Hiking in Palo Duro Canyon: Wild Beauty and Wildlife

Hiking in Palo Duro Canyon: Wild Beauty and Wildlife

Cacti At Palo Duro Canyon

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All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted. 

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted.

Palo Duro Canyon is in the Texas Panhandle and is second largest canyon in North America, which is how it earned the nickname The Grand Canyon of Texas. The canyon is full of spectacular beauty and wildlife, making it one of the most visited destinations in the Lone Star State. Whether you’re looking to camp, hike or enjoy nature from your car, Palo Duro Canyon has something for everyone.

Tips of Visiting Palo Duro Canyon in Amarillo, Texas

Where To Stay?

There are many great places to stay but the best way is to camp out under the stars. Unlike other parks where the campgrounds are surprisingly lackluster, every campsite has a stellar view of the canyon. There are primitive hike-in campgrounds with no amenities, campgrounds with nearby water and bathrooms, and RV sites. If you’re not into roughing it, then Palo Duro Canyon offers all kinds of accommodations from cliff side cabins with a view to air-conditioned glamping tents.

Texas State Park Reservations

Whether you are visiting for the day or overnight, you will need a reservation. Texas state parks are so popular some parks were turning visitors away when they met max capacity, so I recommend getting a day pass to guarantee your entry.

Best Time Of Year To Visit

Summer months are brutal, so the best time to hike is during the spring or fall, when it’s not too hot. Palo Duro Canyon has a semi-arid climate with cool winters and hot summers. The average temperature is about 66 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, but it can get as high as 100 degrees during summer months.

How Long To Spend In Palo Duro Canyon

Visitors can spend a day driving the 16 mile Pala Duro Canyon State Park road, which features scenic overlooks and short trails. However, I promise it will leave you wanting more. If you’re looking for more than just a glimpse, then I would recommend staying multiple days camping and hiking through some remote areas.

Hiking Trails In Palo Duro Canyon

Easy Trails

Layers of Gypsum Crystals
Red sandstone layered with gypsum crystals
  • Paseo Del Rio – 2 mile round-trip hike along the river offers a view of the Cowboy dugout where Cowboys lived in the 1880s and common wildlife sightings.

  • Pioneer Nature – This quick little half-mile loop is a simple walk to the river that’s beautiful and fun for all skill levels.

  • Sunflower – A shaded 2.5 mile round-trip hike where visitors will get a unique look at the red sandstone layered with the contrasting colors created by gypsum crystals.

  • Kiowa- This 3-mile round trip has several stops along the way where you can get great views of Prairie Dog Town Fork (one of only two forks in the Red River), an original CCC road bridge, and 250 million year old Permian formations that gives the river its namesake color.

  • Juniper/riverside – The Juniper-Riverside Trail is 2.2 miles long and flat, perfect for beginners or those looking to take it easy on their feet. Along the way you’ll see colorful Spanish Skirts rock formations that are sure to catch your eye. This trail is also great for bird watching!

Moderate Trails

Juniper Cliffside Trail - Palo Duro Canyon
Cave on the Juniper Cliffside Trail
  • Juniper Cliffside – The Juniper/Cliffside Trail is 6 miles round trip and has some decent views of the valley and percolation caves, which were carved by moving water in the sides of the cliffs. This hike provides great exercise with a few hills, but isn’t too difficult.

  • Lighthouse -This 6 mile round-trip trail leads to the iconic Lighthouse rock formation, which is visible from multiple viewpoints. Bring plenty of water, as most heat-related injuries and deaths for people and pets occur on this trail.

  • Rojo Grande – Explore this shady, scenic connector trail that takes you through the rusty red Quartermaster geologic formation between the Sunflower Trail and the Lighthouse trails.

  • Rylander Fortress Cliff – Starting from rock trail, this 3.7 mile detour takes you along the edge of the plateau with continuous views of the canyon below. It is an out and back detour, so you can go for as long or as little as you want.

Challenging Trails

Scenic View At Palo Duro Canyon
Scenic view from the Rock Trail
  • The CCC – The Civilian Conservation Corps created this 2.8 mile round-trip in the 1930s to gain access to the canyon floor. You can still see remnants of 4 original bridges along the trail. It’s one of two trails that climbs from the river bottom to rim, with Rock Garden being another option seeing the four geologic layers that make up this area.

  • Givens, Spicer, Lowry – Is a 6.2 round with a lot of hills and switchbacks, but through scenery so spectacular that you don’t notice.

  • Rock Garden – Rock Garden Trail is a 4.8 mile round-trip hike with a rigorous incline that rewards hikers with the best views of the canyon. It’s one of Palo Duro’s most difficult, and most scenic hikes.

  • Upper Comanche The 6.6 mile round-trip trail is in the heart of Comanche territory that takes you across the ancient river that has shaped this canyon

  • Lower Comanche A challenging but beautiful 8.8 mile hiking experience awaits beneath the craggy face of Fortress Cliff. The Rocky Mountain Junipers provide plenty of shade for resting near the spring-fed streams that flow through this majestic trail.

Landscape Photography Tips

Wildlife In Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro is home to some of the most amazing wildlife in Texas! When you first enter, don’t miss the longhorn pasture on your left. They aren’t always present, so if you miss them when you arrive, be sure and stop by again a couple more times during your trip. Don’t save them for the end of your trip or else you could miss them entirely. Throughout the park, you may spot woodpeckers, road runners, lizards, and prairie dogs while hiking about. If you’re lucky, you won’t even need to leave your campsite.

Wildlife Photography Tips

Greater Roadrunner Feathers Blow In the Wind
Spotted this greater road runner in our campite.

Camping Essentials For Palo Duro Canyon

There are the basic camping essentials you need no matter where you are camping, but each location has its unique needs. So what do you need for Palo Duro Canyon?

  • Fly Traps– The amount of flies swarming around your campground is insane; I would bring fly traps to keep the flies at a tolerable level.
  • Camping Stove & portable heater – Many parts of Texas are often under fire ban notices and you may not be allowed to have a campfire, so bring a camping stove for cooking and a portable heater for keeping warm in the evenings. Warning, the heater is meant to be a replacement for campfires, do not put a gas heater in your tent. 
  • Water – Bring enough water to drink and cook with for your entire stay because the water is gross, like really gross. I’m not normally a picky water drinker and very rarely have an issue with local tap water when traveling, but I couldn’t drink this water. 
  • Hammock – every campsite has a covered picnic area, which means every campsite has a spot to hang a hammock.

 

The vast and beautiful Palo Duro Canyon is a must-see destination for anyone traveling near Amarillo, Texas. But if you’re not near the Grand Canyon of Texas, there are plenty of equally amazing parks in the Lone Star State worth exploring too! Check out the Texas Travel page to see more fantastic places to explore all over the state.

Author Bio

Author Bio Image

Delaney is a project manager by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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