Please Share:
RVTexasYall.com RSS Feed

Our Visit to Palo Duro Canyon State Park:

Palo Duro Canyon State Park Tour

They say "Everything is Bigger in Texas"! At 120 miles long, an average of 6 miles wide (20 miles wide in some places) and 800 feet deep, the "Grand Canyon of Texas", Palo Duro Canyon, is the second largest canyon in the United States (behind only the Grand Canyon itself)! The second largest state park in Texas, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, sits on 28,000 acres toward the northern end of the canyon. Only Big Bend Ranch State Park is larger.

With miles of territory to explore, Palo Duro Canyon State Park is truly a gem of the Texas Parks and Wildlife system. If you haven't visited this park yet, absolutely put it on your bucketlist of places to visit in the Lone Star State!

Even though we spent several days at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, we feel like we've only scratched the surface of what this park has to offer. There is so much to see and do in this vast park, especially if you enjoy hiking, geocaching, birding or wildlife watching. This park was named a Registered National Landmark in 1976.

Our Campsite at Palo Duro Canyon

Our Campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park

We camped in the Mesquite Campground in site number 89. The drive back to the Mesquite Loop was a long one the first time we drove into the canyon. That campground is 7.5 to 8 miles from the entrance to the park. On the way in, the park road which winds down from the canyon rim to the canyon floor was a little bit intimidating, but our rig handled it without a problem and we saw RVs of all shapes and sizes driving up and down that road without an issue. You just take your time and try not to be distracted by the awe inspiring views. :)

Once we reached the Mesquite Camping Loop, our back-in site was pretty level and had plenty of room front to back and side to side for our 35 foot rig and Jeep. Many of the campsites we saw in the Sagebrush and Mesquite Camping Loops could accomodate larger rigs. Some of the Hackberry campsites are large, but that camping loop only offers 20/30 amp electric service. The Juniper Camping Loop was not on the park map during our visit, so we didn't personally see it. But the photos of Juniper on the park's website look very nice with black topped roads and some pull-through sites. All of the campsites we saw were in good shape, and the water and electricity were strong and consistent during our stay.

Our favorite features of Palo Duro Canyon State Park: First let us say, we LOVE Palo Duro Canyon State Park! If you've visited before, you understand what we're saying. If you haven't visited before, you definitely need to go. There is so much to explore here, from the geology to the plant life, history, wildlife,... we can't wait to go back when we can stay longer. We always appreciate when our state parks have a number of spaces for larger RVs and offer 50 amp service. We also like that the campgrounds are spread throughout the park, so you only feel like you're camping with 20-30 others, not 100 others! The shade structures over the picnic tables are a definite plus during sunny days.

Trail Head Temperature Gauge

Trail Head Temperature Gauge

What do we wish the park would add? Here it's not so much about what we wish the park would add. It's more about things to be aware of. Y'all know all of Texas gets hot during the summer months, but camping down in the canyon can mean that you see higher temperatures than you'd expect even during some of the spring and fall months. During our stay, the weather report for Canyon, Texas showed expected high temperatures in the low to mid 80s. But some days the park temperature gauges at the trail heads were registering 100! It is super important that you pay attention to the temperatures while you're here, drink a lot of water and be prepared to protect yourself from the heat if necessary. Please take the park warnings seriously, pay attention to the trail thermometers, and avoid hiking during the middle of the day in warmer months. The perk of visiting in the summer is that you get to see the TEXAS Outdoor Musical. But if you go during the late fall, winter or early spring you'll escape the heat of being in the canyon.

The only other issue we had was with biting flies! These pesky buggers were ruthless during our visit. They drove us and our dog, Star, absolutely nuts. Be sure to bring a good insect repellent with you so you don't become their lunch!

