Things to do in Palo Duro Canyon
A beautiful canyon in Texas!
Palo Duro Canyon is a gem! Who knew that Texas held the secret of a beautiful canyon less than 30 minutes south of Amarillo? (I’ve lived in Texas for 20 years and did not know it was so large – 120 miles long!) What a pleasant surprise to drive through the park and follow the road down into this canyon of beauty. Texas has done a fabulous job preserving this area with a visitor center full of information on fauna and flora, geological and human history and of all the creatures that inhabit this canyon. There are also several RV campsites and primitive campsites within the canyon, but be sure to reserve early.
Campsites at Palo Duro Canyon:
There are 3 RV campgrounds within the park. Hackberry campground is centrally located and seems to have the most trees of the 3 RV campgrounds. Most (not all!) have a covered shelter with a picnic table underneath. Sagebrush campground has all covered shelters with picnic tables but has fewer trees than Hackberry. Mesquite campground is the farthest away from the entrance. The campsites are more out in the open. Most have pavilions with tables. There are several primitive campsites (no electric or running water) with portable toilets.
Hiking at Palo Duro Canyon:
There are many hikes to choose from (16!) with differing degrees of difficulty and length. I opted for the 2 most popular hikes which did not disappoint. Get your trail map from the friendly staff at the visitor’s center. The trails were well-marked off of the park road as well as on the hiking routes.
Rock Garden Trail at Palo Duro Canyon
5.5 miles total (out and back) moderate hike. Aptly named as you hike (on the ground) all around boulders lying in precarious positions throughout this lovely hike. It’s mostly a gradual ascent with switchbacks going out. There are places to stop here and there for shade but that wouldn’t be so if you were hiking smack in the middle of the day. I found it best to hike in the early evening (leaving plenty of time to get back before dark) for shady areas, and also I had the trail completely to myself. My favorite parts were the climbing of the canyon wall with its views of the northeastern parts of the canyon below as well as the giant rock formations winding all around you. Highly recommended.
Lighthouse Trail at Palo Duro Canyon
6 miles total (out and back). Very easy hike until 2.7 mile marker where it becomes moderate during the climb up to the lighthouse. At the 2.7 mile marker there is a picnic bench and bike rack. The trail goes to either the right or left around this large tree – either route takes you up to the lighthouse. It’s only .3 miles away. There is a fun rock scramble up to the level of the bottom of the lighthouse. It’s somewhat slippery on the dirt between the rocks where hiking poles would be helpful. Otherwise, maintain a low center of gravity. Getting up onto the lighthouse is just short jaunt away with a smaller rock scramble. The views are awesome – 360 degrees! (*note that this is also a popular mountain bike trail)
Floods at Palo Duro Canyon
Beware that it seems the canyon has some problems with flooding. In many areas, along the park road, there are flood gauge signs indicating how high the water on the road would be if it’s on that marker. There are also several trenches along the hikes for possible flash floods. Be cautious and don’t take chances.
Musical at Palo Duro Canyon
Palo Duro Canyon puts on an outdoor musical every summer entitled “Texas” from June 1 to mid-August in the large amphitheater located inside the park. This family friendly, historical show has been running since 1966!
After enjoying a couple of days in Palo Duro Canyon, it’s a quick and easy ~30 minute drive up to Amarillo to check out 2 iconic landmarks.
Things to do in Amarillo, Texas
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo
Cadillac Ranch is a super quick detour right off of Interstate 40 and just a few minutes to the west of the main Amarillo. Lots of parking and a quick walk into the field to see the artwork. It’s weird to see 10 Cadillacs coming out of the ground but there’s a slight thrill dimension to it. No need to bring your own spray paint (if you’re into spraying the cars – probably not too good for our environment) as people usually do their spraying and leave cans on the ground for others to use.
The Big Texan Restaurant
I have to admit – I know it is a tourist trap. However, it was really cool and super Texas-y! And the food was amazing! The Big Texan is known for its big challenge – if you eat an entire 72 ounce steak plus baked potato, salad and a roll…in an hour…then it’s free. Yes, they do have a bag provided should the contestant become ill. Green face here. I normally don’t watch those gross hotdog contests on TV but this seemed somewhat more civilized. There was also a medium sized gift shop, a bar and a western motel on the property. A very popular place and right off Interstate 40.
How big is the Grand Canyon compared to Palo Duro Canyon? To compare: Length: Grand Canyon 277 miles long versus Palo Duro 120 miles long. Width: Grand Canyon 8-18 miles wide versus Palo Duro 6 to 20 miles wide. Depth: Grand Canyon ~1 mile deep versus Palo Duro ~800 feet deep.
Are there campsites actually inside the Palo Duro Canyon? Yes! There are 3 RV campsites (with electric and water hookups) as well as primitive campsites. Plus there’s also glamping in a yurt-like structures.
How far is Palo Duro Canyon from Amarillo? Approximately 30 minutes.
Do you have to eat the 72 ounce steak at The Big Texan? No! There are plenty of other options for regular customers who are not participating in the contest.
Where are the challengers seated at The Big Texan? The challengers, who are attempting to consume the 72 ounce steak and the sides, are seated at an elevated table in the middle of the restaurant.