Palo Duro Canyon State Park: The Complete Guide

The famous Lighthouse Rock at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas
Martina Birnbaum / Getty Images
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Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Address
11450 State Hwy Park Rd 5, Canyon, TX 79015-8747, USA
Phone +1 806-488-2227

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 park’s isolated location is a big reason for this, although that isolation is also part of the appeal. In the off-season, if you’re hiking in the early morning, you’re 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.

Things to Do 

Here are some of the best activities that the park (and surrounding area) has to offer:

  • Canyon Gallery and Visitor Center: Located inside the Visitor Center, the Canyon Gallery is home to an array of authentic Native American crafts, Southwest art, and archeological and nature exhibits.     
  • Mountain Biking: Mountain biking is very popular at Palo Duro, offering bikers heart-pumping thrills amidst dramatic scenery. Most trails are designed as multi-use trails for hiking and biking. Check in with park headquarters to find a trail that matches your skill level (and always wear a helmet).  
  • Horseback Riding: Old West Stables offers guided horseback trail rides that take you through all the must-see rock formations and alongside the walls of the canyon.
  • Bird Watching: Due to its variety of habitats, Palo Duro is a haven for birds. Check out the Birds of Palo Duro Canyon State Park Guide to learn about the various species of bird you can find in the park and when to see them.
  • Cowboy Dugout: A short walk from the north end of the Paseo del Rio Trail, the Cowboy Dugout is a dugout with a wood roof that JA ranch cowboys built into the side of a hill.
  • TEXAS Outdoor Musical: You can’t go to Palo Duro without checking the TEXAS Outdoor Musical off your bucket list. Since 1965, this outdoor musical has been telling the story of the settlers of the Texas Panhandle in the 1800s, set against the backdrop of the majestic canyon.  

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 (note that all mileage is round-trip):

  • Juniper/Riverside Trail: 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 canyon’s rim.  
  • Lighthouse Trail: Of the park’s 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 views—wondrous rock formations, blazing red sandstone, scenic canyon overlooks—are worth it.  
  • Upper/Lower Comanche Trails: If you’re 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.
Palo Duro Canyon
photosbyjim / Getty Images

Where to Stay

  • Campgrounds: There are three campgrounds with electricity at Palo Duro: Juniper, Mesquite | Sagebrush, and Hackberry, all of which have restrooms with showers nearby. Hackberry has some sites that hold 60-foot RVs. The Cactus and Fortress Cliff areas have water-only campsites, and there are some primitive (hike-in) sites, as well. Note that primitive sites require permits, which are first-come, first-served on arrival at the park.  You can reserve a spot online at the Texas State Parks website.
  • Cabins: There are seven stone cabins in the park that were built by the CCC in 1933: three on the canyon rim, and four on the canyon floor.  The three canyon rim cabins—Sorenson, Goodnight, and Lighthouse—are very popular so you'll have to book well in advance to score a night at one of these rustic, cozy cabins. A two-night minimum stay is required on weekends and holidays.  The four canyon floor cabins are in the Cow Camp loop and one of them offers some ADA-compliant accessibility features.
  • Glamping: Palo Duro Glamping offers luxury camping on the floor of the canyon, in the form of canvas-covered tents with cedar beds, covered porches, cedar rocking chairs, and other rustic furnishings.
  • Dove’s Rest Resorts: Located a few minutes from the main entrance to the park, Dove’s Rest has several luxury home rentals that all overlook the canyon if that’s more your speed.    

How to Get There

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is about 12 miles east of Canyon on State Highway 217. From Amarillo, take Interstate 27 south to State Highway 217, and go east for 8 miles. The nearest airport to Palo Duro Canyon is Amarillo (AMA).

Accessibility 

In the Juniper campground, there are three sites that are certified ADA accessible: #111, 113, and 115. The Cow Camp #2 Cabin also has some ADA features. The park is also readily accessible by car. Check out the Facility Map, for more info on wheelchair-accessible areas in the park. 

Tips for Visiting 

  • Reservations for Palo Duro Canyon State Park are highly recommended for both camping and day use, as the (very popular) park often reaches capacity.  
  • If you plan to visit multiple Texas state parks in one year, you may want to consider getting a Texas State Parks Pass, which is good for one year and includes unlimited free entry to 89 state parks for you and your guests.
  • Check out a trail map to orient yourself and plan your hikes before you go.  
  • Learn about the rules for pets at state parks before your visit. 
  • Use wildlife and plant common sense. Watch for plants with spines and thorns and stay at a safe distance from wildlife. Never feed wildlife, under any circumstances.
  • Plan your day around the heat, especially in the white-hot summertime when temperatures on the canyon floor can reach 120 degrees F (49 degrees C). Start your hikes as early as possible, find shade to rest in during the afternoon, and carry plenty of water: at least one quart of water per person per mile. 
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Palo Duro Canyon State Park: The Complete Guide