Nicknamed the Grand Canyon of Texas, Palo Duro Canyon is a hidden gem in the Texas Panhandle that is sure to please hikers of all abilities with great views, miles of trails and some unique geological formations.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located roughly 30 minutes from Amarillo, TX and it encompasses over 28,000 acres or over 45 square miles. The Canyon sits at 800 feet deep and 120 miles long which makes for some breathtaking views.
If you are considering a trip to Palo Duro Canyon check out our recommendations below to make the most of one day in the park.
- Things To Do In Palo Duro
- Lighthouse Trail to Lighthouse Rock – Most Popular Trail
- Tips for Visiting Palo Duro Canyon
- What next?
Things To Do In Palo Duro
Palo Duro Canyon has plenty to offer all levels of travelers from miles of hiking trails and mountain biking trails, great campsites, horseback riding and even an amphitheater for summer concerts!
Hiking is one of the most popular activities at Palo Duro Canyon with the Lighthouse Trail arguably being the most popular. Palo Duro Canyon offers some great hikes for all levels of fitness with flat terrain and easy access to most areas. If you are looking for more of a challenge, we highly recommend reading below about our favorite Epic Palo Duro Loop which, at roughly 8-9 miles, gets you some spectacular views and a little rock scrambling in the middle. You can find out more about this Epic Loop HERE!
The 30 miles of hiking trails are partly shared with Mountain Bikers and they offer a fun and adrenaline filled adventure for those on two wheels. Luckily with plenty of miles of trails running into hikers while biking down a turn did not seem a big issue. There are three main trails designed for biking Givens, Spicer & Lowry Running Trail (GSL, for short), Lighthouse Trail, and Capitol Peak Mountain Bike Trail. The GSL is by far the most popular with mountain bikers from what we have heard from other travelers in the area.
If you are in Texas then horseback riding is normally included somewhere in the list of outdoor activities and Palo Duro Canyon is no different. We are by no means experts in the equestrian world but the Texas State Park website does offer a list of requirements for booking equestrian sites as well as the necessary documents and tools needed to bring your own horse into the park.
Since, like most people, we do not own our own horses we would recommend inquiring into one of the local stables that offer tours. Old West Stables is the most recommended outfitting company and they are located inside the park. Make sure to check out their website in advance to schedule a tour if you are interested.
There are 6 campgrounds options at Palo Duro Canyon including one specific campground for equestrians. Depending on the campground you choose or that is available for you to stay, the amenities range from primitive to electricity and water options. Make sure to check the Palo Duro Canyon State Park website to make sure there are options available that suit your needs.
If camping isn’t your thing, you do have the option to sleep on the Canyon floor inside one of the CCC built cabins from when the park was first opened. If you have never heard of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) we encourage you to read about their work and how the program helped young men get jobs during and after The Great Depression.
There are three CCC cabins with restrooms and showers and 4 Cow Camp Cabins with restrooms and showers nearby. These do sell out in advance so make sure to plan ahead to make sure you have the opportunity to stay in a piece of American history!
One of the newer additions to Palo Duro Canyon is the option to go Glamping!
This was not an option when we last visited however it is another reason to go back! The amenities they provide seem great and we can only find positive reviews for them. The one word of caution: you are still “camping” so keep in mind that the restrooms are not inside the tent and that you will need to make sure you have enough supplies to eat and drink since there is no “hotel restaurant” and you are looking at a solid 30-minute drive to the closest grocery store at night.
Palo Duro Canton Visitor Center
This might be one of the few State Park Visitor Centers that we would recommend as a must stop visit if you are in the park.
The Visitor Center at Palo Duro Canyon is unlike most other parks in Texas due to the rich history the park offers. The center was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933 and boasts some beautiful views of the Canyon. The Gallery boasts historical video productions, archeological and nature exhibits, and is beautifully arranged with Southwest art for sale, handmade Native American pottery, handmade Navajo, Zuni and Santo Domingo silver and turquoise jewelry.
-Texas Outdoor Musical at Palo Duro Canyon
This last thing to do in Palo Duro is something we had no idea even happened during our first trip to Palo Duro and we were so sad we missed it!
The Summer Concerts normally go from May to August and offers nightly concerts except on Mondays. The musical show brings to life the triumphs and struggles the early settlers faced in the Texas Panhandle. The show always ends with a Texas size set of fireworks which are supposed to be jaw dropping when settled into the Palo Duro Canyon amphitheater.
And if you get hungry it would not be a Texas event without some good ole Texas BBQ!
Lighthouse Trail to Lighthouse Rock – Most Popular Trail
The Lighthouse Trail at Palo Duro Canyon is the park’s most popular trail and for good reason!
The trail takes hikers, bikers, and equestrians to the park’s most iconic natural feature. The Lighthouse, which stands 310 ft tall over the canyon floor is quite mesmerizing to see after hiking through the Canyon floor.
