Palo Duro is the second largest canyon of the United States of America. It is one of the best kept secrets of Texas and also called Grand Canyon of Texas. As we visited the park, we drew comparison with Big Bend National Park and Grand Canyon National Park. If any of the things below are true for you, you are going to love this state park:
- You are a mountain biker
- You have a pet and looking for pet accessible trails
- You are looking for hikes for kids and elderly
- You are a horse rider
- You own a RV
- You want to see the whole park in 2 days
- You are looking for clear skies
- You are looking for a very accessible park where you can drive from the top of the canyon to its base in 15 – 20 min
- You are looking for easy hiking
Best way to get here: Dallas, Santa Fe, Oklahoma City are the closest cities with the airport. You can drive from Dallas in 6 hours, Santa Fe in 4 and a half hours and Oklahoma city in 4 hours. It is truly part of tri-state area – Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
Camping: You can’t visit Palo Duro without spending a night in the canyon. You can either camp, rent a cabin or take your RV to the park. There are all kinds of hotels around 30 miles from the park in Amarillo where you can stay overnight if you do not get to stay in the park. You have to book atleast a month or two in advance to ensure your stay in the park. Below are the options in terms of cabins and campsites:
- Cow-Camp Cabin: Book a rustic but cozy cabin with stone exteriors and floors in the southern tip of the state park ($60 per night)
- CCC Cabins: Lighthouse, Goodnight and Sorenson are all vintage cabins on the rim of canyon ($110 – $125 per night)
- Equestrian: Camping allowed only with horses ($12 per night)
- Cactus and Fortress Cliff: Tent only, no shower facility, porta potty available ($12 per night)
- Mesquite, Sagebrush and Hackberry: campsites with electricity for RV ($24 per night)
Geology: The canyon is about 120 miles long and 20 miles wide, and is up to 800 feet deep. You can see the beautiful colors of the four geologic layers as you descend 500 feet to the floor of the canyon. The canyon began forming a million years ago. But the walls of the canyon tell a much older geologic story – about 250 million years old!
Wildlife: Two threatened species live here: the Palo Duro mouse and the Texas horned lizard. Other residents include wild turkeys, white-tailed and mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, roadrunners and many species of snakes and lizards. At the entrance, you will also see Texas longhorns.
Day 1: It depends on the time you arrive at the canyon but as you enter the park and have your reservation be looked up. Take some time to stop the engine and look around – for if you are texas resident than you would have seen a dead longhorn but here you would find 2 – 3 living longhorns. They are also good at posing for photographs
- [3 hours] Drive till the end of the park and loop around: We recommend you stop at the following lookouts:
- Scenic lookout
- Juniper Cliff cave
- Rock Garden ancient slide
- Find your campsite and set up your tent, RV and get your settled in cabins
- CCC Trail: This trail has two entrances. One begins at rim level, next to the visitor center and other begins right before descending towards the base of the canyons. The hike takes you along the edges of the cliffsides and table rocks and, as such, offers you the most stunning and panoramic views of the canyon from above. Take both right forks in the trail to reach a spectacular vantage point from a narrow tabletop ledge, but be prepared to navigate over some narrow and exposed cliffsides. It’s a moderate hike and can be anywhere from three to seven miles depending on how far one decides to venture. If views are a priority for you when it comes to hiking, then this would be the best option for you.
- [1 hour] Sunset by the Lodge (for full canyon view) and Fortress cliff (for beautiful colors of four geological layers)
Day 2: As you wake up early and have a good healthy breakfast at one of the picnic tables with a beautiful scenery around, be ready to have a hectic start of the day with important
- [4-5 hours] Lighthouse trail (2.72 miles one way + hike to the base of lighthouse): Most iconic trail of the park. Recommendation is to start early in the day as it gets very hot during the day with a sign of high heat warning. The Lighthouse rock formation is the signature geologic formation of the park, towering 370 feet above the floor of nearby Sunday Canyon (a side canyon of Palo Duro). The hike follows a well-marked trail and is considered moderately difficult by most hikers. The most difficult portion of the hike happens just as you arrive at the Lighthouse and have to ascend a series of steep and dramatic steps onto the pedestal. Once on its base, you’ll have commanding views of the canyon and other signature formations, such as Castle Peak and Capitol Peak. Please remember that, due to the loose rock structure, climbing on the Lighthouse is strictly prohibited. The hike is about six miles round-trip, so make sure you have a good supply of water and allow plenty of time (four to five hours) to complete the hike and get back before daylight runs out.
- [1 hour] Trading Post: You can get burgers, sandwiches with fries, ice-cream keep you stocked up with everything from bottled water to sunscreen, and it will also grill a mean hamburger for lunch after a hard morning on the trail.
- [1 hour] Bird viewing next to trading post
- [1 hour] Musical inside the park: The official musical of Texas, known as “Texas,” is shown at the Pioneer Natural Amphitheater throughout the summer (Tuesday through Saturday). The show features a wonderful display of music, singing, and horsemanship that attracts fans from all over the world. It’s an interesting and very popular form of entertainment that offers lasting appeal to people of all ages. And be sure to stick around until the end of the production so you don’t miss out on the fireworks show that gets bigger and better every year.
Day 3: After 2 days of camping and hiking, it is time to drive out of Palo Duro Canyon and drive end to end of the park one last time before leaving and going to the city of Amarillo for good food, art and culture
- [2 hours] Panhandle Plains Historical Museum: Here’s a simple test for folks who claim to be the ultimate Texan: have you visited this museum? If not, immediately punch your card and brag about seeing my favorite history museum in the state, which features Quanah Parker’s Winchester .44/40 repeating rifle and Charles Goodnight’s .50 caliber percussion Plains rifle with the inscription, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.”
- [15 – 20 min] Cadillac Ranch: Standing along Route 66 west of Amarillo, Texas, Cadillac Ranch was invented and built by a group of art-hippies imported from San Francisco. They called themselves The Ant Farm, and their silent partner was Amarillo billionaire Stanley Marsh 3. He wanted a piece of public art that would baffle the locals, and the hippies came up with a tribute to the evolution of the Cadillac tail fin. Ten Caddies were driven into one of Stanley Marsh 3’s fields, then half-buried, nose-down, in the dirt (supposedly at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza). They faced west in a line, from the 1949 Club Sedan to the 1963 Sedan de Ville, their tail fins held high for all to see on the empty Texas panhandle.
- Lunch at a tex-mex, barbeque, burger or a steakhouse
- Palo Duro Trading Post for burgers and sandwiches
- Tex-Mex: Leal’s
- Braum icecream or shakes
- Blue bell icrecream or shakes
Palo Duro Trading post has various gift from that state park ranging from magnets, cow-boys, native American related souvenirs