Do Not Miss While at Palo Duro Canyon State Park:

We still have a lot of the park left to explore, but after our first visit our recommendations of "Must See/Do" while you're at Palo Duro Canyon State Park include: the El Coronado Lodge for information on the park as well as its local art gallery and museum, the scenic overlooks (all of which provide amazing views... our photos do not do them justice), the Cowboy Dugout offers an interesting peek into life in the canyon during the 1800s, and the Trading Post is a nice place to eat when you don't feel like cooking or need to pick up a few supplies. We really enjoyed our hike on the Paseo del Rio trail. It was an easy trail with ever changing plant life and views, and interesting finds along the way (watch our video at the top of this story to see some of these finds). As a bonus: quite a bit of the trail was shaded. And don't forget to check out the park's iconic rock structure: the Lighthouse! Even if you choose not to explore the trail, you can get a glimpse of the Lighthouse from the trail head parking lot.

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse

View from the El Coronado Lodge

View from the El Coronado Lodge

The History of Palo Duro Canyon State Park:

Rock formations here date back approximately 250 Million years! The canyon was cut by a branch of the Red River. It is said that the Clovis and Folsom peoples lived here as many as 12,000 years ago, hunting giant bison and mammoth.

Through the years, Palo Duro Canyon was home to the Apache, Comanche and Kiowa tribes. They are said to have appreciated the protection from the elements that the canyon provided, as well as the abundance of wildlife and natural resources.

Historians believe that the canyon was named by Spanish explorers. "Palo Duro" means "hardwood" in Spanish, referring to the hardwood shrubs and trees that are indigenous to the area. Here you'll find an abundance of Hackberry, Cottonwood, Mesquite and Rocky Mountain Junipers (and the campgrounds are named accordingly). The Coronado Expedition is said to have come through this area in 1541 while searching for a legendary region of gold and silver.

The first Anglo-American settlers are believed to have come through here during the 1850s while searching for the source of the Red River, and the JA Ranch was established in this area in 1877. Owned by Charles Goodnight and John Adair, the JA Ranch spanned more than 1 Million acres and held over 101,000 head of cattle. Visitors to Palo Duro Canyon State Park can see how cowboys lived in the canyon during the 19th century by hiking the Paseo del Rio Trail to the Cowboy Dugout. The structure was built into the the land to provide better insulation from extreme heat and cold. This particular reconstruction is said to have been based on Charles Goodnight's original dugout.

The State of Texas bought this property in 1933, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked to build the roads, bridges, public buildings, cabins, culverts, hiking trails and equestrian trails between 1933 and 1937. Today, you can still see their handiwork at the park headquarters, the El Coronado Lodge (now the Visitor's Center) and the park cabins. By far, the most impressive CCC accomplishment we've seen to date, is the one and a half mile main park road that takes you from the canyon rim to the floor at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Using primarily picks, shovels and wheelbarrows, several hundred CCC workers completed the road winding down 800 feet to the canyon floor in less than 6 months! The road, which is still the road everyone enters the canyon on today, was opened in November 1933 in a ceremony attended by 6,000 people!

Also worth mentioning, Palo Duro Canyon State Park is one of very few parks built by all three facets of the Civilian Conservation Corps: Veterans, African Americans and Juveniles.

Hiking Paseo del Rio

Hiking Paseo del Rio

Sunrise at Palo Duro Canyon

Sunrise at Palo Duro Canyon

Things to Do at Palo Duro Canyon State Park:

Hiking: Palo Duro Canyon State Park is home to more than 30 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult. Easy trails include the 1.03 mile one-way Paseo del Rio Trail which features the river and the historic Cowboy Dugout, the Rylander Fortress Cliff Trail which is a 3.73 mile one-way trail offering scenic overlooks, and the family-friendly half-mile Pioneer Nature Trail loop. More experienced hikers might be interested in the Lighthouse Trail, the Rock Garden Trail, and the CCC Trail. The Lighthouse Trail travels 2.72 miles one-way to the park's iconic rock formation known as the Lighthouse. The Rock Garden Trail is a 2.39 mile one-way trail that climbs 600 feet from a collection of boulders on the canyon floor to the canyon rim. The CCC Trail is a 1.43 mile one-way trail that descends 500 feet from the canyon rim to the canyon floor. Along the way, you'll cross four bridges built by the CCC during their time here in the 1930s. This was the trail used by the men of the CCC to enter the canyon before they completed the canyon road. The canyon floor can be very hot even during the spring and fall. Always be sure to carry plenty of water and pack your sunscreen.

