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Palo Duro Canyon and State Park

Photo: Texas Parks & Wildlife
Photo: Texas Parks & Wildlife

In geological terms, Palo Duro Canyon is rather young, less than a million years old. It was carved out of the Southern High Plains in what is now the Texas Panhandle by a fork of the Red River. The canyon runs 120 miles long, and up to 800 feet deep, making it the second largest canyon in the United States. It pales in comparison to the Grand Canyon, but is impressive nonetheless.

The Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located about a half hour south of Amarillo, off Interstate 27 and Route 217. It covers over 27,000 acres across two Panhandle counties, Randall and Armstrong. The park opened in 1934 after construction on roads, bridges, and a headquarters by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

It’s a big park and has lots of features. There are over 30 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. The hiking trails range from easy to difficult. Ask for a trail guide and map when you check in. The bike trails are open despite a lot of rain this year. They’re muddy in spots, but passable.

There are also equestrian trails and a stable located along the main park road. Bring your own horse (Coggins certificate required) or sign up for a trail ride with Old West Stables, which is located in the park.

The park’s iconic Lighthouse Rock is in the back-country, west of the campgrounds. It’s a nearly 6-mile round-trip via the Lighthouse Trail, which is rated moderate. For strong hikers it’s a half-day trip. For the rest of us, figure a full day to explore and enjoy the scenery.

Camping is available for tents, RV’s and primitive backpacking sites. There are over 140 designated campsites in six different campgrounds. There are restrooms scattered around the camping areas, but only three have showers. There are also rustic cabins that were built in the CCC era. Reservations can be made through the Texas State Park reservation system at (512) 389-8900.

There are over 100 picnic tables scattered around the park, for use on a first-come, first-served basis.

Bird watchers have a special treat. There is a Wildlife View Blind located off the main road, near the Trading Post.

The Mack Dick Group Pavilion is available for rent for large gatherings, like family reunions or weddings. It has plenty of parking, and a covered picnic area.

During the summer a musical theatrical presentation “Texas” is performed nightly except Monday at the park amphitheater. Reservations for dinner and the show can be made online or by calling (806) 655-2181.

There are lots of regularly scheduled park activities. There are leisure hikes led by a park interpreter, night hikes, nature and bird watching hikes. The park naturalist holds periodic nature talks at the Pioneer Amphitheater. A monthly schedule of events is available when you check in at the gate or at the Visitor Center.

Suggestions and Recommendations: This is a long trip from DFW, over 350 miles and at least 6 hours. But it rewards you with one of Texas’ best state parks. Figure on spending a few days, there’s lots to do. Being in a canyon the park roads and campgrounds are prone to flooding, and there has been a lot of rain in the Panhandle this year. Call ahead to the park, (806) 488-2227, for the latest conditions before making such a long drive.

Posted 1/18/17

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North Texas Active Life is your guide to resources in North Texas that will help you and your family lead active and healthy lives. We are focused on the Plano, Frisco, McKinney, Allen areas and surrounding communities. Our topics cover events, recreation, activities, fitness resources, and healthy living . Articles cover hiking, biking, trails, fitness, parks, kayaking, bicycling, rock climbing, walking, and more.