Palo Duro Canyon State Park Review & Rating
Palo Duro Canyon State Park Overview:
Wow - you've got to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park at least once. The scenery and unusual rock formations are stunning, the miles of multi-use trails are fantastic and offer everything from easy to strenuous, and the campsites are some of the best in the Texas State Park system.
Palo Duro State Park encompasses over 29,000 acres in the northern section of Palo Duro Canyon which is 120 miles long, as much as 20 miles wide, and has a maximum depth of more than 800 feet. Elevation at the rim is 3,500 feet above sea level and it is often claimed that Palo Duro Canyon (aptly named "the Grand Canyon of Texas) is the second largest canyon in the United States. The largest, the Grand Canyon, is 277 miles long, 18 miles. wide, and 6,000 ft. deep. Palo Duro Canyon was formed by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River which over millions of years has carved and created some unbelievable scenery and interesting geological rock formations. The rock formations are a multitude of colors including bright red claystone, white gypsum, plus yellow, gray, and lavender mudstone.
Palo Duro State Park is very well maintained and offers primitive, tent, and RV sites as well as cabins.
Amenities and Fun Things To Do:
You have several choices for for camping in four different camping loops. There are three areas and 80 sites with water and electricity - Sagebrush, Hackberry, and Mesquite. Sagebrush is 30/50 amp with covered picnic tables and a fire pit. The sites are short, level, and relatively close together. Hackberry Creek sites have 30 amp service, a mixture of covered and not covered picnic tables, and a few pull throughs - the sites are a little more isolated but not quite as level. The Mesquite camping area has 30/50 amp service, crushed gravel pads that are fairly level, more open space between sites, and great views. Fortress Cliff is tent camping with water only.
For the hikers, there is a half to three quarter mile hike to a primitive area for camping and another area with some backpacking campsites which are a half to 2 miles from the road. The equestrian area has water and pens for horses and tent camping but no tables or fire rings.
If you don't want to camp, there are 3 cabins with two rooms (2 single beds, 1 Queen bed, linens and towels furnished) and 4 limited service cabins at Cow Camp with AC and heating, 2 bunk beds, table and chairs, picnic table, and a large patio with great views of the canyon - but no towels or linens and the restroom and showers are across the road. The Cow Camp cabins are all stone with wood beams, very spartan and rustic and most have fantastic views - they are pretty cool, kids will love them, and you'll feel like real pioneers or cowboys!
In addition to good campsites and unbelievable beautiful scenery, Palo Duro Canyon has a number of amenities, some of which include:
- 3 dump stations
- large picnic area and playground
- 18 miles of multi-use trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, or running
- riding stable
- interpretive theatre
- visitor center with exhibits
- trading post with the basic staples and a museum
- a Longhorn herd
- scenic overlook and 6 mile drive
- historic markers
- special events and programs throughout the year
One of those special events are plays held from June to September in the beautiful outdoor Pioneer Amphitheater with the towering canyon walls as a backdrop. This family-friendly show's fictional characters bring to life the stories, struggles and triumphs of the settlers of the Texas Panhandle in the 1800's. Song and dance abound - and a generous helping of good ol' Texas humor too - with spellbinding lighting, special effects and fireworks. If you get there early, you can enjoy a bar-b-que dinner served on the covered patio.
A Typical Texas Outsider Day:
We start the day with a hearty breakfast and then try to make a decision on whether to hike or bike the trails and which trails to start with. For an easy ride, we like the Sunflower, Rio Grande, or Del Rio trail, each of which is about a 2 mile easy ride or hike along the base of the canyon with portions following the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. The signature tail is the Lighthouse Trail and it's a must do if you're into hiking or mountain bikig. It is a moderately difficult, 5.75 mile round trip multi-use trial that climbs 940 feet through some stunning rock formations, beautiful scenery, and to the parks hallmark lighthouse hoodoo.
After a day of hiking, sitting around the campfire, enjoying a cold drink, and the starlit sky is a perfect end to the day. We have also enjoyed one of the horseback trail rides. And Comanche Trail Golf Course in Amarillo is a pretty good course.
Cool Nearby Activities:
Canyon and Amarillo are the closest towns and Amarillo (about 25 minutes north) has a number of things to see and do. Other nearby activities include Caprock Canyons State Park, Storyland Zoo for Children, Nielsen Memorial Museum, Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, West Texas A&M University, Wildcat Bluff Nature Center, and Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
- Overall Rating:
- Scenic Beauty:
- Things To Do:
Additional Pictures of Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Texas Outside uses a tough rating scale and it’s difficult for a campground to get a “10”. Each park is rated on:
- Scenic Beauty: a campground that is flat with no trees or character gets a “1” and hills, lots of trees, beautiful lake site, and lush ground cover gets a “10”
- Park Condition: the cleaner, well kept, and maintained campgrounds receive high scores
- Amenities: we are looking for lots of amenities like restrooms, dump stations, playgrounds, boat ramps, shelters, concession stand, rental toys, and more.
- Campsites: low scores are given for sites that are right next to each other (good for getting to know your neighbors, but not what we’re looking for when we’re camping); have no lantern holder, no water or electricity, no fire pit, no grill, or no picnic table (or it’s rotten wood); have no trees and no view; the ground cover is crushed rock (my bare feet hate that stuff!); and they require a lot of work to get your rig level.
- Things To Do: Bonus points are given for campgrounds that offer lots of fun things to do at the park or very nearby – this includes: biking, hiking, climbing, boating, entertainment, golf, swimming, fishing, volleyball, horseshoes, and more