Hiking, biking, zip-lining, bird watching, horseback riding, and camping are a few fun things to do while visiting Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States and is a popular state park to visit.
Nicknamed the Grand Canyon of Texas, visitors will get sweeping views of the canyon and the beautiful Texas sky.
This Texas natural wonder is 120 miles long and 20 miles wide, with the deepest point at over 800 feet.
Located in the Texas panhandle and just a short drive from downtown Amarillo. It’s amazing to drive along the flat plains and out of nowhere, the beauty of Palo Duro Canyon emerges.
Palo Duro Canyon is the second-largest state park with 28,000 acres and offers over 30 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails.
With its miles of trails, majestic hoodoos, steep mesa walls, and multicolored layers of rock, it’s no wonder why this park is a popular vacation destination.
What’s great about this state park is that there is a variety of trails that range from scenic walks to long hiking trails, historical sites, and designated bike trails.
Things to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park in One Day
Top hikes in Palo Duro Canyon
Hike to the Lighthouse
This is the most popular hike that leads to the famous formation in the canyon. Hiking the Lighthouse Trail with its iconic Lighthouse rock formation is a sight that you don’t want to miss.
The trail is a 5.6-mile round trip moderate hike. A majority of the trail is flat and sandy. However, to reach the rock formation, you must do some rock scrambling at the end.
There is absolutely NO shade on the trail, so bringing extra water is important. It is recommended that all hikers bring one gallon per person. And starting the hike in the early morning is a great way to beat the heat.
Before you scramble up to the Lighthouse formation, you will come across a fork in the trail. Take the trail on the left to do rock scrambling and get up to the top quickly. But if you go to the right, the trail is easier but will add 10 minutes to get to the top.
We packed a picnic and ate lunch at the top of the formation. The sweeping views of the canyon made it the perfect spot to relax before hiking back to the car.
Insider tip: There is a snow cone truck in the Lighthouse Trail parking lot. It’s a good sweet treat to cool you off after the long hike.
Drive the Palo Duro Canyon Loop
If you aren’t up for taking a hike, I suggest taking a cruise on the 16-mile scenic loop of the canyon. There are several spots along the drive where you can pull over, take photos and admire the beauty of the canyon.
The scenic drive gives you views of the canyon cliffs, colorful sandstone formations, hoodoos, and picnic areas along the way.
Book a tour with Palo Duro Creek Ranch for a unique and adventurous way to see the state park.
With three off-road adventures to choose from, you are guaranteed to find one that fits your needs. The excursions range from 1-3 hours.
Each tour is different, and takes you along the rim of the canyon flood, see native wildlife, and rock formations, and learn about the history of the park.
The guided tour needs to be booked in advance and ranges from $40-$100.
Book a trail ride with Old West Stables from March to November. The equestrian area inside the park is 1,500 acres with several trails designated for horses only.
Both the Juniper Cliffside Trail and the Lighthouse Trail are open to equestrians, bikers, and hikers.
The equestrian area has six primitive campsites with a corral. There are also nearby camping areas with restrooms and showers.
Take a photo at the Longhorn Pasture
This is the home to the official state longhorn herd. In the 1800s these wild longhorns roamed Texas freely.
While they don’t roam all over Texas now, they do have a large pasture at the front of the state park.
Guests can park along the fence line to see the herd and get a photo of them grazing.
Enjoy the view from the visitor center
The visitors’ center sits on the canyon rim near the park entrance. It’s a great place to start your day in the park.
Visitors can enjoy the stunning views of the canyon, pick up a souvenir at the gift shop and map their day by picking up a park map.
The structure was a bulletin in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and is made of beautiful native stone.
The center also has a small museum with fossil and bone exhibits along with photography and other historical artifacts & documents.
Zipline over the canyon
Looking for the ultimate thrill? Visitors can get a bird’s eye view when they zip across the canyon. To get to the zipline, guests will take a 10-minute ride in the fun wagon, and walk up two bridges before zipping across the 1/4-mile long zip line.
Climb up to Big Cave
We came across this cave by accident and are so glad we did! The trail is one of many hidden gems that you don’t want to miss!
There are several caves in the park, but this one is easily accessible and a fun adventure.
To reach the cave you will have to scramble over boulders, but that is what makes it so fun. Once inside the cave, you can explore and stop for a great photo opp.
Catch a show at the Texas Outdoor Musical
Palo Duro Canyon is the only state park in Texas that has an outdoor performance venue.
Musical performances at the Pioneer amphitheater take place every Tuesday through Sunday during the summer months.
Guests will enjoy an evening of actors and singers who act out the Texas Panhandle’s history as they settled the region. This humorous family-friendly show is a fun activity that everyone will enjoy.
Before the show, guests can enjoy a Texas barbecue dinner and a fireworks show after the performance.
Stock up at the Palo Duro Trading Post
Located on the canyon floor, this is a great spot to stop before or after your hikes, Here you will find a restaurant, souvenir shop, and restrooms.
It’s a good spot to grab lunch or a snack and plan out the rest of your adventures for the day. There are plenty of picnic tables to relax at and enjoy lunch.
Tips for visiting Palo Duro Canyon
Entrance Fee and Reservations
The Entance fee is $8 for those 13 and older. Reservations are not required but are highly encouraged, especially for holidays, spring break, etc. Those days can sell out, so it’s best to plan.
Water, water, water
The official recommendation is to carry one quart of water per person, per mile. The best recommendation is to bring more water than you think you need!
Bring sunscreen, a hat and long sleeves
It’s hotter and brighter than you might realize. It’s best to bring a bottle of sunscreen with you on the hike so you can reapply.
The hike might take longer than expected or you may choose to take a longer trail than you planned. Most of the trails do not have shade, so it’s best to be prepared for types of weather.
The canyon floor is hotter than the canyon rim
At the start of the day, it may feel cool. But don’t let the temps fool you! The canyon floor can be brutally hot. So know your limitations and bring more water and snacks than you may need.
Start hikes in the morning
Get an early start on the hikes to avoid the crowds and to get a parking space close to the trail heads.
The trails get busier as the day progresses, so it’s best to start early if you want some solo time on the trails.
The best time to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park
The best time to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park is during the spring or fall months because of the cooler weather.
If you plan on doing a lot of hiking, then you do not want to be out hiking in the scorching Texas heat during the summer months.
The canyon floors can reach up to 120°F and makes for a hot and potentially dangerous situation.
So remember that no matter the time of year, the canyon floor will be hotter than you might expect. This is a great family vacation and is affordable.