The Palo Duro Canyon Road Trip Guide

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The Palo Duro Canyon Road Trip Guide

If you’re searching for outdoor adventure and an epic, Instagram-worthy destination, look no further than Palo Duro Canyon.

Whether you’re a hiker, a biker, a horseback rider, or a bird watcher, you can find plenty of exciting activities. The camping can be off-grid backcountry style or with full hookups.

It certainly doesn’t matter what travel style you prefer. Everyone can enjoy breathtaking scenery and fun in Palo Duro!

Let’s explore!

What is  Palo Duro Canyon (and Its History)

Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the U.S., located near Amarillo and the aptly named Canyon, Texas. At 120 miles long and 6 to 20 miles wide, there’s a lot of space to explore! 

Formed by millions of years of erosion from the Red River and the legendary West Texas winds, the canyon has some of the most spectacular scenery and sunsets in the Southwest. It’s also home to a myriad of wildlife, birds, and outdoor activities like hiking, biking, rafting, horseback riding, geocaching, and exploring the area’s history. 

A legendary and unique entertainment option is the musical play, Texas. This performance has been held every summer since 1960 in an outdoor amphitheater against a backdrop of red rocks. Indeed, it’s often called the “most spectacular outdoor musical drama” in the nation. The show tells of the struggles and triumphs of the Texas Panhandle settlers and is surely a must-see on your Palo Duro trip.

The Best Way to Get to Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro is located on Highway 217, 25 miles from downtown Amarillo and 14 miles from Main Street in Canyon. Furthermore, the canyon is easily accessible for even the largest of RVs and trailers in most areas of the park.

Pro Tip: Navigation seems to work well for directions. Get the address or GPS coordinates at the park’s website.

Can You Drive Through Palo Duro Canyon?

You can enjoy the Palo Duro Canyon scenery from the comfort of your vehicle! A 16-mile road meanders through the canyon floor and is accessible by car. During the summer months, the canyon floor can reach 115 degrees, so viewing the park from the air conditioning might be a great way to experience it on hot days.

How Much Does It Cost to Enter Palo Duro Canyon?

Currently, entrance fees for adults are $8/day, children under 12 are free. 

Palo Duro Canyon State Park has nearly 50 miles of trail, many of which are multi-use. For example, these trails allow hiking, biking, and horseback riding.

The Lighthouse Trail

At 5.7 miles, the Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon is a great length to get your exercise while seeing some sights. At the end of this trail is the “Lighthouse” rock formation, which extends 310 feet in the air. The most famous landmark in the park, the Lighthouse, is shown on many Palo Duro souvenirs and is quite famous.

Surely, this is the most popular hike in the park, and you’ll see cacti, lizards, and other wildlife on your trek. There is little shade in this out-and-back trail, though, and it tends to be sweltering hot most of the year. So having sun protection and more than the expected amount of water with you is imperative.

The trail is easy to moderate. However, reaching the Lighthouse itself is more challenging. Horseback riders and bikers will also be sharing the trail with hikers.

Rock Garden Trail

On the opposite side of the canyon, the Rock Garden Trail is a popular 5-mile out-and-back trail that begins with a boulder field, hence the name. In contrast to the Lighthouse Trail, the Rock Garden hike has a completely different vantage point and a varied ecosystem including juniper and sage.

Although it’s rated as moderate and reviewed as the most challenging in the park, this trail is family-friendly for older kids. Keep in mind that dogs must be leashed. This is the only trail in the park that goes from the floor to the rim, so the elevation change may be more advanced for some hikers. The steep incline is worth it, though, as the canyon’s views from the rim are the most breathtaking.

There is some parking located near the main road at the trailhead, making this a convenient hike. In addition, reviewers mention that this trail gives the best overview of the park as you climb through the many geologic and biologic layers from the bottom to the top of the trail.

Poster of Palo Duro Canyon from HWY Vintage.

The Best Campsites Near Palo Duro

Fortress Cliff Campground

Address: 11450 Park Rd 5, Canyon TX 79015

About the Campground: This drive-up, tent-only campground has 18 sites. Located near the southern end of the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the amenities include shade shelters, fire rings, and water, although water is not at each site. It’s near 10 miles of trails, equestrian and pet-friendly, and portable toilets are on site. A roughing-it experience, the nearest showers are at least a half-mile away.

Price: $16/night plus entrance fees.

Mesquite Campground

Address: 11450 Park Rd 5, Canyon TX 79015

About the Campground: Also at the southern end of Palo Duro, this campground has a few more amenities and can accommodate larger RVs and trailers with 30/50 amp hookups. 20 sites are available, each with a fire ring, picnic table, water, and electricity. There are restrooms on-site with showers. 

Mesquite Campground is located near equestrian and hiking trails. It’s convenient to adventure while having a few more creature comforts.

Price: $26/ night plus entrance fees.

Pro Tip: Be sure to explore your camping options and pick the best one for your camping style. You can check out and reserve campsites for Palo Duro Canyon on Reserve America.

Spectacular Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon is one of the most magnificent and awe-inspiring locations in the Southwest and easily accessible to RV travelers. The canyon itself is stunning, and there are many outdoor activities, from sightseeing to adrenaline-fueled. The sunsets alone are worth the trip. With various camping options and many trails to explore, be sure to put Palo Duro Canyon on your adventure destination list!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! 

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