Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Palo Duro Canyon, TX

  • Published 2022/11/27

Palo Duro Canyon is the second-largest canyon in the United States, only behind the iconic Grand Canyon in Arizona.

You can find it in Randall County, Texas.

Hailed as “The Grand Canyon of Texas,” Palo Duro Canyon also has breathtaking geological features, multicolored rock layers, and steep mesa walls.

Located 30 minutes from Amarillo, this is one of the popular destinations for residents and tourists visiting the city.

With over 28,000 acres of natural wonders, here’s a list of the best things to do in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas.

Take the Lighthouse Trail

Scenic view of Lighthouse Trail

Martina Birnbaum /

One of the most iconic structures at Palo Duro Canyon is the Lighthouse, an impressive 300-foot-tall rock formation.

Although the Lighthouse has been immortalized in postcards, souvenirs, and pictures, it’s best to see this formation in person by taking the Lighthouse Trail.

Rated as a moderate trail, it takes about two hours to reach the lighthouse depending on your pace.

View along Lighthouse Trail

ac_casas /

There are benches for mid-hike breaks, but bring plenty of water and start as early as possible to avoid the crowd and beat the heat.

If you don’t have the time or fitness capacity to hike the Lighthouse Trail, you can still view the rock from the parking lot.

Aerial view of Lighthouse Trail

Brett Ewing /

Start Your Adventure at the Canyon Gallery & Visitor Center

The Canyon Gallery & Visitor Center is one of the essential parts of visiting Palo Duro Canyon.

The establishment sits atop the canyon and boasts sweeping views of the surroundings, giving you a bird’s eye view of the state park, its trails, and other points of interest.

At the visitor center, you can also inquire about the available interpretive programs and the status of the hiking trails.

Then, get park maps and ask for help to create the perfect one-day or multi-day itinerary.

On the other hand, the Canyon Gallery & Visitor Center features various authentic Native American crafts like vintage rugs, paintings, pottery, and more.

Before or after visiting the state park, stop by the Canyon Gallery and purchase a souvenir or two to bring home.

Camp under the Stars at Palo Duro Canyon Campground

Make the most of your trip to Palo Duro Canyon and spend the night at Palo Duro Canyon Campground.

Located within Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the Palo Duro Canyon Campground comprises various campsites.

Most campgrounds offer electricity, picnic tables, fire rings, RV hookups, restrooms with showers, water hookups, nearby water sources, and more.

There are also primitive campsites, group campsites, and campsites for sponsored youth groups.

Once the sun has set, go stargazing and see the glistening stars and other celestial bodies.

Don’t forget to bring your binoculars, telescopes, and cameras to capture the night sky as you’ve never seen before.

Remember that if you want to camp at Palo Duro Canyon Campground, you must inquire about campground availability in advance.

Ride a Jeep through the Canyon with Palo Duro Creek Ranch

Experience the stunning canyons on a jeep tour with Palo Duro Creek Ranch.

Led by fun and informative guides, you will discover the canyon’s beauty, history, and diversity as you drive past giant rocks, steep inclines, and hills.

Visit Palo Duro Creek Ranch and choose from three tours ranging from one to three hours.

The one-hour Black Hawk Tour is the perfect introductory tour, highlighting the famous Lighthouse monument and passing through a plateau, waterfalls, and a meadow of wildflowers.

Meanwhile, the two-hour Hidden Spring Canyon Tour offers a historical tour, where you will learn about the daily lives of cowboys as the Jeep passes through rangelands, an old windmill, and the main canyon.

Lastly, the three-hour-long Spirit of Palo Duro Canyon Tour explores the canyon’s unique geological features, with photo stops at the bluffs and up-close views of the rock formations.

Drive around the Palo Duro Canyon Loop

If you want to experience the beauty of Palo Duro Canyon without hiking long distances, drive the Palo Duro Canyon Loop.

This scenic route takes you through picturesque sites and dramatic views of the canyon and cliffs within the comforts of your vehicle.

The Palo Duro Canyon Loop is around 16 miles long, going to the canyon floor and ending at the Visitor Center.

Moreover, the scenic drive can take 45 minutes or more, depending on whether you stop for photo ops and a quick snack or lunch break between driving.

View the canyon cliffs, multicolored sandstone formations, hoodoos, and other natural scenery as you drive around the loop.

Ride Your Bike along the Capitol Peak Mountain Bike Trail

Welcome sign of Capitol Peak Mountain Bike Trail

Warren Price Photography /

Catch amazing views of Capitol Peak on a thrilling loop around Capitol Peak Mountain Bike Trail.

Mountain biking along Palo Duro Canyon is one of the best things to do in the area, as the rocky and rugged terrain challenges bikers.

Biking around the trail takes around an hour and a half and spans 3.5 miles, traversing the scenic canyons around Capitol Peak.

The Capitol Peak Mountain Bike Trail is also famous at Palo Duro Canyon because it offers three levels of difficulty, accommodating novice and expert bikers.

The trail also connects to the Lighthouse Trail, so bikers can combine these two trails and hit two birds with one stone.

Grab a Bite at Palo Duro Trading Post

For your souvenir, camping, and dining needs, head to Palo Duro Trading Post, conveniently located within the Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

The family-owned restaurant and shop have served canyon visitors since 2001, providing guests with delicious food, souvenirs, camping supplies, and propane fire ring rentals.

It is also the only fuel station within Palo Duro Canyon.

Are you looking for a quick meal post-hike?

Try the sandwiches, burgers, fries, hotdogs, and other snacks at Palo Duro Trading Post.

If you need last-minute camping supplies, purchase firewood, gas, and groceries and rent a propane fire ring.

Some souvenirs sold at the shop include fridge magnets, medallions, mugs, and clothes.

