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Top Things to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas

Palo Duro Canyon State Park, CCC cabins, Places to camp in Texas, Texas State Park Cabins,
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is 30 miles southeast of Amarillo, Texas, in the Panhandle region. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Located at the top of Texas in the Panhandle, Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the U.S. and second only to Arizona’s Grand Canyon.  Unlike the Grand Canyon, visitors can drive to the bottom of Palo Duro, seeing the colorful red and orange striations clinging to its walls. Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers its visitors hiking, biking and horseback riding along with a summertime musical production. Here’s what to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas with kids.

What makes Palo Duro Canyon State Park Special

Located in-between Amarillo and Canyon, the canyon measures 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and 800 feet deep. Palo Duro Canyon features hoodoos, or rock formations that happen when rocks erode at different rates creating lop-sided rock formations.

 At the bottom, the Prairie Dog Town Ford Red River meanders through the park and carved the canyon. Visitors can see 250 million years of geologic history in the rock layers. 

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What to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park

The epic scenery makes Palo Duro Canyon a top destination in the Texas Panhandle. Over the years, I’ve 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. An on-site summertime musical is a draw for the park. Visitors will also find horseback riding in the park, along with a stocked trading post. 

Hiking in Palo Duro

Find 30 miles of multi-use trails in Palo Duro State Park. With trails for easy to difficult, enjoy the rugged landscape at the bottom of the canyon where you can find historical markers.

Paseo Del Norte—A 1.0-mile one-way hike that passes the cowboy dugouts from the 1880s.

Pioneer Nature Trail—A .5-mile loop to the river.

Texas Outdoor Musical

The annual production opens Memorial Day weekend and continues until mid-August. With professional cast and crew, see the dramatic historical portrayal under the starry sky.  

Located in the Pioneer Amphitheater, performances each Tuesday through Sunday. Gates open at 4 p.m. with 6 p.m. chuck wagon dinner and showtime of 8:15 p.m. Show tickets for adults start at $20, kids (6 to 12 and ) tickets start at $15 with kids 5 and younger entering for free.

The chuck wagon dinner features BBQ and sides for $25.98 a person. Park admission not necessary for show. 

Horseback Riding in Palo Duro

From March until November, the stable offers a one-hour guided horseback ride in an area reserved for equestrian use.  Riders can see Sad Monkey Mesa, the Catarina Caves, the Spanish Skirts and hoodoos. Along with geological features, wildlife might cross your tracks during the ride and wildflowers bloom during the season too. 

Tours are $125 per rider. Riders must be six-years-old and weigh under 225 pounds. Closed toe shoes are required. 

Located inside Palo Duro State Park at the bottom of the canyon, next to the Pioneer Amphitheater. 

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Junior Naturalist Program 

Pick up a booklet at the visitor center, packed with seven activities from kids 5 to 12. Kids complete activities about the history, wildlife and geology of the park. This is a top activity in Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas with kids.

Kids who complete the booklet get a souvenir patch.

Wildlife in Palo Duro

Find a diverse ecosystem in Palo Duro and the most famous animals are the official Texas Longhorn herd. Located near the rim at the visitor center, they boast their distinctive wide horns. 

The Spanish brought cattle to Texas as early as the 1500s. Many escaped and thrived in the wilds of Texas for hundreds of years. 

Also find several varieties of deer, like white-tail and mule. Coyotes can be heard at night. Palo Duro is also home to wild turkeys and bobcats.  

Birding is popular in the canyon. There is a bird blind behind the trading post. 

Where to Eat in Palo Duro 

Grab a quick bite at the Palo Duro Trading Post. Find made-to-order breakfast and lunch sandwiches. Also serves coffee in the morning and ice cream for a treat.

The trading post sells firewood (when the area isn’t in a burn ban), gas, along with a fully stocked camp store. During time of a burn ban, rent a propane campfire by the day—all the ambience, none of the embers. 

Located at the canyon bottom. Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

For those attending the Texas outdoor production, a chuck wagon BBQ dinner is available. 

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Where to Stay at Palo Duro State Park

Find a selection of camping at Palo Duro State Park. From primitive camping to RV camping with utilities for 60-foot rigs, it’s a camping destination. Or enjoy a roof over your head,  find historic cabins with a rustic flavor along with new glamping options. 

