Where is Palo Duro Canyon State Park?
11450 Park Road 5, Canyon, TX 79015
This US State Park is located in the Texas Panhandle and is much closer to Oklahoma and New Mexico than it is to Dallas or Houston.
Once you get to West Texas, the canyon is pretty easy to find. It is located near Route 66 and is only 20 miles south of Amarillo. Palo Duro is in a small town called Canyon which has many restaurants, shops, and gas stations where you can grab snacks and supplies.
The best way to get to Palo Duro is by taking TX-217 to State Highway Park Road 5.
How Big is Palo Duro Canyon State Park?
Sometimes called the “other Grand Canyon”, Palo Duro is the second-largest canyon in the U.S. with a length of 120 miles and a depth of 800 feet. Standing on the edge, onlookers will be most impressed by how far it is to the other side. At 20 miles wide, this canyon is the widest in the U.S. beating even the Grand Canyon.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park covers around 29,000 acres or 45 square miles of land full of beautiful rock formations and wildlife. The canyon was formed by millions of years of erosion from both the wind and the Red River.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park Weather
When visiting West Texas, always be prepared for any possible change in the weather! The most accurate thing you can say about West Texas weather is that it’s unpredictable. In general, West Texas is dry and hot, but the desert-like landscape makes for cool nights.
For hikers and campers, the biggest risk is flashfloods which can develop quickly. The wettest month of the year is June and park trails may be closed after rain.
Summers in the canyon are hot and dry while winters are cold and windy. During the summer months, the midday temperature is usually around 91°F meaning that most hiking and activities should be done in the early morning or evening.
The cool season is from November to February with average daily highs often below 59°F. Temperatures in the canyon never get below 14°F or above 100°F. Beware that it is often hotter inside the canyon.
The most popular time to visit Palo Duro is from May to September.
When did Palo Duro Canyon Become a State Park?
Palo Duro Canyon State Park officially opened to the public in 1937 and was given to the state by private owners in 1933. Although it recently became a state park, people have been living near and in this canyon for around 12,000 years.
The canyon was “discovered” by the Spanish who gave it its name but wasn’t until 1852 that it was first seen by an American settler.
Things to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park
There are plenty of things to do in Palo Duro from exploring the canyon trails on foot, by bike, on horseback, or by car to viewing the milky way at night from your tent or cabin. Below List of Parks discusses all the best things to do in the canyon and detail why you might like to try it.
1. Hike the Trails
With a total of 13 trails ranging from easy to difficult, this state park has the perfect hike for everyone. The most popular hike in the park is Lighthouse Trail which is an easy 3-mile walk that ends at a rock tower of the same name. Climb up to the top of the Lighthouse to get panoramic views of the canyon.
Other popular hikes include the Givens Spicer and Lowry Trail, the Rock Garden Trail, and the Juniper Cliffside Trail.
All trails are dog friendly!
2. Go Mountain Biking
Mountain biking is also a popular activity here. Most trails are pretty flat and offer fun twists and turns along the canyon floor. The best trail for mountain bikers is Capitol Peak because it is a bikes-only route. There are also other great trails for bikes, but many are multi-use, so you’ll need to watch out for hikers. Givens, Spicer and Lowry Trail is a beautiful loop that will require you to stop a few times and carry your bike.
3. Explore on Horseback
If you want to get in touch with the history of the park (Spanish explorers, Native Americans, and Cowboys), you can explore the canyon on horseback. Bring your own horses or head to the Old West Stables for a guided horseback tour. Some trails open for horses include Timber Creek Canyon and Turnaround Equestrian Trail.
4. Camping and Glamping
Palo Duro is a great place to camp and you can choose to set up your tent in one of over 80 different campsites, some in the canyon and some on the rim. Those with RVs can stay at the Amarillo Ranch RV Park. Palo Duro also offers cabins and has recently set up luxury camping sites (or glamping) that include AC, kitchen appliances, comfy beds, and porch swings.
The best time to camp in Palo Duro is in the spring or autumn. Summer can get too hot and uncomfortable during the day and the winter means cold nights on the canyon floor.
Camping is the best way to explore all the trails, catch sight of rare wildlife, and take in the Milky Way at night.
5. Take in the Animals and Wildlife
There is plenty of interesting wildlife to see at Palo Duro! Some of the most famous animals in the park include Road Runners, the Texas Horned Lizard, wild turkeys, bobcats, and Texas Longhorn. The canyon is great for birding and you can try and spot Golden-fronted woodpeckers, western meadowlarks, and Mississippi kites.
If you love photography, come and capture the beautiful desert flowers. In spring, visitors can take in the blooming Juniper trees and sunflowers or take in the cottonwoods, willows, and prickly pear cacti.
6. Visit the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum
As the biggest history museum in Texas, the Panhandle-Plains Museum is a must-see. It is located only a few miles from the park and contains a varied collection including Native American artifacts and exhibits on dinosaurs, pioneers, and petroleum. It’s also a great place to take in some classic Southwestern art.
