Caprock Canyons Trailway
A scenic bikepacking route through remote West Texas canyons.
Gravel Biking Moderate
- 103 km
- 361 m
- 802 m
- 6-7 hrs
- Low Point
- 539 m
- High Point
- 981 m
Opened in 1993, this Rails-to-Trails project is a top bikepacking destination in West Texas. Following the old railroad grade, it weaves in and out of remote farmlands and red-dirt canyons, passing through one of the state's only remaining railroad tunnels.
According to Caprock Canyons State Park, "Burlington Northern built this railroad as part of the Fort Worth and Denver South Plains Railway in the early 1920s. The railroad began regular freight and passenger service between Lubbock and Estelline in 1928." Today, the ~65-mile stretch of railway follows the original route, passing over 46 bridges between South Plains and Estelline.
Endless primitive camping opportunities are available along the trail, but keep within the boundary of the park. Self-pay kiosks are available if you intend to spend one night on the trail. For multi-night stays, contact the state park directly to make arrangements.
In addition to its many bridges, one highlight of the route lies 13 miles east from the South Plains Terminal. Clarity Tunnel is one of the last accessible railroad tunnels in the state and the summer residence for a large colony of bats. According to the park, "up to half a million bats spend their summers here." They are sensitive to human interaction, as well as light and sound, and should not be handled. The park also suggests wearing long-sleeved outerwear and hats when passing through the tunnel.
Even with plenty of access points, the trail is most often shuttled by leaving a vehicle at one terminus and beginning at the other. The mellow grades and rolling terrain make this route perfect for a hardtail or cross-country bike, though it is also passable on a gravel bike with a 700x35c tire width or greater. The mixture of sand and clay makes it difficult for anything narrower. A fat bike would also be an excellent choice.
Water and facilities are limited along the trail, and cell reception is non-existent at times. Thorns, commonly referred to as "goat heads," also line the path, patiently waiting to puncture any tire they come in contact with. A tubeless or tubed setup with sealant is highly advised, but you should also carry both a spare tube and patch kit. Should you have a mechanical issue, you will be far from help—let alone the nearest bike shop.