Camping in Palo Duro

Palo Duro Canyon State Park also features a selection of campsites from walk-in primitive sites to sites with water and 50-amp service that accommodate 60-foot RVs. Find two dump stations in the park. Each loop features restrooms with showers. Group sites along with an equestrian camp area is also available. 

Juniper Area
    • Reservations Recommended
    • 18 sites
    • Electricity and water hook-ups, restrooms nearby
Mesquite Area
    • Reservations Recommended 
    • 20 sites
    • Electricity (30 and 50 amp) and water hook-ups, restrooms nearby
Sagebrush Area 
    • Reservations Recommended 
    • 30 sites
    • Electricity (30 and 50 amp) and water hook-ups, restrooms nearby
Hackberry Area
    • Reservations Recommended 
    • 32 sites
    • Electricity and water hook-ups, restrooms nearby
Cactus Camp Area
    • Reservations Recommended 
    • 7 sites
    • Water in area, restrooms nearby 
Fortress Cliff Camp Area
    • Reservations Recommended 
    • 17 sites
    • Water in area, restrooms nearby
Equestrian Camp Area
    • Reserved through the park in area just for horses
    • 10 sites with four joined horse pens.
    • Water in area only. Restrooms in nearby campground 

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Historic Cabins in Palo Duro Canyon

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The Cow Cabin in Palo Duro Canyon State Park will excite your pioneering kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Palo Duro Canyon features seven historic cabins built of local stone and timber. Updated to include modern conveniences, the ambience in the cabins is rustic. 

Each unit is furnished with beds, heating and cooling. The outside features a picnic table along with grill.

Rim Cabins 

Perched along the rim of Palo Duro, each cabin feature beds along a kitchenette featuring a microwave and small refrigerator. Though no cooking other than the microwave is allowed inside the cabin. 

Each of the three cabins features a different sleeping configuration. Find a queen-sized bed and a full-sized futon to accommodate four people. 

Rates start at $125 a night. 

Cow Camp Cabins

Find four historic cabin built by the CCC at the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon in a separate camping loop from the nearby the Mesquite Camp Area.

Each cabin has been updated with modern conveniences while keeping its historic appearance. Find 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 find a picnic table with a fire pit and hook for your lantern. If a burn ban is in affect, which happens frequently. An outdoor electrical outlet is near the picnic area. 

During my trip. I packed an electric skillet for meals. It worked great for hotdogs and hamburgers. 

The restrooms with showers are located nearby in the Mesquite Camp Area. Cow Camp Cabins start at $60 a night.

Glamping in Palo Duro

The historic cabins are steeped in history though feel like camping with a roof and four walls. For those visitors wanting a more comfortable stay, consider the new glamp sites. It’s on to the best things to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas with kids.

Each unit is newly constructed with a wide covered and furnished porch. Inside find rustic furnishings and a choice of bed sizes along with a dining table with bench seating along with futon seating for day and night use. Find conveniences like air conditioning and heat, along with a refrigerator, microwave, coffeemaker, along with gas fueled grill and firepit. 

Note: The cabins do not feature water or restrooms inside the unit. A restroom with showers is within walking distance.

Located on the Palo Duro Canyon floor, find the glamping area behind the Palo Duro Trading Post with four glampsites. Rates start from $299 a night. Reservations are required and they are pet-friendly.

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Celebrate at Palo Duro State Park 

Palo Duro Canyon State Park, cabins in Palo Duro,
The Mack Dick Pavilion is available for rent for reunions and weddings. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers several groups sites in addition to the Mack Dick Pavilion. The facility features a commercial kitchen indoor and outdoor areas along with restrooms for nearly 170 people. With the colorful canyon walls contrasting with the evergreens, the building offers a dramatic location.

The smaller Tasajillo Pavilion offers an outdoor space for 50 people with an outdoor grill area.

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.

Located at 11450 Park Road 5, it is about 30 miles southeast of Amarillo. Adult admission is $8 a day and kids 12 and younger get in for free. The park gates are open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Located in the Texas Panhandle, Palo Duro State Park offers camping, historic cabins and glamping sites. For fun, take a hike, a horseback ride or see a musical production during the summer. As the second largest canyon in the U.S. this Texas State Park is a top destination. Where to go Camping in Texas | Best cabins in Texas | What to do in Palo Duro State Park #Texas #TexasCabins

Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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