Whether you’re into mountain biking, trail running, or hiking, this guidebook highlights 5 of the must-do adventures in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas’s most visited state park.
Palo Duro Canyon may be one of the most underrated and under-visited destinations east of the Rockies. For travelers along the Interstate 40 corridor, Amarillo is simply another town on a long stretch of highway lined with farmlands, rolling hills, and of course – plenty of wind turbines. Just 30 minutes south, however, you will find yourself at the entrance of Palo Duro Canyon, the most visited state park in Texas, and the second-largest canyon in the United States.
Translated as “Hard Wood,” Palo Duro has been home to countless cultures over the years, including the Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa, as well as “the Clovis and Folsom peoples [who] first lived in the canyon and hunted large herds of mammoth and giant bison,” according to the park. “Charles Goodnight, a former Texas Ranger, [even] drove 1,600 Longhorn cattle to the canyon in 1876,” and in 1885, it was estimated there were at least “100,000 head of cattle on 1,325,000 acres spread across the Panhandle.” In 1933, the state purchased the land to create a park, and in 1934 it opened four years before it was officially complete.
If you’re seeking a short hike, after you pass through the entrance station, you will notice a small pull-off on the right – this is the start of the CCC Trail. It is said that the men who built the road into the canyon first built this trail so that they could access the canyon floor during construction. This short overlook hike awards spectacular ridgetop views and gives you the flexibility to hike as little – or as far – as you would like.
For avid and novice mountain bikers alike, Palo Duro offers an expansive network of singletrack. From fast, flowing trails like GSL and Juniper Riverside, to slow, technical lines on the Comanche Trail, there is sure to be something for everyone. For a 15-mile intermediate loop full of flow trails and fast singletrack, consider this loop to give you a sampling of the park’s classic mountain bike trails. It’s a great option for a short-travel XC setup, hardtail, or even singlespeed rig! For a more challenging route with technical lines, tight switchbacks, and punchy climbs, check out this route highlighting the Comanche Trail, one of the park’s newest additions.
If trail running is your thing, consider registering for the Palo Duro Canyon Trail Run, an annual trail race with distances up to 50 miles. This 8-mile loop showcases part of the racecourse and wanders along vibrant red rock canyons. It offers plenty of views, plus multiple opportunities to shorten or lengthen the loop as desired. If you want to get out for a trail run but don’t know where to start – this should top your list.
Rounding out this list of outdoor adventures in Palo Duro Canyon, the Lighthouse Trail is the must-do hike in the state park. Nearly 6 miles long, this route takes you to the base of the Lighthouse Peak, a stunning rock formation that towers above the canyon below. Where the trail ends, there are several options to earn different views of the summit from a small mesa just below the peak.
Worth noting, there is no potable water anywhere out on the trails. During the summer months, temperatures frequently rise above 100 degrees, so plan an early start to your day and do not underestimate the amount of water you will need. Chinaberry Day Use Area makes one of the best options to stage a mountain bike ride or trail run, thanks to the potable water, restrooms, and nearby picnic tables.