Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located in the Texas panhandle just 30 miles southeast of Amarillo. It is also known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas” too, and that is not an understatement. It is the second largest canyon in the United States. We have hiked at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, and we can see why the reference.
When you first enter the park, you will see some longhorn steer named T-Bone, Omlete, and Brisket on the left side of the fenced area.
Then down the road further on the right is the visitor center. This overview provides a panoramic view of the multi-layered canyon. There are some old building structures down below but the hiking trail to this was closed permanently. The visitor center, lodge and hiking trail were all built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression from 1933-1937. The CCC hiking trail is 1.5 miles one way and meanders around the canyon rim before descending down 500 feet to the Pioneer Amphitheater parking lot. There are lots of viewpoints and photo opportunities along the way.
As you continue down to the bottom of the canyon area, you will navigate about a half-dozen switchbacks to where the Pioneer Amphitheater is located on the right. This is an outdoor musical played called “Texas” is held during the summer months.
As you make your way through the park, you will see lots of campgrounds such as Sagebrush, Hackberry, Juniper and Mesquite which are suitable for RVs. There’s also plenty of tent camping throughout the park as well.
There are lots of hiking/biking trails around the campground area. However, there are more trails then what are shown on the park trail map. Also these trail systems are not all well-defined and some bushwhacking should be expected. The trail surface is mostly packed dirt, loose gravel and some rocks to step/ride over.
While inside the canyon, you’ll notice the brightly colored rock walls surrounding the area, the steep, lower portion of the canyon walls are called Spanish Skirts. It is named for the way the rock layers and angled slopes mimic a colonial Spanish lady’s flowing, striped skirt. Geologists also call this the Quartermaster or Tecovas Formations.
This park is full of various types of trees such as juniper, mesquite, cottonwood, soapberry and hackberry. But you’ll have to look hard for animals hidden behind the trees like turkey, rabbit, mule and white-tail deer, coyote, roadrunners, Barbary sheep and bobcats.
If you don’t mind the drive from the park entrance, we recommend staying at the Mesquite camp area where you’ll be eight miles back into the canyon. By nightfall, this area is pitch dark, and when the full moon is out, it is quite a scene.
We only stayed here for four days, but plan to return later during the fall or winter. Even in late April or early May, the weather was quite cool at night and hot during the day with temps ranging from low 50s to upper 80s. Since we have two dogs who loves to hike, we started early in the morning between 7 to 8 a.m. and finished by 10:30 to 11 a.m. to beat the heat. The rest of the day we cooled off at our camp.
We did manage to hike several trails such as CCC, Juniper/Riverside, Paseo Del Rio, and rode our mountain bike back to the Lighthouse Rock. This prominent landmark is the symbol for the park. There’s also a cave which you can explore by the Juniper/Cliffside trail near Mesquite campground. It’s worth the short excursion for the view alone.
Overall, we are very pleased with this park due to location, landscape, camping, biking and hiking throughout. You can bet we have this on our radar from now on whenever we pass through Canyon, TX.