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

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

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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 the Lonestar state before we move (because we have orders to Hawaii). And we couldn’t leave here without seeing the ‘Grand Canyon of Texas’.

(If you’re looking for other fun things to do in Amarillo you should check out Cadillac Ranch!)

Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the 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.

Here are 7 unique things to do while you’re there!

(On the trail to the Lighthouse.)

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 we 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 spotted 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 while we were here (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!

The trail to the Lighthouse Formation is pretty flat until the very end.
(Most of the trail is fairly flat.)
The Lighthouse rock formation at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas.
(After we made it up the steep part.)
(We didn’t make this, but spotted it on our way to the Lighthouse.)

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 for me to climb up a section before they could come down. I knew that I was slow and 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 at the top for more than an hour, just sitting in the shade and taking in the scenery.

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.)
(Enjoying the view from the top.)
(I was tired, but so proud of myself for finishing this hike!)

Hike an Easy Trail

While the Lighthouse Trail is the most popular hike in the park, it’s 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. You can opt for one of the easier trails at the park. The views on every trail are absolutely beautiful!

Some of the easy trails at Palo Duro Canyon State Park 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
Trail at a Texas State Park.
(Even the flat ‘easy’ trails are full of desert beauty.)
Desert hiking trail in Texas.
(The colorful rock formations are everywhere throughout the park.)

Take a Scenic Drive

My parents and kids weren’t interested in hiking, so they drove through the park instead. Park Loop Road is 16 miles long, takes about 30 minutes to drive, and is full of beautiful views!

After our hike, we drove the rest of the loop. There are plenty of scenic overlooks to stop and get pictures, picnic areas, and historic markers. 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.
(Historical marker that tells about the Battle of Palo Duro.)

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 in the background.

I’ve heard there are 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 prioritize seeing 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 Cavazos and Texas bucket list is HUGE and we barely scratched the surface in 3 years.

I’m so glad that we made time to see this part of the state. Palo Duro Canyon is 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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