Biking: Mountain bikers will want to check out the Capitol Peak Bike Trail. This approximately 3 mile loop offers bike paths for easy, moderate, and difficult skill levels as it travels around Capitol Peak. The Lighthouse Trail and the Juniper/Cliffside Trail are also multi-use trails open to mountain bikers. If you have questions about the skill level required for particular trails, check with the park headquarters. They can help direct you to the trails best suited for your abilities and interests.

Horseback Riding: Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers 10 Equestrian Camping Sites. The Equestrian Trail tours a section of the old grazing lands of the JA Ranch. In all, the park offers 1,500 acres specifically for horseback riding. Horses are also allowed on the multi-use trails. If you don't bring your own horse, you can visit the Old West Stables inside the park to sign up for guided horseback tours. Old West Stables is open seasonally and is located between the Sagebrush and Hackberry Camping Loops.

Wild Turkeys at the Hackberry Loop

Wild Turkeys at the Hackberry Loop

View at the Cow Camp Cabins

View at the Cow Camp Cabins

Bird Watching: According to the park's birding checklist, Palo Duro Canyon State Park is home for at least part of the year to over 480 different species of birds, including painted buntings during the summer! We had a roadrunner visitor to our campsite, and saw wild turkeys hanging out time and time again in the Hackberry Camping Loop. There is a bird blind located behind the trading post.

Wildlife Viewing: The variety of habitats at the canyon make inviting homes for a variety of animals. Common residents are said to be the Texas horned lizard, white-tailed deer, mule deer, coyotes, bobcats and snakes. We had a family of endangered Palo Duro mice visit the tall grasses near our shade shelter each evening and early morning. These mice only live in three counties in Texas and make their homes in the canyon walls of Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyons.

Texas State Longhorn Herd: A few cattle from the Texas State Longhorn Herd live at the front of the park near the headquarters. Initially brought to Texas by the Spaniards in the 16th century, many of the cattle escaped and roamed freely eventually covering most of Texas. By the 1920s, the number of longhorns was declining. Writer J Frank Dobie, businessman Sid Richardson and rancher Graves Peeler donated a herd of longhorns to the Texas Parks Board in 1941 for breed preservation and the Texas State Longhorn Herd was born. Today, you can see members of the official, historic herd here at Palo Duro Canyon State Park as well as Fort Griffin State Historic Site, Copper Breaks State Park, Lyndon B Johnson State Park and Historic Site, and San Angelo State Park.

Scenic Views Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Scenic Views Palo Duro Canyon State Park

1880s Style Cowboy Dugout

1880s Style Cowboy Dugout

Geocaching: Looking at the geocaching website, it appears that there are over 175 geocaches hidden within Palo Duro Canyon State Park!!! We were so busy being completely amazed by everything while we were there, we completely forgot to check for caches! Doh! Oh well, yet another reason to go back (as if we needed another reason). If you're not familiar with the geocaching game, check out our post "Discover Amazing Places By Geocaching"!

Ranger Programs: Ranger programs change with the seasons and may include birding hikes, longhorn cattle discussions, canyon driving tours, historical seminars and children's activities. Check with the headquarters for a list of the programs going on during your visit.

Star Gazing: We really lucked out during our stay! The park hosts in our campground were advanced amateur astronomers with an amazing telescope! Even without that equipment, however, the star gazing in the canyon on a clear night is pretty darn spectacular. We highly recommend sitting outside and spending some time staring into the night sky for a relaxing evening.

