5 Reasons You Should Plan to Visit Palo Duro Canyon
You should plan to visit Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle for a variety of reasons. At nearly 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and 800 feet deep, the canyon is the second longest canyon in the United States. It is located approximately 20 miles outside of Amarillo, Texas so it is very accessible. Whether you are visiting Amarillo for other reasons or simply passing through the Panhandle, you should plan to visit Palo Duro Canyon along the way.
We visited Palo Duro Canyon as an offshoot of our Tour of Route 66 because our friends told us that it was spectacular, yet relatively private. They told us we could go out exploring on our own and were not likely to run into very many people at all. Some say it is the Grand Canyon, but without the crowds.
You will enjoy Palo Duro Canyon if you are interested in outdoor activities such as hiking or mountain biking. Or you can enjoy searching for various plants and animals. Plus, reaching the bottom of a massive canyon in itself is reason enough to visit Palo Duro Canyon.
5 Reasons to Visit Palo Duro Canyon
We found that the top 5 reasons you should visit Palo Duro Canyon are to:
- Explore unique LANDSCAPES that vary throughout the park
- HIKE or MOUNTAIN BIKE miles of trails that criss-cross the landscape
- Search for WILDLIFE while you hike, cycle or even drive through the canyon
- Enjoy views of a variety of PLANTS and FLOWERS along the way
- Spend quality time in a very DOG-FRIENDLY park
Explore Unique Landscapes
You will be amazed at the landscape as soon as you enter Palo Duro Canyon. Your first view will be from the rim at the top of the canyon itself. However, as though you are on a ride at a theme park, the road drops down into the canyon and you find yourself surrounded by shadows and light reaching you at the canyon floor.
Once you set up for the day (or days) there are a variety of trails to explore the scenery even more. Whether you are adventurous in your trekking or simply want to take a drive-through tour, when you visit Palo Duro Canyon you will not be disappointed by the views.
Hike or Mountain Bike Miles of Trails
Palo Duro Canyon is full of trails. You can enjoy many of these trails by foot, mountain bike or even by horse! Some trails are designated specifically for one type of activity or another. And just because mountain bikes are permitted on a trail does not mean the terrain is not difficult both on foot and by bike. Our favorite trail, the Givens, Spicer and Lowry Trail, permitted mountain bikes and hikers. However there were many rugged parts of it that would require some basic technical mountain biking skills.
As you explore each trail you will find that they are all well-marked. It is very difficult to get off track. Many of the trails will intersect with each other at various times. But even these intersections are well marked.
The most popular trail, the Lighthouse Trail, is a 5.7 mile out and back (total, roundtrip). It is highly trafficked, for a reason, and will take several hours to complete. As with all trails in Palo Duro Canyon, you should make sure you have plenty of water and consider the temperature and time of day you set out.
Search For Wildlife
There is a large variety of wildlife to see when you visit Palo Duro Canyon. Whether you choose to hike miles through the trail system or happen across animals near the road you are certain to see many kinds. We camped for two nights in the canyon and had close encounters with Road Runners, our favorite of the animals in the park!
However, there is a herd of Texas Longhorn in the park near the entrance. But also expect to see (or hear) deer, bobcats, wild turkeys and coyotes (yes, Coyotes and Road Runners exist in the same place in Palo Duro Canyon!). There are even two threatened species that reside in the canyon: the Palo Duro Mouse and the Texas Horned Lizard.
Enjoy Views of a Variety Plants and Flowers
Despite being its dry, desert climate there is an abundance of plants and flowers in Palo Duro Canyon. In the canyon itself you will find more variety of plants and trees than on the rim of the canyon. However, if you are hoping to enjoy the colors of the region you certainly won’t be disappointed.
The name “Palo Duro” itself actually means “Hard Wood” in Spanish. This name refers to the Juniper trees found in abundance throughout the canyon. But there is more than Juniper growing.
From cottonwood and willow to sunflowers and prickly pear cactus when you visit Palo Duro Canyon you’ll find a variety of plants, trees and flowers.
Spend Time In A Very Dog-Friendly Park
This was one of our top reasons to visit Palo Duro Canyon. Traveling with a dog can be difficult sometimes. This is especially true when trying to visit the US National Parks. However Palo Duro Canyon is very friendly to dogs throughout the Texas State Park system.
Of course officially all dogs must be on leashes at all times. However, depending on the trail and time of year you will find yourself almost completely alone on the trails. You should follow basic pet etiquette such as picking up after your dog and ensuring that they are on a leash or within reach when passing other people. But you will find there is plenty of adventure to share with your dog when you visit Palo Duro Canyon!
You do need to be aware that temperatures can be deadly so take plenty of water for you and your pup. Also pay attention to the presence of rattlesnakes, particularly in warmer seasons.
How To Visit Palo Duro Canyon
The best overall resource for visiting Palo Duro Canyon is the State Park website. There you can find information on directions and camping availability. When we visited in early spring it was very busy and we were fortunate to be able to have two weeknights in the park. However cooler seasons and weekends tend to be busiest.
Like most state parks across America, in addition to camping fees you will also be responsible for daily entrance fees. These are currently $5 per adult (children under 12 are free). This caught us off guard as the daily fees pushed us a little over our camping budget of $25 per night. However $24-$26 for RV sites with water and electric ($12 for tent) are well worth the price for the experience!
Upon arrival the Park Ranger will offer a colorful map of the park. If you’d like to study one in advance you can download one here. Unlike many trail maps, these are easy to read and follow. Some trails even start at or near campgrounds so you do not even need to move your vehicle to get started!
We stayed at the Hackberry Campground and easily accessed the Givens, Spicer and Lowry (GSL) trail just across from the campground. Not only was this trail less busy because it was marked “difficult” (which we found it not to be!) but also it connects with the famous Lighthouse Trail. This allows you to add variety to your hike. We enjoyed the GSL trail so much we actually hiked it twice, both times in the evening and once during the night with headlamps so we could see the remarkable views of the sky at night!
We recommend bikes, even if you do not plan to mountain bike the trails. In fact, we did not have bikes at the time of our visit but purchased some recently afterward due to the accessibility they provide in Palo Duro Canyon. With bikes you can remain parked in one place (campsite or parking lot) and bicycle to any of the trailheads inside the canyon itself. With an RV it is a little more cumbersome to constantly pack up and leave (and try to find parking at trailheads).