7 Unique Things To Do At Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas

The Lighthouse Formation at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas.

Making it to the end of the Lighthouse Trail at Palo Duro State Park was hands down, one of our top 10 Texas moments.

On spring break we took a trip to North Texas to try to see a little bit more of this state before we move on. And we couldn’t leave here without seeing the Grand Canyon of Texas.

Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in U.S. (Second only to the Grand Canyon.) At 120 miles long and anywhere from 6 to 20 miles wide, this canyon offers so many great views and miles of hiking.

(So many cacti along the trails.)

Take in the Views at the Visitor’s Center

Our first stop inside the park was the Canyon Gallery and Visitor Center. My parents were with us on this trip and knew that they wouldn’t be hiking with us, so we stopped here for some group pictures before splitting up.

Aside from the beautiful views, you can purchase local art and necessities (like sunscreen) and learn about the canyon.

There is a video presentation and exhibits about the geology and wildlife inside the park. In fact, it was from the Visitor Center parking lot that we saw a fox running through the canyon below us.

The view from the visitor center at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
(The view from the Visitor Center is unmatched!)

Hike the Lighthouse Trail

The most popular trail in the park is the Lighthouse Trail and it’s THE ONE that I HAD to do (for the Instagram pictures of course).

The park lists this trail as ‘moderate’, but all of the blog posts I read before our trip mention a ‘steep climb’ at the trail’s end. And thinking back to the steep climb at Gorman Falls, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do it.

Aside from being out of shape, I’m also afraid of heights and not a fan of taking risks that could end in injuries.

But I made it to the Lighthouse and back down again in one piece and I would do it again!

I won’t lie; it was HARD! I had to take several breaks to catch my breath during the climbing section. There was a point when people had to wait on me to climb up a section before they could come down. And I know that I was slow and that I was holding them up, but everyone was so kind and encouraging. They told me not to rush and that the climb was worth it.

And they were right! I’m so glad that I didn’t let my doubts keep me away from this hike. I’m so glad I didn’t give up and turn around in those moments when I thought it was too hard to keep going. We stayed for over an hour at the top, sitting in the shade and taking in the scenery. The rest was much needed and so was the sense of accomplishment.

The Lighthouse Formation at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas.
(The Lighthouse formation! As you can tell it’s one of the most popular trails in the park.)

Hike an Easy Trail

While the Lighthouse Trail is the most popular in the park, it’s definitely not the only one.

If you’re not up to a nearly 6-mile hike with a steep rock climb, I don’t blame you. Opt for one of the easier trails at the park. The views are still beautiful!

Some of the easy trails are:

  • Paseo Del Rio Trail – 1 mile (one-way) – walk along the river and stop at the Cowboy Dugout
  • Pioneer Nature Trail – 0.4 mile (loop) – loops down to the river and back
  • Sunflower Trail – 1.2 mile (one-way) – a shady, family-friendly trail
  • Cottonwood Trail – 1.4 mile (one-way) – wander through the savannah and connect to other trails
  • Kiowa Trail – 1.4 mile (one-way) – get great views of the Triassic Peak, cross an original CCC road bridge, and get close to the Permian formation that gives the river it’s red color

Take a Scenic Drive

My parents and kids didn’t want to do much hiking, so they opted to drive through the park. Park Loop Road is 16 miles long and takes about 30 minutes to drive and is full of beautiful views!

We drove the rest of the loop after hiking the Lighthouse Trail. There are plenty of scenic overlooks to pull off and get pictures, picnic areas, and historic markers, and all of the trails and features of the park are accessible from this main road.

Views from an overlook on Park Loop Road in Palo Duro State Park.
(View from one of the scenic overlooks on Park Loop Road.)

Learn About the Battle of Palo Duro

Heff and I are big history nerds, so we enjoyed learning about the Battle of Palo Duro while we were in the park.

Palo Duro Canyon is the site of the Comanches’ last stand against the United States government. On September 28, 1874, after years of brutal raids and violent conflict with these fierce Native Americans, the U.S. military finally defeated the Comanche tribe. After their surrender, the survivors were relocated to a reservation in Oklahoma.

There is a historical marker at the end of Park Loop Road and books about the battle in the Visitor Center.

Historical marker commemorating the Battle of Palo Duro in the State Park.

Watch TEXAS the Outdoor Musical

Unfortunately, this is one of the activities in the park that I REALLY wanted to do, but we were there at the wrong time. The musical only runs from June to August.

For more than 50 years, TEXAS the outdoor musical has brought to life fictional settlers of the Texas Panhandle in the 1800s. The Pioneer Amphitheatre hosts the show with the beautiful Palo Duro Canyon as the background.

I’ve heard there are even fireworks at the end of the show. Can you imagine them booming off the canyon walls?

I’m sad that we weren’t able to see this during our trip to North Texas, but if we ever got the chance to go back. I would jump at it!

Trail alongside the Lighthouse formation at Palo Duro State Park in Texas.
(Imagine a show with these red walls as it’s backdrop.)

See Some Longhorns

The Official State Longhorn Herd calls Palo Duro Canyon State Park their home.

Before we visited the park, I didn’t realize that Longhorns were once wild and roamed across the Texas plains. Settlers hunted them in the 1800s before eventually domesticating them.

We didn’t see the Longhorns during our visit to the canyon since we see them often on Fort Hood. However, if you want to see them during your time in the park, they are almost always visible in the Longhorn Pasture near the park’s headquarters.

(These Longhorns do not reside at Palo Duro, but if you’ve seen one…)

We have only 7 months left here in Texas and there are so many adventures that we haven’t taken! Our Fort Hood and Texas bucket list is HUGE and we barely scratched the surface in 3 years.

But I’m so glad that we made time to see this part of the state. Palo Duro Canyon was one of the most beautiful state parks we’ve ever visited. I highly recommend it if you’re ever in the area.

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