Picture in your mind the second-largest canyon in the United States. This canyon is 120 miles long, as much as 20 miles wide and anywhere from 600 to 800 feet deep. Its walls are streaked with vivid reds and cool tans and ivories. Native Americans once lived on the broad canyon floor. Texas Longhorns grazed there, too, during the Texas Panhandle's ranching heyday. Colorful rock formations catch your eye. The colors change, depending on how the sunlight strikes the rocks. If you stay still, you can hear and see a variety of birds, ranging from roadrunners to wild turkeys. But you don't want to stay still. Instead, you want to explore this gem of a canyon, get close to the vivid blue sky and inhale breath after breath of fresh air.
By now, you may be asking yourself, "Where is this enormous canyon? How can I see it? Why don't I know about it?"
The first answer is easy. Palo Duro Canyon State Park is about 25 miles southeast of Amarillo, Texas, and 12 miles east of Canyon, Texas.
Visiting Palo Duro Canyon State Park is easy, too. You can drive not only to the canyon's rim but also to the floor of Palo Duro Canyon because the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps built roads and trails into the canyon.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is one of Texas' hidden gems. Amarillo and Canyon locals certainly know about the canyon. They go not only to hike, horseback ride and camp but also to attend performances of the musical TEXAS!, which take place every summer. Palo Duro Canyon State Park is featured in many guidebooks and magazine articles, but somehow this colorful, accessible canyon has never become famous.
Now that you know about Palo Duro Canyon State Park, let's take a closer look at this spectacular canyon.
Things to Do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Whether you prefer to drive, hike, ride a mountain bike or explore on horseback, you will find plenty of opportunities to experience Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park opened to the public in 1934, just one year after the Civilian Conservation Corps began work in the future Texas state park. Although people had been living in the canyon for over 12,000 years, much of the land was owned by private individuals until 1933, when the state of Texas bought a large section of the canyon from the owners of the JA Ranch.
The Civilian Conservation Corps spent several years working in Palo Duro Canyon, building hiking trails, roads, cabins and the building that now serves as the park's Visitor Center. In addition, the Civilian Conservation Corps built several stone structures the state park's management calls "cabins." Some of the cabins are set into the canyon's rim and others are free-standing structures. If you'd like to stay in the park overnight but don't like to camp, you can rent one of these cabins.
Best Ways to Explore Palo Duro Canyon
It's easy to explore the canyon by car, which makes Palo Duro Canyon State Park extremely senior-friendly. You can park at the canyon rim to take photos – this is a great place to watch the sunrise, by the way – and then drive down into the canyon. The road is somewhat curvy, but it is safe for RVs and trailers. The drive is quite scenic, and you can park your car at one of the park's trailheads if you decide to explore on foot.
Bring Your Horse and Saddle
Horses are welcome in Palo Duro Canyon State Park – this is the Texas Panhandle, after all. Over 1,500 park acres have been set aside for horseback riding, and there are three equestrian trails in the park. You can camp with your horse at the equestrian camp; reserve your campsite early if you want a site with a horse pen. Bring evidence that your horse has a negative Coggins test. The test must have been administered within the past 12 months.
If you don't have a horse or can't bring your horse to the canyon, you can still ride there. Old West Stables offers guided, one-hour trail rides for $35 per person from mid-March until the weather turns cold. Reservations are required.
Palo Duro Canyon Travel Tips
See TEXAS! at Palo Duro Canyon's Pioneer Amphitheater
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is home to one of the Amarillo area's most popular attractions, TEXAS! Don't make the mistake of thinking that TEXAS! is only for tourists. Plenty of locals go to see this musical every year. TEXAS! celebrates Texas Panhandle history with drama, music, dancing and the best backdrop ever – the rugged canyon wall.
In addition to seeing TEXAS!, you can also take a backstage tour or enjoy a chuck wagon barbecue meal before the show. Show ticket prices range from $16.95 to $30.95 for adults. Senior discounts are available. Chuck wagon dinners are $16 for adults and $9 for children. TEXAS! performances start in early June and continue through the third week of August, Tuesday through Sunday.
The Texas Panhandle is known for high summer temperatures. Bring plenty of water with you and always carry at least one water bottle when you hike in the park. Summer temperatures in the canyon can be higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. People have died in the park because they were not prepared for extreme heat. Plan ahead, stay hydrated and know when to seek shade or get help.
Palo Duro Canyon can flood with no notice. All it takes is a short period of intense rain. If you encounter a flash flood, assume it is too deep to cross. Turn around and go back or wait until the flood subsides. Never cross water unless you know how deep it is; you and your vehicle could be swept away and you could drown.
Park rules allow you to light fires in fire rings and grills. Otherwise, building fires is prohibited in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Bring your own firewood or charcoal; park rules prohibit the gathering of firewood.
If a fire ban is imposed in the park, you will not be allowed to build wood or charcoal fires during your visit.
11450 Park Road 5
Canyon, TX 79015
Telephone: (806) 655-2181
1514 5th Avenue
Canyon, TX 79015
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