5 Reasons You Should Plan to Visit Palo Duro Canyon

Your guide to help you plan to visit Palo Duro Canyon, Texas!

Palo Duro Canyon in Texas is the second-largest canyon in the United States and definitely worthy of your exploration by foot, bike or even horse! 

A view of the canyon when you visit Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

At nearly 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and 800 feet deep, the canyon is quite spectacular and remarkably accessible.

In fact, the road into Palo Duro Canyon takes you down into the heart of the canyon itself, giving you an amazing perspective of the landscape. 

Palo Duro Canyon is located approximately 20 miles outside of Amarillo, Texas. This makes for an easy day trip from the city.

Or, if you own an RV or want to pitch a tent, the camping is difficult to beat. 

Who could complain about a sky full of stars night after night or a roadrunner walking up to your site to say hello? 

Take bikes, hiking shoes and even horses to explore the many trails that are very well marked and easily accessible from within the park. 

Don’t forget to bring your dog. Unlike many parks across the US, Palo Duro Canyon is very dog-friendly.  

Whether you are visiting Amarillo for other reasons or simply passing through the Texas Panhandle on Route 66, you should plan to visit Palo Duro Canyon along the way.

5 Reasons to Visit Palo Duro Canyon

Some say when you visit Palo Duro Canyon it is like visiting the Grand Canyon, but without the crowds. 

We agree and offer our top 5 reasons why you should plan a trip to visit Palo Duro Canyon this year! 

1) Hike The Trails 

Palo Duro Canyon is full of trails to help you explore the canyon. You can enjoy many of these trails by foot, mountain bike or even by horse!

By far the most popular hike is the Lighthouse Trail, a 5.7 mile out and back (total, roundtrip). It is highly trafficked, for a reason, and will take several hours to complete.

But Lighthouse rock is the most famous landmark in Palo Duro Park and you want to be sure not to miss it. 

Dogs are permitted on all trails in Palo Duro Canyon

Everest Leading the Way on the Givens, Spicer and Lowry Running Trail.

Our favorite trail, the Givens, Spicer and Lowry Trail, connected with the Lighthouse Trail at a point. However, it was a little more difficult and thus less trafficked. 

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.

As with all trails in Palo Duro Canyon, you should make sure you have plenty of water and consider the temperature and time of the day you set out.

EXPLORE MORE: Learn how to hike into the beautiful slot canyons of Utah!

2) Bike The Trails 

If you enjoy a good mountain bike trail, Palo Duro Canyon is a great place for off-road adventure. 

Most trails are designed as multi-use trails for both hiking and biking. However, there are a few trails that are off-limits to biking. And others, such as Capitol Peak Trail, are biking-only trails.

When you bike the multi-use trails in Palo Duro Canyon be sure to be aware that hikers may be in your path. Sometimes they may or may not be aware of your approach. 

Trails can be dangerous for mountain bikes.

The Givens, Spicer and Lowry Running Trail. Mountain Bikers Mostly Use This Trail But It Was Our Favorite to Hike!

Just because mountain bikes are encouraged on a trail does not mean the terrain is easy to bike!

Our favorite trail, the Givens, Spicer and Lowry Trail, was a multi-use trail with many rugged parts of it that would require some basic technical mountain biking skills… or a few stops to carry your bike up or down a pass!

3) Drive Through The Canyon

If you are in no shape to hike or bike the trails, or if you only have a short time to visit Palo Duro Canyon, then it is worth visiting just to drive through the canyon. 

You will be amazed at the landscape as soon as you enter Palo Duro Canyon.

The first view will be from the rim at the top of the canyon itself. There is a pull-off where you can look over the vast canyon network for miles in each direction. 

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.

You can drive the entire length of the canyon road in less than an hour. But it is well worth the time to stop, stretch your legs and take some photos. 

You are likely to see a lot of similar plants and wildlife that you would on the trails. Keep an eye out for roadrunners crossing the street! 

Unique views are offered all over your visit to Palo Duro Canyon
Looking out from inside the Big Cave

There are several short trails near parking pull-offs that might be worth your time. One is the Rojo Grande and another is the Pioneer Nature Trail

Additionally, if you would like to exercise a moderate amount you can hike to The Big Cave and look out over the canyon from inside the cave walls! 

EXPLORE MORE: Learn how to visit the famous Antelope Canyon.