El Coronado Lodge: The historic El Coronado Lodge, originally constructed by the CCC during the 1930s is now the park's Visitor's Center. Here you'll find a museum featuring the geological, natural and human history of the park as well as an art gallery of local artists. The views into the canyon (both from outside and inside of the building) are worth stopping for on their own, but we could spend hours inside the museum as well. Make sure you see the room dedicated to the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps!

TEXAS: Since 1966, the Pioneer Amphitheater on the canyon floor inside Palo Duro Canyon State Park has been home to the "Official Play of the State of Texas": TEXAS Outdoor Musical! Performed every Tuesday through Sunday night from June through mid-August, we've been told by a ton of folks that this is a "Must See Show"! A pre-show BBQ dinner and behind the scenes tours are also available on show nights. The Sagebrush Camping Loop is the closest camping area to the Pioneer Amphitheater.

Inside the Trading Post

Inside the Trading Post

Trail Warning Sign

Trail Warning Sign

Other Amenities at Palo Duro Canyon State Park:

Trading Post: Located between the Sagebrush and Hackberry Camping Loops on the canyon floor, you'll find the Trading Post. This is the place to come for ice, firewood and even fuel! The Trading Post also houses a snack bar featuring "World Famous Burgers", cold drinks and ice cream, a small selection of groceries and camping supplies, and a gift shop. If you want books, jewelry or art, you shop at the Visitor's Center. If you're looking for t-shirts, mugs, or magnets, the Trading Post is your place.

Wildlife Viewing Area: Behind the Trading Post is the park's Wildlife Viewing Area / Bird Blind. The park has water and bird feeders to attract birds and other critters.

Trail Thermometers: Trail heads include temperature gauges so that you are aware of the temperature at that location before you begin your hike. Even during the spring and fall, it can get hot down on the canyon floor, so the gauges are an excellent tool for you to judge whether it is safe for you and your pets to proceed. On more difficult trails, like the Lighthouse Trail, the park suggests not starting on the trail if the thermometer at the trail head shows 80 degrees or higher.

Park Details:

Contact Palo Duro Canyon State Park:

Park Address: 11450 Park Road 5, Canyon TX 79015

Park Phone: 806.488.2227

Reservations Phone: 512.389.8900

Reserve a Campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park Online

Visit Palo Duro Canyon's State Park's Website

Connect with Palo Duro Canyon State Park on Facebook | Instagram

Total RV Sites: 103

Total Tent-Only Sites: 24

Total Cabin Sites: 7

Also Available: Equestrian Camping, Group Camping, Hike-In Primitive Camping

The Mesquite Campground from Above

The Mesquite Campground from Above

Hiking in Palo Duro Canyon

Hiking in Palo Duro Canyon

RV Camping at Palo Duro Canyon State Park:

Hackberry Camping Loop

Campsite Numbers: 1 - 33

Total Campsites: 33

20/30 Amp Electricity

Water and Electric Hookups

Back-In Sites

Mesquite Camping Loop

Campsite Numbers: 77 - 96

Total Campsites: 20

30/50 Amp Electricity

Water and Electric Hookups

Back-In Sites

Juniper Camping Loop

Campsite Numbers: 97 - 116

Total Campsites: 20

30/50 Amp Electricity

Water and Electric Hookups

Pull-Through and Back-In Sites

Sagebrush Camping Loop

Campsite Numbers: 117 - 146

Total Campsites: 30

30/50 Amp Electricity

Water and Electric Hookups

Back-In Sites

All RV sites have paved parking pads. Each RV site has a covered picnic table and a fire ring with grill. Some sites can accomodate larger rigs. All RV and tent camping sites are located on the canyon floor. Sites in the Juniper Camping Loop also include a lantern post and tent pad. Three of the campsites in the Juniper Loop are also ADA certified accessible.

There is a bathhouse with showers at each of these camping loops. Dump Stations are located near the Hackberry Loop and the Sagebrush Loop. The park map also shows a Dump Station across from the Mesquite Loop at the Cow Camp Cabins, but this dump station is really only accessible to very small and maneuverable RVs.

