Hiking Palo Duro Canyon State Park (Lighthouse Trail)

Grand Canyon of Texas

Nicknamed the Grand Canyon of Texas, Palo Duro Canyon lies in the heart of the Texas Panhandle. It is the second-largest canyon in the United States and an absolutely fantastic place to visit.

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Location and Directions

The park is located about 12 miles east of Canyon on State Highway 217. From Amarillo, take Interstate 27 south to State Highway 217, and go east eight miles.

Park Address:
11450 Park Rd. 5 
Canyon, TX 79015

Hiking the Lighthouse Trail

Without a doubt, the most famous and popular rock formation in Palo Duro Canyon is the Lighthouse–and both the stunning rock formation itself and the views of the canyon below it definitely lives up to expectations!

The Lighthouse trail is listed at 5.7 miles roundtrip, although when all was said and done it was closer to 6.5 miles for us. While most of the trail is fairly easy, the last half mile or so as you ascend to the Lighthouse has a slightly steep incline and some rock scrambling at the very end.

The entire trail has no shade, so it is VERY important to pack plenty of water.

The Lighthouse Trail is wide and well-marked. The red dirt track winds through sticky, thorny vegetation including sagebrush, yucca, prickly pear, mesquite, juniper, western soapberry, and cholla. There was only one area where we weren’t too sure which way to go. At the Capital Peak Bicycle Trail, there was no sign pointing the way to The Lighthouse. After a couple of minutes of looking we could tell the route was headed to the right.

The hike took us about twice the rated 2-hour round trip since we took our time and stopped often to take pictures. The surrounding canyon walls along the hike are beautiful.

Along the trail, we came upon quite a few dung beetles. I always thought they were from Africa, didn’t know they lived in the U.S. too. We spent way too much time entertained by them rolling their balls of dung down the trail or up the sides only to have them roll back down. Our other entertainment along the trail was numerous lizards of various sizes and colors each stopping to do a few pushups for us.

Near the end of the flat area of the trail, you will come across a picnic table under some shaded trees. This is the fork of the trail. If you go left, (which we did), you will need to do some rock scrambling, but it is a lot of fun and the fastest way to get to the Lighthouse. If you go right, the trail is easier, but it takes at least ten minutes longer.

Once you top out on the trail, the 310-foot high Lighthouse, a designated National Natural Landmark stands in front of you. You can go a short distance and climb to the base of the Lighthouse, or just spend time enjoying the view from below.

Return the way you came. Notice how different light angles change the cliffs and rocks. Watch for painted buntings, canyon wrens, and hawks.

This hike is obviously not the place to find solitude in the park, but it is “The Destination Hike” in Palo Duro. It is well worth the trip and if you leave early enough you can possibly have the Lighthouse all to yourself.

You can download a copy of the Palo Duro Canyon trail map here.

Some Other Trails to Hike

CCC – A 2.8-mile difficult round-trip hike. Cross four historic CCC bridges as you descend 500 feet through four geologic layers from the canyon rim to the canyon floor.

Juniper/Cliffside – A 5.8-mile moderate round-trip hike. Notice the percolation caves carved by moving water in the sides of the cliffs along this trail.

Juniper/Riverside – A 2.2-mile moderate round-trip hike. Watch for the colorful Spanish Skirts rock formations along this flat trail beside the river.

Paseo Del Rio – A 2-mile easy round-trip hike. As you walk along the river, stop at the Cowboy Dugout to see how the cowboys lived in the 1880s.

Rock Garden – A 4.8-mile difficult round-trip hike. Climb 600 feet from a field of boulders at the bottom of the canyon to the Rylander Fortress Cliff Trail along the canyon’s rim.

Tips for Visiting Palo Duro Canyon in Texas

Bring lots and lots of sunscreen, plus a hat.

Sun protection is critical when exploring Palo Duro Canyon: the heat and intense sun of the desert are not to be underestimated! 

… and more water than you think.

The official recommendation is one quart of water per person, per mile. Don’t underestimate how thirsty you’ll be in the heat! 

If you’re heading out for more than a couple of hours, consider freezing some of your water bottles so they’ll (hopefully) still be cold by the time you need them.

Start your hikes early in the morning.

Not only will you avoid the crowds and experience absolutely gorgeous light in the canyon that way, but you’ll also be able to hike for several hours before the heat reaches its highest point of the day.

Keep an eye out for cacti.

This is especially important if you’re not used to hiking in deserts with cacti: in some places, there are cacti in and near the trails, and you definitely don’t want to accidentally touch one!

The Best Time to Visit Palo Duro Canyon

The best times to enjoy the bulk of the things to do in Palo Duro Canyon are September through May.

Winter can be another fairly pleasant time to visit, with highs generally reaching the high 50s/low 60s during the day–however, the nights can get very cold, and the days will be shorter, so be sure to bring plenty of layers!

During the height of summer, average temperatures soar to the mid-to-high 90s–and remember, the canyon floor can feel around 10 degrees hotter than that, and there is very little shade to speak of in the canyon.

Unless you’re used to hiking in the heat of the desert, consider planning your Palo Duro Canyon vacation outside of the summer months.

Cost of Visiting Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Visiting Palo Duro Canyon State Park costs $8 per person, per day. Children 12 and under can visit for free.

Conclusion

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is a beautiful area that reminds me of Utah or other areas of the Southwest we’ve hiked. The hiking trails are really nice and great views of this amazing canyon.

What interesting places have you been to and can recommend? We’re always looking for neat out-of-the-way places to put on our list of must-sees. Thank you for reading our article. If you have any comments or questions we’d love to hear from you below.

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