7. TEXAS Outdoor Musical
The TEXAS Outdoor Musical is an absolute blast and a must-see if you visit in the summer. Taking place at the Pioneer Amphitheater Park, you can watch this musical explain the history of Texas in an engaging and funny way. Shows take place every evening from Tuesday to Saturday and those who arrive early can enjoy a delicious barbecue dinner.
When to go to Palo Duro Canyon State Park
The most popular time to visit Palo Duro Canyon is from May to September. The park can get busy at this time, so it’s a good idea to make reservations for camping and horseback tours early.
Summer in the canyon is very hot and because of this, any strenuous activity like hiking, horseback riding, or mountain biking is best enjoyed in the early morning and evening. The most comfortable time to camp is in spring and autumn.
It is still possible to visit Palo Duro in the winter although temperatures will be cool. Just make sure to pack a coat/jacket and bring plenty of warm clothes if you plan on staying the night!
Must-have Things to Bring to Palo Duro
Below Our National Park Visitors Guide discusses some of the things you should make sure to bring with you when visiting. Always bring all of the standard gear you typically use for each activity you want to do while in the park. In Palo Duro, the biggest must-have you should pay attention to is water.
At Palo Duro, the most important thing to bring with you in enough water. Especially in summer when the canyon is dry and very hot, you’ll need to bring much more water than you think to stay safe and prevent heat exhaustion. The general recommendation is a quart of water per person per mile when hiking.
It’s also a good idea to bring athletic drinks to replace any electrolytes you’ll lose while sweating.
Bringing some snacks on trails is a great way to get your energy up and keep the heat from bothering you. Good snacks to bring include anything salty like peanuts or foods made to eat on the go like granola bars, trail mix, and sandwiches.
When camping, make sure to bring all the food you’ll need during your stay as The Trading Post is closed during certain seasons.
3. Park Maps in Physical and On Phone
This is an essential step in being prepared and making sure no one gets lost in the canyon. The desert landscape can make areas look similar to one another. Physical maps can be found at the Visitor’s Center and digital maps can be easily downloaded on the Texas State Park website.
4. Proper Hiking Boots
If you have proper hiking boots, go ahead and bring them! Some of the easy trails only require trainers with good grip. For the more difficult trails, you’ll want something sturdier like a good boot with a good tread.
5. Jacket for Rain and Cold Weather
Always bring a rain jacket because rain can strike in the canyon at any time during the summer. If you are spending the night, come prepared with a warm jacket. Nights can get cold in the canyon, even in the summer. In the winter, cold weather clothing like sweaters and pants are necessary.
6. Sunglasses, Sunscreen, and Warm Weather Attire
The sun is harsh in this part of Texas and it’s extremely important to protect your skin. High SPF sunscreen is necessary to avoid burns. You’ll also want sunglasses and possibly a hat. Expect to sweat a lot, and wear clothes that are good at wicking moisture. Avoid cotton as it will only make you hotter!
The canyon is very wide offering visitors sweeping views in all directions. To take advantage of this, being some binoculars and try to spot interesting rock formations and animals.
8. Bug Spray
For the most part, mosquitoes and other biting terrors will leave you alone during the day. If you are staying the night, definitely pack some bug spray because when the sun goes down they come out hungry.
9. Toilet Paper and Plastic Bags
The idea of leaving no trace is the best way to protect the planet and also conserve the beauty of our state parks. In this case, that means if you’re on the trail when nature calls you should put your used toilet paper into a plastic bag and carry it out of the park with you to properly dispose of it. A little gross, but important for protecting local wildlife.
Where to Stay in Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Inside the park, there are plenty of options for places to stay including around 5 campgrounds, cabins, glamping sites, and an RV park. As far as cabins go, the Cow Camp Cabins are a great option because they are cozy, comfortable, and in a good location. These cabins don’t have bathrooms, but you can use the ones at the nearby Mesquite Campground.
For more luxurious cabins, you can stay in the Rim Cabin Loop where each unit has a fireplace, fridge, microwave, and bathroom.
There are also plenty of hotels in Canyon including a Best Western, Holiday Inn, and more rustic options like Starlight Canyon and Doves Rest Cabins.
Food Nearby Palo Duro
If you’re looking for a quick meal inside Palo Duro, head to The Trading Post which is both a souvenir shop and fast dining restaurant. The menu is small, but they have some classics like hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, onion rings, and French fries.
The nearby town of Canyon also has plenty of great options for food like Feldman’s Wrong Way Diner, Buff’s, and the Rock N Roll Soda Shop.
Airports Near Palo Duro Canyon State Park
The closest airport to Palo Duro is the Amarillo Airport (AMA) which is around 30 kilometers from the canyon or a 29-minute drive. The airport in Amarillo is pretty small and you’ll probably have to fly first to Dallas or Houston then catch a small plane to Amarillo. You can also fly into Lubbock, Texas and then drive 3 hours to reach the canyon.