Group Camping at Palo Duro Canyon State Park:

Wolfberry Group Camping Loop

Total Campsites: 9

Maximum People Allowed: 72

30/50 Amp Electricity

Water and Electric Hookups

Pull-Through Sites

Each campsite includes a covered picnic table, fire ring / grill, lantern post and tent pad. Some sites are wheelchair friendly. A bathhouse with showers is located at the neighboring Juniper Camping Loop.

Tent Camping at Palo Duro Canyon State Park:

Fortress Cliff Camping Loop

Campsite Numbers: 34 - 50

Total Campsites: 17

Water in the Camping Loop

Park at Campsite

Cactus Camping Loop

Campsite Numbers: 70 - 76

Total Campsites: 7

Water in the Camping Loop

Park at Campsite

Each tent camping site has a fire ring / grill and a covered picnic table. Parking is on asphalt at each site. Restrooms with Showers are located .5 to 2 miles away.

Cabins at Palo Duro Canyon State Park:

Canyon Rim Cabins

Total Cabins: 3

CCC-Built? Yes!

Includes Toilet and Shower

Park on Canyon Rim and Take Stairs Down to Cabin

Cow Camp Cabins

Total Cabins: 4

CCC-Built? Yes!

Restrooms with Showers located across the road at Mesquite Camping Loop

Park at Cabin

Each cabin includes air conditioning, heater, table, chairs, beds, electricity, water, microwave, refrigerator. Canyon Rim Cabins have a view down into the canyon. Cow Camp Cabins sit on the canyon floor.

Visiting Palo Duro Canyon State Park For a Day:

Day Use Areas

Picnic Areas and Day Use parking are spread throughout this expansive park. Many of these are near trail heads. If you are visiting during the Summer, be sure to see the outdoor musical, Texas. The El Coronado Lodge (now the Visitor Center) houses a museum and local art gallery and is absolutely worth a visit. This is a very popular park and summers can be both extremely hot and crowded. Please plan accordingly and always take plenty of water and sunscreen on your hikes.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park Information:

Year Opened: 1934

Discount Passes Accepted: Texas State Parks Pass

CCC Park? Yes! Visit the El Coronado Lodge (Visitor Center) and cabins.

Park Store? Yes! At the Trading Post.

Lodging Options at Palo Duro Canyon State Park: RV Camping, Tent Camping, Group Camping, Equestrian Camping, Hike-In Primitive Camping, Cabins

Palo Duro Canyon State Park Reviews: Campendium, RV Park Reviews, RV Parky, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google Reviews

Amenities: CCC structures, museum, art gallery, "Texas" Outdoor Musical during summer, horseback riding, birding, wildlife viewing, geocaching, hiking, biking, nature trails, concession stand, store

Operated By: Texas Parks and Wildlife

Region: Texas Panhandle

Nearest Towns: Canyon TX (15 miles), Happy TX (30 miles), Amarillo TX (30 miles)

View Palo Duro Canyon State Park Map

Palo Duro Canyon State Park Trails Map

Weather at Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Tags: Texas State Parks, Texas Panhandle, camping near Amarillo

Approx. Distance to Palo Duro Canyon State Park:

Amarillo: 30 miles

Lubbock: 115 miles

Fort Worth: 385 miles

Dallas: 395 miles

El Paso: 450 miles

Waco: 460 miles

Austin: 480 miles

San Antonio: 520 miles

Houston: 635 miles

Corpus Christi: 660 miles

If You Like Palo Duro Canyon State Park, You Might Also Like:

Other Parks in the Texas Panhandle:

Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway

More CCC Parks in Texas:

Goliad State Park and Historic Site

Huntsville State Park

Lake Corpus Christi State Park

Comments

We'd love to hear about your experiences with Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Please post your comments here!

Disclaimer: These details are accurate to to the best of our knowledge. We try our best to provide accurate information, but we are human and sometimes details change. Please check with the park directly to confirm current information.