Looking for an epic canyon with a history as colorful as the striations that cling to its walls? Palo Duro Canyon is the site of the tragic capture of 1,200 of the Comanche’s horses by Colonel Ranald Mackenzie in 1874 during the American Indian Wars. Charles Goodnight established the JA Ranch shortly after and it would eventually become a state park in 1934.
At 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and 800 feet deep, Palo Duro Canyon is the Grand Canyon of Texas and the second largest canyon in the U.S. With its beautiful red and orange striations, it’s a worthy road trip stop if the historic cabins are booked.
History of Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Palo Duro Canyon has a long history of human existence that began around 12,000 years ago. The Apache, Comanche and Kiowa used this area extensively.
On September 28, 1874, Colonel Mackenzie and the fourth U.S. Cavalry invaded and captured the Comanche’s horses and winter supplies. This battle, later called the Battle of Palo Duro, lead to the surrender of Quanah Parker at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built Palo Duro Canyon State Park from 1933 to 1934. The CCC did extensive work constructing public lands during the Great Depression as a part of the New Deal.
The CCC built the road into Palo Duro Canyon and the cabins that dot the canyon floor and along the rim. They also built a lodge that’s now the Visitors Center.
The Historic CCC-built Cabins in Palo Duro Canyon
The carful of kids have a reservation for one of the CCC-built cabins in the Cow Camp Loop at the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon. With just four stone cabins and three rim side cabins ($60/night plus the daily adult entrance fee), they’re a treasure and ignite the imagination of my carful of kids. Of course, it’s hard to keep my boys from climbing the walls.
Each cabin has been updated with modern conveniences while keeping its historic appearance. Each unit has a pair of bunk beds with electricity and an air-conditioning and heating window unit. The inside of the cabin is rustic enough to satisfy the adventurer in your family.
Outside I found a picnic table with a fire pit and hook for your lantern. If a burn ban is in affect, which happens in a drought; you can plug your electric skillet into their electrical outlet since open flames are banned.
The restrooms with showers are located nearby in the Mesquite Camp Area. Palo Duro Canyon State Park also features 79 electric sites with water and numerous walk-in sites along with an equestrian camping area.
Activities at Palo Duro Canyon State Park
The carful of kids love this park and we have visited several times during our road trip adventures. The cabins can’t be beat for their location, historic appeal and price.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers 30 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails. Back country camping is available.
The annual musical production, Texas! performs at the Pioneer Amphitheater, Tuesday through Sunday during the summer. Tickets for adults start at $16.95 and kids tickets start at $12.95. Make it for the chuck wagon barbecue dinner, adults eat for $16 and kids get a plate for $9.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park has recently added an event center that’s available for rent. It blends seamlessly into the surroundings and is an asset to the park.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park (11450 Park Road Five) is located 30 miles southeast of Amarillo, off of Interstate 27. Open daily, admission for everyone over 13 is $5 and kids 12 and under are free.
Other Texas Parks to Visit
Know before you go:
- Make reservations months in advance for the CCC Cabins of Palo Duro Park, year-round.
- During the summer, the temperature at the bottom of the canyon regularly reaches 100F.
- I found a store at the bottom of the canyon but no gas.
- The rim cabins are not the best option for kids due to their siting along the rim of the canyon.
- Bring your own sheets or sleeping bags for the beds.