Hike the Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail

For those looking for a challenge, conquer new terrain and follow the Givens, Spicer, and Lowry Trail.

The trail got its name from the avid runners who helped develop the canyon’s trail system.

Spanning around eight miles, this trail is the perfect workout; challenge yourself and enjoy rewarding and motivating views of the canyon.

The trail also connects to a part of the Lighthouse Trail, so hikers can take a side trip to see the beauty of the iconic Lighthouse rock formation.

Hiking the Givens, Spicer, and Lowry Trail takes around three hours to complete one way.

Start your trek as early as possible to avoid the extreme heat.

Try Glamping with Palo Duro Glamping

Experience a one-of-a-kind overnight stay at Palo Duro Canyon on a glamping trip with Palo Duro Glamping.

Unlike traditional camping, glamping sites come with air conditioning, refrigerators and essential kitchen appliances, a propane fire pit and grill, bed linen, towels, and water.

The site also has a covered porch with rocking chairs and porch swings, perfect for relaxing and enjoying peace and solitude after a busy day out.

Book a cabin or tent with Palo Duro Glamping and enjoy a luxurious and comfortable stay.

After a restful evening, watch the sunrise with a freshly made cup of coffee and enjoy a complimentary breakfast before heading to one of the nearby hiking trails for another day of adventure.

Join a Ranger-Led Program at Palo Duro Canyon State Park

A cliff at Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Matthew Holdridge /

To better understand the history of Palo Duro Canyon, join a ranger-led program at the Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

The park offers different programs that tackle its history, natural features, and other interesting tidbits that will make you appreciate the beauty of nature.

Learn about the resident and migratory birds in the canyon and the story behind the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon.

View from a cliff at Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Exploring and Living /

Otherwise, join a driving tour around Palo Duro Canyon State Park with a ranger.

You can also hike the canyon on a full moon or ring in the new year with a hike along one of its trails.

Call the park in advance to schedule a group program for larger groups.

Inside a cave at Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Jon Coyle /

Catch the TEXAS Outdoor Musical

Set in the outdoor Pioneer Amphitheater in Palo Duro Canyon, the TEXAS Outdoor Musical is a must-see show every summer.

The theater production details the history of the Texas Panhandle region centered around the ranchers and farmers with themes of romance, struggle, and conflict.

Aside from singing and dancing, the TEXAS Outdoor Musical includes light humor, making it a family-friendly production.

Moreover, the lighting and special effects, combined with the dramatic landscapes of the Palo Duro Canyon, are simply a sight to behold.

Before the show, don’t miss a Texan BBQ dinner, including chopped beef brisket, smoked sausage, potato salad, cole slaw, bread, dessert, and drinks.

Not many state parks in Texas have outdoor musical performances, so this is one of the unique activities in the canyon.

Fly Past the Canyons with Palo Duro Zipline

See Texas’ iconic Palo Duro Canyon from a different perspective on a ziplining trip with Palo Duro Zipline.

Perfect for families, thrill-seekers, and those who want to try something new, ziplining is one of the most memorable ways to spend time in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Start with a ten-minute ride on the fun wagon on your ziplining trip before taking a leap of faith and ziplining across the state park.

Although it doesn’t pass over the canyon, you can still see amazing views.

Tandem crossing at Palo Duro Zipline is also available for those under 65 pounds.

On the other hand, join the Chicken Tour and ride the fun wagon without zoning.

You can marvel at the scenery while watching everyone zip across the sky.

Ride a Horse with Old West Stables

Aside from exploring Palo Duro Canyon by foot, car, and on a Jeep, horseback riding is another popular way to get around the canyon.

Located within Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Old West Stables provides hour-long equestrian tours and trail rides that accommodate up to 12 riders.

The trail ride will take you through canyon highlights like Sad Monkey Mesa, the Catarina Caves, and the Spanish Skirts.

You’ll also see hoodoos and caves and ride along the canyon walls.

Along your trail ride with Old West Stables, you may see animals like mule deer, wild turkeys, road runners, coyotes, and feral hogs in their natural habitat.

Whether a beginner or an experienced rider, you should have a memorable time exploring Palo Duro Canyon.

Look for Hidden Treasures by Geocaching at Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Geocaching is a fun outdoor activity where participants use GPS trackers or smartphones to search for geocaches, metal boxes or canisters holding a log book, tradable items, and other exciting finds.

It’s a modern-day treasure hunt that children and children at heart can enjoy.

You can find various geocaching sites in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, some located on the park grounds and along the trails.

Most geocaching sites are approved by park personnel.

Not only will you enjoy exploring the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, but you’ll also do a bit of sleuthing to find the geocache.

See the Texas Longhorns

View of a Texas Longhorn

IrinaK /

The Texas Longhorn is a kind of American cattle recognizable by its large and long horns and is also one of the symbols of Texas.

For those who haven’t seen one of these mighty animals, Palo Duro Canyon is home to a portion of the Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd.

Along with other state parks, Palo Duro Canyon State Park works with the Historical Commission and Texas State Parks to manage the herd.

A grazing Texas Longhorn

Martha Marks /

Visit the pasture near the park headquarters and get the chance to spot one of the famous Longhorns.

At the pasture, learn more about the origins of the Texas Longhorn, how it helped the Spaniards in the early years, and how the United States Forest Service saved the breed from extinction.

Final Thoughts

While most people head to Arizona to see the colorful Grand Canyon, Texas offers a natural wonder as breathtaking as the World Heritage Site.

Palo Duro Canyon has postcard-perfect scenery, exciting flora and fauna, and rich history.

Visitors can enjoy numerous outdoor activities, from camping and hiking to adrenaline-pumping, like Jeep tours and ziplining.

If you’re itching for your next weekend getaway, visit Texas and enjoy the best things to do in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas!

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