross four historic CCC bridges as you descend hundreds of feet from the canyon rim to the floor on this difficult 2.8-mile trail.
- Rock Garden Trail: On this challenging 5-mile, you’ll climb 600 feet from a field of boulders at the bottom of the canyon to the Rylander Fortress Trail along the canyons rim.
- Lighthouse Trail: Of the parks many unique, million-year-old geological features, the 310-foot-tall Lighthouse is the most popular, and you can reach it via a 5.7-mile trail that affords stunning views of the colorful, eroded cliff faces along the way.
- Givens, Spicer, and Lowry Trail: This 6.2-mile trail is definitely a workout, but the viewswondrous rock formations, blazing red sandstone, scenic canyon overlooksare worth it.
- Upper/Lower Comanche Trails: If youre up for a longer trek, both the Upper and Lower Comanche Trails offer marvelous scenery and a look at the heart of the territory of the Comanches. The Upper Comanche is 6.6 miles the Lower is 8.8 miles.
Inside Palo Duro Canyon State Park
You can find many adventures inside Palo Duro Canyon State Park, like hiking to see the towering rock formations. You can also ride a horse into the canyon or explore the trails on mountain bikes. The sky gets very dark at night, making it a great place to get out your telescope. You may also want to take the scenic drive through the canyon. Be sure to bring your camera to capture unique images of the wildlife and the desert flowers.
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Palo Duro Canyon State Park Overview
Palo Duro Canyon State Park features the 2nd largest canyon in the country and is located in the Texas Panhandle. The campground has 97 campsites with water & electric hookups . These looks have restrooms with showers. There are also 24 tent-only campsites in the Cactus and Fortress Cliff areas. These loops have water in the camping area, but restrooms and showers are 1/2 mile to 2 miles away. Four primitive campsites, group camping and 8 equestrian campsites are also available. Three cabins and 4 Cow Cabins on the canyon floor are also available to rent.
Other park amenities include picnic areas, group pavilions, a park store/gift shop, visitor center, restaurant and mixed-use trails.
Outdoor Recreation & Activities
The Texas Outdoor Musical runs Tuesday through Sunday in the summer Pioneer Amphitheater. Other activities include horseback riding , hiking, biking, picnicking and wildlife viewing.
- RV Hookups
Palo Duro Canyon State Park Camping
There are several campgrounds if you want to camp in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
Campsites with Electricity:
All four campgrounds have sites that include picnic tables, water hookups, both 30 and 50 amp hookups, restrooms with showers nearby, and a fire ring or a grill.
Palu Duro Canyon State Park camping fees are $26 for sites with electricity, plus the entrance fee to the park.
There are also primitive sites, which are $12 for the night, and campsites with water only for $16.
Make reservations at Reserve America.
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Beautiful Rocky Canyon In The Panhandle
This state park is a real jewel for Texas. It’s located just south of Amarillo. We did a few of the hikes that overlook the park. The hikes are easy to medium and there is something everyone can do. It was interesting to learn that it is the second largest canyon in the U.S. behind the Grand Canyon. The scenery was beautiful. Bring plenty of water and watch for rattlesnakes. A hiker coming down told us to not sit on the rock at the top as there was a snake underneath so be wary of ledges where they might hide. Bring lots of water. Our hike day was jackets, jeans and hats and lots of wind. Limited cell service. We went into the nearby town of Canyon for lunch or your are not far from Amarillo.
The park in overall outstanding. There are many wonderful hiking trails, good places for mountain biking. The picnic and camping areas were clean and had great facilities, including very nice restrooms and showers. Due to type of vegetation, there is not much privacy in camp grounds. The scenery is gorgeous. The Visitor Center had helpful staff to suggest hiking trails and a lovely gift shop. The museum at the Visitor Center had excellent fossils and archaeological information. Our only issue was that the narrative about history felt disrespectful toward Native Americans who were fighting to keep their homeland and way of life.
Best Camping In Palo Duro Canyon
Tim and I stayed at the Hackberry Campsite, one of four campsites with water, electricity, and public restrooms. Every morning, a large flock of turkey wandered through, gobbling and showing off their plumes as we drank coffee and watched the sun rise over the canyon walls and hoodoos.
The park has numerous campsites with water and electricity, tent sites, equestrian sites, and backpack camping areas.
Note: Palo Duro Canyon is open for day use from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, but for the foreseeable future, all guests, including annual pass holders, must purchase day passes and/or overnight reservations in advance through the Texas State Parks Reservation System.
