We went to Palo Duro Canyon in 2017 and immediately put it on our list of places to return to. Well, four years later we finally made it back! It is still just as breathtaking as we remember. Located just 27 miles southeast of Amarillo, TX, this impressive 120 mile long and 20 mile wide canyon suddenly appears out of nowhere. It is thought to be the 2nd largest canyon in the US and is definitely the most scenic part of the Texas panhandle.
In 2017 we were able to just show up without a reservation, but nowadays I would not recommend that. We planned ahead this time and were thankful we did because the campground was indeed full when we arrived. Last time we stayed in Sagebrush, which is one of the first campground loops you come to and is the closest campground to the play "Texas". This time we stayed at Mesquite which is several miles more down the road at the southern end of Palo Duro. It is located closer to the hiking and equestrian trails. The Mesquite campsites all have 30/50 amp electric and water hookups, as well as a fire ring and/or grill and a picnic table. During a heavy rain, this area can get a little flooded and the red clay turns into a slippery, muddy mess. Thankfully it didn't rain until the morning we were leaving.
Palo Duro Canyon had nearly 50 miles of trails. We hiked the Paseo Del Rio trail in 2017, an easy 2 mile trail that follows the river and passes a Cowboy Dugout. It was the perfect trail for a quick morning hike, but we had some more time this trip and were finally able to hike the Lighthouse Trail that leads to the iconic 310 foot "lighthouse" rock formation that you'll often see on souvenirs.
There are many warnings heading into the trail about making sure that you are prepared with plenty of water and sunscreen. If you forgot sunscreen, there are dispensers by the trail head that look like hand sanitizer, but are actually sunscreen that you may use. If you have never hiked in a desert before, bring 2-3 times the amount of water you normally would (the state park recommends one gallon of water per person). There are no trees so you are exposed most of the hike. During the summer, temperatures on the canyon floor can reach 115 degrees.
We had the perfect evening for a hike! The temperature was in the 60s, and the canyon walls cast some shadows on the trail. Still, we had more water than we thought we needed since we were hiking with 7 kids. I carried the baby, but this was the first long hike that our 3 year old completed by himself (and he totally rocked it).
The trail is 5.7 miles round trip out and back hike. The first 2.5 miles of the hike are relatively easy. There are some gentle slopes as you follow the canyon floor, but nothing crazy.
Do be aware that mountain bikers share the trail and come flying through here, so be alert and ready to move out of their way.
The views of the desert and canyon walls are beautiful and you'll spy plenty of cacti, lizards, and possibly some other desert creatures along the trail.
After about 2.5 miles the easy, sandy, flat part of the trail ends and you'll have a near vertical ascent up to the lighthouse. It is not treacherous, but it is strenuous. Thankfully it doesn't last too long and you'll soon be rewarded with jaw-dropping views. Congratulations! You made it!
You can either return the way you came (which is what we did), or for a longer hike back you can connect to the Givens, Spicer, and Lowry Trail.
We were so proud of this little dude for hiking the entire trail himself that we rewarded him with a souvenir hat from the trading post.
Before leaving the Amarillo, TX area, stop by Cadillac Ranch and leave your mark! Don't forget to bring the cans of spray-paint!
Roadschooling in Amarillo? You may want to also check out the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum.
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