Hitched Up: Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” Palo Duro Canyon spans over 27,000 acres and is the second largest canyon in North America. With its scenic overlooks, colorful canyon walls, towering rock formations, and over 30 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, I knew we’d want to stick around for awhile.



We reserved 2 weeks in an RV camping site with water and 50/30/20-amp electrical service. Sewer connections are not available at any individual campsites within the park (except for camp host sites), however there are dump stations (where you can hook up your sewer connection and dump your tanks) located near each campground. We camped in the Sagebrush Camp Area and had gorgeous views of the surrounding canyon walls, especially during sunset. Each campsite has its own fire ring and pergola with picnic table.

img_0898.jpgThe park is home to a few members of the Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd who can be spotted grazing in the pasture near the park’s entrance station. They were massive, beautiful animals who seemed to pose for pictures. IMG_1188
During our stay the temperature in the canyon reached the triple digits (unusual for early May), so for our first outing we decided to hike the Pioneer Nature Trail, one of the park’s shorter (.49 miles) and more family-friendly trails. During our trek we spotted a threatened Texas horned lizard. Gaius, our Yorkie, pranced right by without ever noticing.

The Pioneer Nature Trail is located near the Mack Dick Group Pavillon, where we couldn’t resist recreating a certain iconic movie scene on a boulder overlooking the pavilion’s parking lot.

IMG_0892The famed Lighthouse rock formation serves as the symbol of Palo Duro Canyon and can be viewed by taking the multi-use Lighthouse Trail. At 6 miles round trip with a few steep climbs and little shade, the Lighthouse Trail can be challenging but the the scenery is absolutely beautiful. Visitors are cautioned to stay hydrated by carrying a minimum of 1 gallon of water per person or pet and to use sun protection. Several of the park’s trailheads (including the Lighthouse trailhead) have dispensers with free SPF 30 sunscreen. What a great amenity!

We started our trek to the Lighthouse in the morning when it was cooler. The trail started off flat but a few intense, vertical climbs were waiting near the end.

There wasn’t a lot of traffic on the trail, which made for a private and peaceful hike. When we reached the Lighthouse we had it all to ourselves for about 15 minutes until other hikers arrived. I skirted the edge of the cliff a bit and climbed all the way to the base of the Lighthouse. Mitchell is seriously not fond of heights so he opted to stay behind. If you look closely you can spot him gazing back at me in a panic, no doubt.IMG_1032I attempted to snap a picture of myself at the top by setting the camera timer on my phone, but when I ran to strike a pose I saw a man in the distance waving his arms at me. It would have been rude to not wave back at him, right? I noticed that other hikers were starting to arrive and I didn’t want to be “that girl” taking pictures of herself while photobombing everyone else’s, so I decided this crooked, candidish shot of my backside was good enough! IMG_1167Many of the trails in the park are multi-use or are designated as hiking and biking trails. The Capitol Peak Trail is the only trail in the park designated for biking only. Bikers can choose routes along the trail labeled as easy, moderate, or difficult based on their skills or comfort. We attempted the Capitol Peak Trail but found it to be too rugged and challenging, especially with Gaius riding in his basket. Our favorite trail for biking was actually an unmarked trail that ran behind the Sagebrush Camp Area. We encountered several other bikers enjoying this trail as well.

We frequented the Palo Duro Trading Post within the park a few times for burgers and ice cream. The nearest town, Canyon, is about a 20 minute drive away so the Trading Post was a convenient retreat after a hot day out in the sun. It also saved us from having to cook and heat up our trailer when we were trying so hard to keep it cool.

We also went on a trail ride with Palo Duro Riding Stables and experienced a whole new view of the canyon. The stables have been owned and operated by the Sorenson family since 1962. The owner and guides were super friendly and proudly shared their family history with us. We enjoyed the beautiful landscape, heard great stories, and learned interesting facts about the canyon during our ride.


Accessibility Notes:
Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers some accessible parking, campsites, and restrooms with showers. Although breathtaking views of the canyon can be enjoyed by all visitors from day use areas, camping areas, and scenic overlooks off of the main park road, there are unfortunately no trails designated as ADA accessible. Most of the park’s trails were narrow with rough terrain, steep slopes, potholes, and boulders. However, I found a short gravel trail that could be accessible for some behind the Interpretive Theater.

The park map shows one ADA accessible restroom including showers and parking, located in the Sagebrush Camp Area.

The Sagebrush Camp Area also has accessible campsites with paved vehicle parking and a paved path to the fire ring, picnic table and pergola.img_0864.jpgAlthough not indicated as ADA accessible on the park map, the Wolfberry Multi-Use Area on Alternate Park Road 5 has ADA accessible restrooms, showers, and parking.

We weren’t able to catch TEXAS, an outdoor musical drama, at the Pioneer Amphitheater (performances begins June 1st) but accessible parking and seating is available. We’ve heard TEXAS is a great show, so we hope to check it out next time we visit.

Thanks for reading!


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