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Palo Duro Location And Entrance Fees
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located southeast of Amarillo, Texas, in the Panhandle.
The daily entrance fee for Palo Duro Canyon State Park is $8 per person and free for children 12 and under. You can also get an annual pass for $70, which covers your day use fees for all 80+ Texas parks. You can purchase it online.
Car Camping At Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Reserving camping at Palo Duro Canyon State Park is pretty easy, and we met a couple digital nomads who had arrived at the same time we did for first-come, first-serve camping. I made our reservation on theTexas State Park website just a month prior to our trip, and there were a decent amount of openings that ranged from cabins, campsites with electric hookups and/or water hookups, group campsites, group halls, and even a pavilion that can hold up to 54 people in a group. My friend and I stayed at the Fortress Cliff Camp Area, a campsite with a water hookup that lies deep in the middle of the canyon in between campgrounds near the entrance such as the Sagebrush and Hackberry Camp Areas and campgrounds near the end of the park such as the Cactus, Mesquite, and Juniper Multi-Use Camp Areas.
We picked the Fortress Cliff Camp Area because we only needed a water hookup since we planned to sleep in the car, wanted to camp deep in the canyon, and be near the biggest cluster of hiking trails. Palo Duro Canyon also offers mountain biking, equestrian, and other multi-use trails, but we were only interested in hiking. Our camp area had reasonably spaced campsites, two big trash bins, and two porta potties. The canyon wall is a nice backdrop, so we were able to enjoy our meals and downtime while admiring the red rocks that overlooked us.
Image by Lauren Pineda
Image by Lauren Pineda
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Palo Duro Canyon Named Among Top 10 Camping Sites In Us
Palo Duro Canyon State Park has been named among the top 10 camping sites in the U.S. by The Dyrt, the No. 1 camping app in the iOS and Android App stores.
The app compiled a list of the top 10 best U.S. campgrounds of 2021 according to its users.
With more than 1.5 million reviews and tips for more than 45,000 campgrounds, The Dyrt crunched the numbers using a combination of ratings, number of ratings and the quality, length and character of reviews to arrive at the top 10 list.
The result is varied, ranging from noteworthy national park sites to hidden gems:
10. Camp Rockaway New York
9. Palo Duro Canyon State Park Texas
8. Monte Sano State Park Alabama
7. Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort Washington
6. Fort De Soto Campground Florida
5. Split Rock State Park Minnesota
4. Goblin Valley State Park Utah
3. Alabama Hills Recreation Area California
2. Havasu Falls Arizona
1. Jenny Lake Wyoming
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website, visitors can explore the canyon by foot, mountain bike, horse or car as the park features more than 30 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails.
Campers can choose from sites with water and electricity, tent sites, equestrian sites, or backpack camping areas.
For more information on the park, visit tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/palo-duro-canyon
Co-founder Sarah Smith came up with the concept for The Dyrt so she could know where to go camping and which spots to reserve.
Do Not Miss While At Palo Duro Canyon State Park:
We still have a lot of the park left to explore, but after our first visit our recommendations of “Must See/Do” while you’re at Palo Duro Canyon State Park include: the El Coronado Lodge for information on the park as well as its local art gallery and museum, the scenic overlooks , the Cowboy Dugout offers an interesting peek into life in the canyon during the 1800s, and the Trading Post is a nice place to eat when you don’t feel like cooking or need to pick up a few supplies. We really enjoyed our hike on the Paseo del Rio trail. It was an easy trail with ever changing plant life and views, and interesting finds along the way . As a bonus: quite a bit of the trail was shaded. And don’t forget to check out the park’s iconic rock structure: the Lighthouse! Even if you choose not to explore the trail, you can get a glimpse of the Lighthouse from the trail head parking lot.
View from the El Coronado Lodge
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Contact Palo Duro Canyon State Park:
Park Address: 11450 Park Road 5, Canyon TX 79015
Park Phone: 806.488.2227
Water and Electric Hookups
All RV sites have paved parking pads. Each RV site has a covered picnic table and a fire ring with grill. Some sites can accomodate larger rigs. All RV and tent camping sites are located on the canyon floor. Sites in the Juniper Camping Loop also include a lantern post and tent pad. Three of the campsites in the Juniper Loop are also ADA certified accessible.
