Palo Duro Canyon State Park: Explore the Grand Canyon of Texas

View of Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States and is commonly referred to as the Grand Canyon of Texas. The canyon stretches approximately 120 miles long and has an average width of 6 miles. Visitors can access the canyon by visiting Palo Duro Canyon State Park, which is located 30 minutes from downtown Amarillo.

Uncover One-of-a-Kind Attractions at the Grand Canyon of Texas

Palo Duro Canyon State Park includes a diverse range of habitats and covers large areas of Caprock Escarpment. Caprock Escarpment is a geological feature that separates the North Central Plains from the High Plains. To elaborate, it’s a layer of hardpan that was formed by rivers. The Caprock Escarpment at the park features arroyos or large rock formations. These stunning rock formations can only be found in the Texas panhandle.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that the park attracts 300,000 visitors each year. People from around the world visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park to admire the beautiful rock formations, camp under the stars, enjoy wildlife photography, hike along scenic trails, observe birds in the wild, and much more. Continue reading for more information about popular attractions at the park.

Discover the Big Cave

If you’re planning on visiting Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the Big Cave is a must. The Big Cave is visible from the road and is accessible by a short hike of 0.9 miles there and back. This is by far one of the shortest hikes at the park, yet it’s still rewarding. After the brief hike, visitors will arrive at the base of the cave where they can take photographs and explore their surroundings. When crunched with time, make sure you stop by to check out this one-of-a-kind attraction.

The Big Cave at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Hike the Palo Duro Canyon Lighthouse Trail

Another interesting sight is the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is the most iconic rock formation at the park. To access the formation, visitors must embark on a 5.6-mile hike by accessing the Lighthouse Trail. The trail is 2.8 miles long one-way and takes about 2 hours to complete the full trail. While hiking, visitors should expect an elevation gain of about 520 feet.

The Palo Duro Canyon Lighthouse Trail.

Even though the Lighthouse Trail is considered a moderate course, the end of the trial can be strenuous for some hikers. To access the Lighthouse, hikers can climb a steep hillside that’s covered in rocks. It’s important to proceed with caution and ensure you’re in well enough shape before embarking on this journey. If you do decide to make the hike, however, you won’t be disappointed. The view from the top is breathtaking!

The Lighthouse featured in Palo Duro Canyon State Park photos by Sara Turbyfill.

In addition to the Lighthouse Trail, there are several other hiking trails within the park. Other highly trafficked trails include Capitol Peak, Rock Garden, and Rojo Grande. To view a full map of the park, check out the Palo Duro Canyon State Park Trails Map. During the summer months, temperatures at Palo Duro Canyon State Park can reach a scorching 120º Fahrenheit. Therefore, it’s imperative that you bring plenty of water if you plan on hiking any of the trails. 

Observe Iconic Texas Wildlife

Whether you’re a passionate hiker or not, the park also offers numerous opportunities for wildlife watching. For starters, there’s a pasture near the park’s entrance that houses members of the official State Longhorn Herd. The pasture is located to the left of the park entrance, immediately after passing through the gate. During your visit, be sure to stop by to see these Texas icons.

Texas Longhorn standing in a field.

In addition to the Texas Longhorn herd, there are several other native species that reside within the park. The park has a reputation for critters and features some of the most fascinating reptiles found in the state. Visitors frequently report sightings of common checkered whiptails, eastern collard lizards, Texas horned lizards, and western diamondback rattlesnakes. You have the best opportunity to see these native reptiles during your hike. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled while hiking the trails; you never know what you might find.

Common collard lizard featured in Palo Duro Canyon State Park photos by Sara Turbyfill.

Finally, visitors have the chance to observe dozens of bird species throughout the park. Belted kingfishers, chimney swifts, northern flickers, and wild turkeys are just a few frequent flyers. For a full list of birds that have been reported at the park, check out the Palo Duro Canyon State Park Bird Checklist.

Male wild turkey photographed by Sara Turbyfill in Texas.

Visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park

In conclusion, visitors can enjoy an abundance of outdoor activities at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Visitors can explore caves, hike scenic trails, and observe iconic Texas wildlife. No matter your interests, this travel destination should definitely be on your bucket list.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is operated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The daily entrance fee is $8 per person for anyone that’s 13 years of age or older. If you plan on visiting multiple Texas State Parks throughout the year, a Texas State Park Pass can be purchased for $70. This pass gives one individual access to all 89 state parks in Texas for an entire year. To learn more about the park, check out the resources below.


One response to “Palo Duro Canyon State Park: Explore the Grand Canyon of Texas”

  1. Palo Duro Canyon is such a magical place. Back in college to get a breather from our overly intense Design studios at the Texas Tech University College of Architecture, we would leave out mid-day Friday from Lubbock stocked up on Shiner Bock, steaks, and anything we felt would go with them, and head to Palo Duro Canyon for the weekend. It wasn’t uncommon for us to just show up to our 1st class Monday straight in from camping. We were happy. Others? Oh, let’s say they’d wish we would have washed off the weekend so to speak 1st. It played a little surreal tennis with the intensity of that wonderful program,

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