4) Camp At The Bottom Of The Canyon

If you have the time to camp when you visit Palo Duro Canyon then you definitely need to add this to your plans. 

Camping is by far the best way to give yourself enough time to enjoy the various trails, wildlife and landscapes of the canyon. 

The Milky Way Galaxy is nearly always visible in Palo Duro Canyon

On a clear night you can see the Milky Way Galaxy with the naked eye. And if you wanted to capture some amazing sunrise or sunset photos then camping is your best way to be able to hike out/back in the dark. 

There are several campgrounds within Palo Duro State Park that offer basic dry camping for RVs or tents. Expect limited amenities. But there are decent restrooms in each campground. 

We stayed at the Hackberry Campground and easily accessed the Givens, Spicer and Lowry (GSL) trail just across from the campground.

Other campgrounds in Palo Duro Canyon include: 

  • Sagebrush Camp Area
  • Fortress Cliff Camp Area
  • Cactus Camp Area
  • Equestrian Camp Area (for horse people only!)

Like any beautiful state or national park, the campgrounds in Palo Duro Canyon can be busy at times. It is best to reserve your site in advance if possible. 

We were fortunate enough to secure a walk-in site on a busy Friday afternoon because there was a cancellation. Thank goodness for that because we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the park!

RV TRAVEL HINT:

We recommend bikes, even if you do not plan to mountain bike the trails. 

With bikes, you can remain parked in one place (campsite or parking lot) and ride 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). 

5) Watch For Unique Wildlife And Plants

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.

Most people have never seen a real road runner

During our visit we had close encounters with Road Runners, our favorite of the animals in the park!

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.

And don’t miss the herd of Texas Longhorn near the park entrance!

If plants and flowers are your thing, Palo Duro Canyon will not disappoint (especially in Spring). 

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.

Desert flowers found along many of the trails

Desert Flowers Are All Over The Trails In Palo Duro 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 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.

** BONUS ACTIVITY FOR DOG-OWNERS

Traveling across the United States with a dog can sometimes be frustrating. Nearly all National Parks do not permit dogs on trails. 

However, Palo Duro Canyon is very dog-friendly! This was one of our top reasons to visit Palo Duro Canyon.

Palo Duro Canyon is very dog friendly.

In fact, when we pulled up to the ranger station we had a difficult time convincing the ranger to stop giving attention to Everest, our Australian Cattle Dog! 

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.

Also, be aware that temperatures can be deadly. Take plenty of water for you and your pup. Also pay attention to the presence of rattlesnakes, particularly in warmer seasons.

But you will find there is plenty of adventure to share with your dog when you visit Palo Duro Canyon!

How To Visit Palo Duro Canyon

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.

Palo Duro Canyon offers views from above and below the canyon rim

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!

Getting There

Palo Duro Canyon State Park plays host to the amazing views and experiences of visiting Palo Duro Canyon.

You can find receive map directions by entering the state park in nearly any navigation app. However, in general, the park is approximately 25 miles (30 min drive) southeast of downtown Amarillo. 

Address: 11450 Park Road 5 Canyon, TX 79015

Phone: (806) 488-2227

What To Pack

You are going to want to make sure you have your standard gear for hiking, biking and camping. These are the central activities in Palo Duro Canyon.

But make sure you don’t leave these items off your list: 

RV Camping In Palo Duro Canyon

There are several campgrounds within Palo Duro State Park that offer basic dry camping for RVs or tents. Expect limited amenities. But there are decent restrooms in each campground. 

We stayed at the Hackberry Campground and easily accessed the Givens, Spicer and Lowry (GSL) trail just across from the campground.

The View Along the Givens, Spicer and Lowry Trail.

Other campgrounds in Palo Duro Canyon include: 

  • Sagebrush Camp Area
  • Fortress Cliff Camp Area
  • Cactus Camp Area
  • Equestrian Camp Area (for horse people only!)

Like any beautiful state or national park, the campgrounds in Palo Duro Canyon can be busy at times. It is best to reserve your site in advance if possible. 

We were fortunate enough to secure a walk-in site on a busy Friday afternoon because there was a cancellation. Thank goodness for that because we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the park!

Cooler seasons and weekends tend to be the busiest times for camping in Palo Duro Canyon.

RV TRAVEL HINT:

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 a tent) are well worth the price for the experience!

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