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Visiting Palo Duro Canyon State Park: What to Expect + Best Hikes

Visiting Palo Duro Canyon | Best Hikes in Palo Duro

Located in West Texas, Palo Duro Canyon State Park is a nature gem you’d never expect to find. Yes, Texas is more than just cow pastures and tumbleweeds! 


If you enjoy hiking, camping, and scenic views, it’s time for you to plan a trip to Palo Duro Canyon. This state park has so much to offer for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure lovers. 


Here is what to expect when visiting as well as the best hikes in Palo Duro Canyon. Make the most of your time in this Texas nature gem; let’s get planning.


In this article…



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Visiting Palo Duro Canyon: What to Expect


Here’s how to make the most of your time in this scenic state park in West Texas. Learn when to visit, where to stay, how to get here, and the best hikes. Palo Duro is a must-visit!


Woman Admiring the View - Juniper Trail Palo Duro Canyon (Texas)

Best Time to Visit Palo Duro Canyon


Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located in West Texas, about 30 minutes outside the city of Amarillo. If you’re unfamiliar with weather in Texas, it is very indecisive. This area gets hot and occasionally rainy summers, cool and dry winters, and generally calm spring and fall months. 


The best time to visit Palo Duro Canyon is early spring or late fall. February, March, October, and November are the best time to visit due to the weather. They’re cool but not cold, and generally not rainy.


Summer in Palo Duro Canyon is unsuitable for hiking, so try to avoid visiting during this time. Winter can be a good alternative to early spring and late fall. It’s colder, but if you wear the right clothes, you can still hike comfortably (and avoid big crowds!)



How to Get to Palo Duro Canyon


Palo Duro Canyon is a 30 minute drive from Amarillo, Texas. Because it is located in northwest Texas, this state park makes for a great road trip destination from New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas. 


If you plan on flying to visit Palo Duro, the closest airport is Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. Once you arrive at the airport, you will then need to rent a car and drive about 30 minutes to get to Palo Duro.


Plan your trip and find rental cars in Amarillo and Dallas.


Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport is a smaller airport so it might be expensive to fly into. You can also fly into Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. The drive from Dallas to Palo Duro Canyon State Park is about 5 hours and 30 minutes. 



Where to Stay in Palo Duro


There are hotels available in Canyon, Texas, a 15 minute drive, as well as Amarillo, a 30 minute drive from Palo Duro. You can also rent a cabin in the state park or find a rental nearby. Below are the top places to stay near Palo Duro Canyon State Park.


If you wish to stay in a hotel, I recommend staying in Canyon or Amarillo, Texas. The cabins within Palo Duro do not have bathrooms, wifi, etc. You’re better off camping or booking a hotel nearby if you ask me. However, their luxury glamping tents are cool!


Best Hotels Near Palo Duro Canyon State Park:


Located in Canyon, TX | 15 Minute Drive

Breakfast Included

Price Range: Budget 


Located in Canyon, TX | 15 Minute Drive

Breakfast Included

Price Range: Budget to Mid Tier


Located in Canyon, TX | 15 Minute Drive

Great for Large Groups or Families

Price Range: Mid Tier


Located in Palo Duro Canyon State Park

A comfortable alternative to camping

Price Range: Luxury


Camping at Palo Duro Canyon State Park


Camping at Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Camping is popular in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. There are more than five campgrounds in the state park. I have personally camped in Juniper Campground and recommend it. 


There is also primitive camping in Palo Duro. Permits are first-come, first-served on arrival. Learn more about primitive camping and campground reservations here.


Juniper Campground (My Recommendation)

Type: RV, Tent

Electricity: Yes

Water: Yes

Sites: 18 Standard, 1 Group, 1 Pavillion

Restrooms: Yes, and showers


Fortress Cliff Campground

Type: Tent Only, Drive-Up

Electricity: No

Water: Shared

Sites: 17 Tent Only

Restrooms: 0.5 to 2 miles away


Hackberry Campground

Type: RV, Tent

Electricity: Yes

Water: Yes

Sites: 32 Standard

Restrooms: Yes, and showers


Mesquite Campground

Type: RV, Tent

Electricity: Yes

Water: Yes

Sites: 19 Standard, 1 Group

Restrooms: Yes, and showers


The Best Hikes in Palo Duro Canyon


1 | Lighthouse Trail

Length: 5.9 miles roundtrip

Type: Out-and-back

Difficulty: Moderate

Dog Friendly: Yes



The most popular trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park is the Lighthouse Trail, and with good reason. The red rock views are stunning, and the “lighthouse” rock formation is a magnificent sight. Try to start this trail early in the morning as it gets much hotter around midday in Palo Duro.


The first ¾ of the hike is easy. The last half mile or so gets more challenging. There is some rock scrambling required to get up to the Lighthouse, and it is extremely windy once you’re on top.


If the trail is at all muddy, be very careful on the rocky part as it gets very slippery. Check trail conditions and alerts before you head out.


2 | Juniper Cliffside Trail

Length: 2 miles roundtrip

Type: Loop

Difficulty: Easy

Dog Friendly: Yes



The Juniper trail is an easy scenic trail located by the Juniper Campground. If you are camping here, you can access the trail on foot.


I recommend starting the trail in the evening so you can catch the sun starting to set on your way back. The colors of the sun setting over the red rock mountains are so stunning.


3 | Palo Duro Caves

Length: 0.9 miles roundtrip

Type: Out-and-back

Difficulty: Easy

Dog Friendly: Yes



Lindsay Kostner - All Trails || Morgan Brinkhaus - All Trails


Another iconic sight in Palo Duro Canyon is the caves. This is a short trail, usually completed in 20 to 30 minutes depending on how much you want to savor the views. 