There is a bathhouse with showers at each of these camping loops. Dump Stations are located near the Hackberry Loop and the Sagebrush Loop. The park map also shows a Dump Station across from the Mesquite Loop at the Cow Camp Cabins, but this dump station is really only accessible to very small and maneuverable RVs.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Despite being home to the second-largest canyon in the country, Palo Duro Canyon State Park often flies under the radar for many travelers. The parks isolated location is a big reason for this, although that isolation is also part of the appeal. In the off-season, if youre hiking in the early morning, youre likely to have the trails all to yourself. At Palo Duro, million-year-old caprock formations and 120 miles of wild, pristine canyon combine to create an otherworldly expanse.
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A Typical Texas Outsider Day:
We start the day with a hearty breakfast and then try to make a decision on whether to hike or bike the trails and which trails to start with. For an easy ride, we like the Sunflower, Rio Grande, or Del Rio trail, each of which is about a 2 mile easy ride or hike along the base of the canyon with portions following the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. The signature tail is the Lighthouse Trail and it’s a must do if you’re into hiking or mountain bikig. It is a moderately difficult, 5.75 mile round trip multi-use trial that climbs 940 feet through some stunning rock formations, beautiful scenery, and to the parks hallmark lighthouse hoodoo.
After a day of hiking, sitting around the campfire, enjoying a cold drink, and the starlit sky is a perfect end to the day. We have also enjoyed one of the horseback trail rides. And Comanche Trail Golf Course in Amarillo is a pretty good course.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park Overview:
Wow – you’ve got to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park at least once. The scenery and unusual rock formations are stunning, the miles of multi-use trails are fantastic and offer everything from easy to strenuous, and the campsites are some of the best in the Texas State Park system.
Palo Duro State Park encompasses over 29,000 acres in the northern section of Palo Duro Canyon which is 120 miles long, as much as 20 miles wide, and has a maximum depth of more than 800 feet. Elevation at the rim is 3,500 feet above sea level and it is often claimed that Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States. The largest, the Grand Canyon, is 277 miles long, 18 miles. wide, and 6,000 ft. deep. Palo Duro Canyon was formed by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River which over millions of years has carved and created some unbelievable scenery and interesting geological rock formations. The rock formations are a multitude of colors including bright red claystone, white gypsum, plus yellow, gray, and lavender mudstone.
Palo Duro State Park is very well maintained and offers primitive, tent, and RV sites as well as cabins.
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How To Get Topalo Duro Canyon State Park
If you are coming to Palo Duro Canyon State Park from Amarillo and other northern areas, then take Interstate 27 and get off at Exit 106. Get on the service road, and turn right on TX 217E. Continue for 10.8 miles, and the park will be on your right.
If you are coming to Palo Duro Canyon State Park from Lubbock and other southern areas, then take Exit 103 off the interstate, and turn right on TX 217 E. The park will be on your right in about 10.8 miles.
To get to the park from Canyon, TX, simply follow TX 217 E.
Hiking Palo Duro Canyon
When daylight woke us, we stepped out of the car and were slapped by early-morning cold winds. I borrowed an extra sweater my friend happened to bring, because I mindlessly packed only leggings and t-shirts for the hot Texas weather that comes in May, even when there’s a thunderstorm. The campsite next to us was occupied by a sweet Canadian family with an endlessly curious little boy who only spoke French. They graciously allowed us to use their camp stove to cook our breakfast, and we learned that they were in the middle of an amazing four-month long road trip across the U.S. They had stopped in Palo Duro to rest for a few days before making another long drive to their next destination and were supposed to move campsites because their reservation was up. As a thank-you for allowing us to use their camp stove, we invited them to share our campsite. We helped them move their stuff over to set up our little community campground and then set out to go hike.
Image by Lauren Pineda
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Texas Outside Campground Rating System
Texas Outside uses a tough rating scale and itâs difficult for a campground to get a â10â. Each park is rated on:
- Scenic Beauty: a campground that is flat with no trees or character gets a â1â and hills, lots of trees, beautiful lake site, and lush ground cover gets a â10â
- Park Condition: the cleaner, well kept, and maintained campgrounds receive high scores
- Amenities: we are looking for lots of amenities like restrooms, dump stations, playgrounds, boat ramps, shelters, concession stand, rental toys, and more.
- Campsites: low scores are given for sites that are right next to each other have no lantern holder, no water or electricity, no fire pit, no grill, or no picnic table have no trees and no view the ground cover is crushed rock and they require a lot of work to get your rig level.
- Things To Do: Bonus points are given for campgrounds that offer lots of fun things to do at the park or very nearby â this includes: biking, hiking, climbing, boating, entertainment, golf, swimming, fishing, volleyball, horseshoes, and more