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From Horses to Hiking: 9 Fun 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

In the Texas Panhandle, Palo Duro Canyon is the second-largest canyon in the U.S. and second only to Arizona’s Grand Canyon. The best feature of this canyon is visitors can drive to the bottom of Palo Duro. Along the route, drivers past the colorful red and orange striations of the canyon walls. Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers its visitors scenic drives, hiking, biking, wildlife viewing and horseback riding, along with a summertime musical production. Here are the best things to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas.

9 Fun Things to Do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park 

  • Stop by the Visitor Center 
  • Drive Down into the Palo Duro Canyon
  • Hike in the Park
  • Find the Palo Duro Landmarks
  • Get Seats to the Texas Outdoor Musical
  • Go Horseback Riding in Palo Duro
  • Do the Junior Naturalist Program
  • Spot Wildlife in Palo Duro
  • Go Camping in Palo Duro

What Makes Palo Duro Canyon State Park Special

Located between Amarillo and Canyon, Palo Duro Canyon measures 120 miles long, 20 miles wide, and 800 feet deep. It features hoodoos, or rock formations that happen when rocks erode at different rates, creating lopsided 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. It is similar to the Grand Canyon and it is commonly known as the Grand Canyon of Texas. 

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Stop By the Visitor Center in Palo Duro Canyon State Park

The Canyon Gallery and Visitor Center

Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, this building is perched on the edge of the canyon. It offers large windows for spectacular views of the canyon. The Canyon Gallery is constructed of native stone.

Visitors will find interpretive displays as well as an introductory film. The Canyon Gallery sells Native American arts and crafts.

It is located .5 miles from the entrance of Palo Duro Canyon State Park. It opens daily at 8 a.m. and operates on seasonal hours.

Scenic Roads in Palo Duro 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.

One of the best things to do in Palo Duro is take a scenic drive. Park Road 5 goes from the rim of the canyon to the bottom. It is safe to drive for travel trailers and motor homes.

Along the route, travelers will pass the Canyon Gallery, an observation point along with the Rim Cabins. The road goes past the Pioneer Amphitheater to the loop at the bottom. This is the main road in the canyon and is used to get to all campgrounds.

Take a Hike in Palo Duro

Visitors will find 30 miles of multi-use trails in the park. With trails from easy to difficult, it is easy to enjoy the rugged landscape at the bottom of the canyon.

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.

Rylander Fortress Cliff–A 3.7-mile one-way trail that’s rated Easy.

Sunflower–A 1.2-mile one-way trail that’s rated Easy.

Kiowa–A 1.4-mile one-way trail that’s rated Easy.

CCC Trail—This 1.4-mile trail descends 500 feet, and hikers can see the rock layers. It is a difficult trail.

Find the Palo Duro Landmarks

Palo Duro’s dramatic scenery offers several landmarks, both geological and created.

The Lighthouse

The Big Cave 

CCC Overlook

Rock Garden 

Longhorn Pasture


Wildlife View Blind

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Get Seats to the Texas Outdoor Musical

The on-site summertime musical is a big draw for the park. The annual production runs from Tuesday to Sunday, June 6 to August 3, 2024. On Monday, the Pioneer will host a Shakespeare in the Canyon performance.

With a professional cast and crew, the show portrays the dramatic history of the area under the starry sky. Entering its 57th season, reservations are suggested, especially on weekends.

Located in the Pioneer Amphitheater, performances each Tuesday through Sunday. Gates open at 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. the chuck wagon dinner is served. The show starts at  8 p.m. Show tickets for adults start at $25, kids (6 to 12) tickets start at $15 with kids 5 and younger entering for free.

The chuck wagon dinner features BBQ and sides for $26 a person. Park admission is not necessary for the show. 

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Go 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. The wildflowers bloom during the season too. 

Tours are $150 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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Do the Junior Naturalist Program 

For families looking for activities to do with their kids, Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers a Junior Naturalist Program. Visitors can pick up a booklet at the visitor center; it is packed with seven activities for kids 5 to 12.

Kids complete activities about the park’s history, wildlife, and geology. This is a top thing to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas with kids.

Kids who complete the booklet get a souvenir patch.

Spot Wildlife in Palo Duro

Palo Duro offers a diverse ecosystem. Visitors will 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.

The most famous animal is the official Texas Longhorn herd, located near the rim and the visitor center. They boast 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. 

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

Where to Eat in Palo Duro 

Palo Duro Trading Post

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 gas, along with a fully stocked camp store. You can also rent a propane campfire by the day—all the ambiance, 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, and find historic cabins with a rustic flavor along with new glamping options. 

Go 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 are 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

Palo Duro Cabins
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 made of local stone and timber. Updated to include modern conveniences, the cabin’s ambiance is rustic. 

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

Rim Cabins 

Perched along the rim of Palo Duro, each cabin features beds and a kitchenette with a microwave and small refrigerator. However, 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

Visitors will find four historic cabins built by the CCC at the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon in a separate camping loop from the nearby 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. 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 they feel like camping with a roof and four walls. For those visitors wanting a more comfortable stay, consider the new glamping sites. It’s one of 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, guests will find rustic furnishings and a choice of bed sizes, a dining table with bench seating, and futon seating for day and night use. Find conveniences like air conditioning and heat, a refrigerator, microwave, coffeemaker, gas-fueled grill, and a fire pit. 

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

The glamping area behind the Palo Duro Trading Post is located on the Palo Duro Canyon floor. It has four glampsites and rates start from $299 a night. Reservations are required, and it is pet-friendly.

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Celebrate at Palo Duro State Park 

The Mack Dick Pavilion
The Mack Dick Pavilion is available for rent for reunions and weddings. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers several group 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, 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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