Hiking boots or shoes with good traction are recommended for hiking the Palo Duro Caves as parts of the trail are slippery shale. 


Remember to bring a flashlight so you can see more of the caves, and be prepared for using your hands when climbing in and out of the caves.


4 | Givens, Spicer, & Lowry Trail

Length: 6.1 miles roundtrip

Type: Loop

Difficulty: Moderate

Dog Friendly: Yes


Givens, Spicer, & Lowry Trail, Palo Duro Canyon - Jeanie Rogan
Jeanie Rogan - All Trails

Want to tackle a longer hike? The Givens, Spicer, & Lowry Trail is one of the best hikes in Palo Duro Canyon for those who enjoy a slightly more challenging hike. 


This is a very scenic hike, so bring plenty of water and enjoy the views along the way. If there has been rain recently, this trail does tend to get quite muddy so remember to wear hiking boots.


5 | Rock Garden Trail

Length: 5 miles roundtrip

Type: Out-and-back

Difficulty: Hard

Dog Friendly: Yes


Rock Garden, Palo Duro - Brandi Stephenson
Brandi Stephenson - All Trails

The Rock Garden Trail is one of the most challenging trails in terms of difficulty. It’s not the longest, however, there are several very steep parts.


There are some parts of the trail that can get slippery due to loose rock so I recommend wearing hiking boots or shoes with good traction. The Rock Garden trail is very scenic and well-marked.


Palo Duro Canyon Hiking Guide: Tips + Packing


Get ready for hiking in Palo Duro Canyon State Park! There are a few things to remember before you start your adventure.


1 | Bring PLENTY of Water

As an experienced hiker, I am reminding you that water is extremely important to have when hiking in Palo Duro. I did not bring enough water and got dehydrated after hiking the Lighthouse Trail so learn from my mistake.


Palo Duro Canyon State Park is incredibly dry and it gets hot quickly in the sun. Your body will need more water than in other places, so plan accordingly. I recommend packing a water bottle as well as a water reservoir in your backpack.


2 | Sun Protection is a Must

Remember to pack sunscreen no matter what time of the year you’re visiting Palo Duro. It’s best to also wear a sun shirt and a hat when hiking in Palo Duro. 


There is little to no shade on most trails here, and getting sunburned will also cause you to dehydrate faster.


3 | Start Your Hikes Early

I recommend starting your hikes as early as possible. As I mentioned above, there is little to no shade on most trails in Palo Duro Canyon and the hottest time of day is midday. 


The sun is at its peak, and the temperature warms up drastically compared to morning and evening. If you can avoid hiking at midday in Palo Duro and stick to morning or evening hikes. 


Woman and Dog Hiking Lighthouse Trail | Visiting Palo Duro Canyon

What to Bring to Palo Duro Canyon State Park


If you plan on hiking in Palo Duro Canyon, here are the essentials to help you make the most of your trip. Remember to stay hydrated, use sunscreen, and avoid hiking in midday.



Other Fun Things to Do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park


Hiking is the best way to explore this beautiful state park, however, there are other activities here to enjoy. Check out the best things to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park besides hiking.


Horseback Riding

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is very animal friendly. You can bring your own horses, or you can plan your visit in advance and book a horseback trail ride. 


This is a great activity for any experience level, and it’s a fun way to explore the scenery of Palo Duro Canyon without having to hike.


For horseback riding tours, book with Old West Stables.


Mountain Biking

Some of the trails in Palo Duro Canyon are bike friendly. Start with an easy ride like Capitol Peak Mountain Bike Trail (bikes only) or challenge yourself to Lighthouse via Givens Trail


Remember to share the trail if you’re on a hiker friendly trail. I only recommend biking in Palo Duro Canyon if you are an experienced mountain biker.


Visiting Palo Duro Canyon State Park - Canyon View

Texas Outdoor Musical

One of the biggest draws to Palo Duro Canyon State Park is the beloved “Texas Outdoor Musical”. It’s a family-friendly show about the lives of settlers in the Texas panhandle during the 1800s. This show runs in summer only.


Arrive early and plan to barbecue dinner before the show! Make sure you reserve a grill pavilion if you want to do so and check ticket availability here


Visiting Palo Duro Canyon


Now you know how to have the best time visiting Palo Duro Canyon State Park! I promise you don’t want to miss this West Texas gem. The views here are stunning providing the perfect nature escape. And it’s dog-friendly!


Pack your bags (and possibly your car) and go enjoy the best hikes in Palo Duro Canyon. Remember to bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a sun shirt, and start your hikes in the early morning.


The best time to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park is early spring or late fall so plan accordingly. This nature gem is waiting to be explored by you! What trail will you be hitting first?


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aboutME

Hi, I'm Georgina, adventure enthusiast and creator of Alpacka My Bags. I'm here for all of your travel and adventure planning needs! 

 

I've been exploring this beautiful planet since I was a child, so I decided it was time to share my travel tips with others to enjoy. After college, I knew the "traditional career path" was not for me.

 

I needed to travel and explore what this world has to offer. It sounds cliché but you do only live once. So I made going on adventures a priority, and soon realized that I wanted to share them with others so you can enjoy them too! 

My passion is spreading the travel bug and showing others that travel is attainable and so worth it. From itineraries to camping tips to packing lists, Alpacka My Bags has you covered!

Join me, and often my partner and my dog, as we find exciting adventures and travel recommendations for you! If you've been bit by the travel bug just as I have, I hope you find my tips useful for all of your future travels.

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