The Lighthouse Trail has a round-trip distance of 5.75 miles and is fairly moderate hike with some steep scrambling at the end. For those on bikes, you will need to leave them at the metal picnic tables where there is also a metal bike rack. You will then cover the last .25 miles on foot to reach the Lighthouse Rock formation.
While the trail is rated as moderate, we do think the trail is mostly easy if not for the hot weather you will experience most of the year. Almost anyone who is able to walk for a few miles would be able to complete the Lighthouse Trail except for the last quarter mile that does involve some rock scrambling.
The Epic Palo Duro Canyon Loop
If you are like us with only limited time to travel and want to get the most out of your one-day visit to the park then the Epic Loop is for you!
We had found quite a few options for trail hikes when we first started researching Palo Duro Canyon but knew we wanted to include the Lighthouse Trail in any plan we made.
The final product of our research brought us to what we call the Epic Palo Duro Canyon Loop! This loop combines three of the more popular trails in the park to give you a one day overlook of everything Palo Duro Canyon has to offer.
The Epic Loop Combines the Lighthouse Trail, the Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail and the Paseo del Rio Trail into roughly 8 to 9 miles of the best Palo Duro Canyon has to offer.
One of the main reasons we loved this trail is the fact that you get to see the Lighthouse Rock which is one of the main attractions of Palo Duro, then you get to see the geological formations across the GSL trail such as the hoodoos that defy gravity and then on the Paseo del Rio Trail you get to see the old Cowboy Dugout which is still standing.
Tips for Visiting Palo Duro Canyon
Texas Heat Is No Joke
If you are visiting from out of state, you might not be ready for how hot it can get in Texas during the summer months. Even if you are from Texas there is a difference between walking around in your main city and being able to stop at a Starbucks for shade and a drink versus hiking for hours in the desert without a source of water or shade.
The other thing a lot of folks do not realize is that the farther down a canyon like Palo Duro or even the Grand Canyon the hotter it gets. While estimates do vary and we have read different temperature ranges the average consensus is that the floor of the canyon will be roughly 8-10 degrees hotter than the rim.
Not only will heat be an issue but the lack of shade will exacerbate how hot you will get. We normally are big fans of wearing long sleeve tops in the summer since it does help cool you off and also prevent sunburns. Some people do prefer just lathering on the sunblock but with sweating it off and reapplying it, it just seems more of a bother than anything else.
Finally make sure to grab all the water you need since there are no water sources out on the trails. The rule of thumb is normally one gallon of water per person in the summer time and that is something we normally stick with. We are of the belief that we would rather have water to dump at the end than to have to ration water to make it last the last few miles. A hydration pack such as a CamelBak is definitely recommend due to the convenience and comfort that it offers on the trail.
***Head over to our Ultimate Gear List to see what we use and recommend to wear, pack and carry on your hikes!
Get An Early Start
This tip applies to almost any park you want to visit and Palo Duro Canyon is no different. A lot of the trails in the park will be mostly empty throughout the year unless it is a major holiday but the Lighthouse Trail is definitely not one of those.
While a packed trail will not detract fully from the beauty surrounding you, a packed Lighthouse Rock area might ruin what could be a perfect picnic spot. When we hiked to Lighthouse Rock, we lucked out on a decently empty trail but the highlight was enjoying the actual Lighthouse Rock with just a handful of other hikers.
If you have visited any other popular State or National Park you know what a packed trail or summit and how it can ruin a magical place. We don’t say this as a way of hating on other hikers since we love seeing people get outdoors. But we would be lying if we said we haven’t been disappointed getting to a beautiful vista that is crowded with people trying to get an Instagram shot.
So, get up early and get out there fast because a solo picnic overlooking the Palo Duro Canyon is all the stress relieving, we could have asked for.
Trail Difficulty Changes Drastically
One big warning we want to give out to all hikers coming to Palo Duro Canyon is how drastically a trail can go from purely flat to scrambling up a steep rock face. We do not want to say this to discourage people from hiking in Palo Duro but want to make sure people are prepared and know what to expect.
The main reason we bring this up is due to the most popular trail in the park, Lighthouse Trail, while mostly flat and very doable the last few hundred yards are rather steep with some sharp drop offs until you make it to the rock platform.
We loved the Lighthouse Trail and encourage anyone who visits Palo Duro to hike it as a must if you can only do one trail. At the same time, we want everyone to be ready to turn back if the last section is just too much for hikers with mobility issues, small children, etc.
Palo Duro Trading Post
The Trading Post is the only store inside the park and the closest one for miles until you get back into Canyon, TX. We actually had no idea in our first trip that the park even had a store but due to poor planning on Gus’s part we lucked out finding a gas station before we got into trouble and our car died.
We only stopped at the Trading Post briefly on our way out of the park but it was nice having a place to get gas, camping necessities if needed and a small restaurant that served some good-looking food.
Visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is a hidden gem in the Texas Panhandle. The Park might not be widely known by many but it offers great hikes and amazing views for hikers of all abilities. We had a blast while visiting the park and hope to be able to come back soon. During our next visit we do hope to be able to stay at one of the CCC cabins on the canyon floor!