Life In the Big Green Jolly

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Palo Duro Canyon State Park

View along trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Palo Duro Canyon. The supposed “Grand Canyon of Texas”. 

I thought that was just Texas exaggeration. Everything is bigger in Texas, don’t ya know?

I was wrong. The Texans weren’t embellishing size this time.


Located in northwest Texas, Palo Duro Canyon surprises you. You drive through flat miles of nothing and then BOOM.  Out of seemingly nowhere, there is the canyon. 

One hundred and twenty miles in length with 800-foot cliffs, it is the second largest canyon in the USA (the Grand Canyon in Arizona is the biggest canyon). Palo Duro Canyon shouts “I’m here and I’m serious.” 

Dry, hot and windy – the canyon will show no mercy. But its beauty will draw you in anyways.

For the curious, Palo Duro is Spanish for “Hard Stick”.  The park got its name based on the Rocky Mountain juniper tree that exists throughout the canyon.




  • Check the park map for details on the 30-pus miles of trails.
  • Most of the hikes are out-and-back or lolli-pop hikes.
  • Some of the trails are open to mountain bikers and horses while others are hiker-only trails.
  • Some of the trails do not have their own trailhead. They begin off of other trails.
  • Parking does not exist at every trailhead in Palo Duro.  You may have to park elsewhere and walk to the trailhead.
  • Trails are well-maintained but some of the signage could use an upgrade.  We weren’t the only hikers hunting for a few of the trailheads or contemplating where we were at on the trail.  

CCC Trail

Near the visitor center, you could hike from the rim all the way down to the river on the CCC trail. Given that the temperatures were 100+ degrees, we skipped that hike.

Juniper River Trail

Juniper River Trail is advertised as a moderate hike with views of the river. While we did not hike the trail in its entirety, we did not see a river. Nor did other hikers we talked to who had gone further than we did. If you see a river from this trail, share photo proof please. 🙂

Lighthouse Trail

The Lighthouse trail is “the” trail in the park. It takes you out to the Lighthouse rock —- the “shot” in the park.

Its about a 6-mile roundtrip hike on a trail shared with equestrians and mountain bikers. Approximately 1.5 miles into the hike, you reach a viewpoint giving you your first look at Lighthouse rock.

This is a hike worth doing but plan to complete it before the prime heat hours of the day as there is very little shade on the trail.

Fill up your water reservoir at the trailhead before you begin hiking. No water access is available on the trail.

Scenic Drive

The park includes a 16-mile roundtrip scenic drive.  Along the drive, there are spots to pull-off and take in the views.

The drive will take approximately one-hour to complete, assuming park traffic is not congested. I’d suggest a few hours so you have time to enjoy the views.


The park is not designated as a dark-sky community but it could be.  With little light pollution in the area and wide-open spaces, the star-gazing is amazing.

Longhorn herd

Longhorn cattle

Members of the Longhorn cattle herd are kept in a pasture near the entrance. You don’t have to work hard to see these beasts.


Wildlife were tough to spot during our visit. If I were wildlife, I would have kept hunkered down in a shady spot as well. We did manage to spot an endangered Texas Horned Lizard.

For birders, grab the bird list from the park ranger check-in station.

Most of our wildlife encounters were at sunset. Bats put on an aerial display at dusk. Coyote howls lulled us to sleep at the campsite. Well, they lulled one of us to sleep but might have kept the other one of us up ensuring the coyotes kept their distance.


Seasonally, the park runs a nightly showing of the Texas Outdoor Musical.

We weren’t there on a day it was showing but we heard good reviews from those who had seen it.

Visitor Center

The visitor center includes an air-conditioned view of the canyon, a small gift shop, and an exhibit detailing the human history and geology of the area.  Plan to spend 30 minutes to view the exhibit.



The campground offers primitive sites for tents, full-hookup sites for RVs, and cabins.

Flush toilet and showers are available at the RV section of the campground.

The cabins offer indoor accommodations including air-conditioning, water, and electricity.

The gates to the park are locked off-hours . However, you are given a code at check-in in case you need to enter or leave the park during after-hours.

Trading Post Store

The onsite store offers gift items, camping essentials and a small deli/grill. The food is basic fare (nothing to rave about) but it’s the only food in the park.

The store does have air-conditioning, indoor seating, and ice cream – a great perk during the summer!

Tips for visiting Palo Duro Canyon State Park

  • Farm to Market Road 1541, one of the main roads leading to the park, is frequently closed for twenty to thirty minutes each day.
    • Semi-trucks carting oversized loads of wind turbine parts use this road.
    • As these trucks navigate the hilly curve, the police block traffic both directions. 
    • The locals say this happens a couple times a day. So, if there is a traffic jam, have patience. It’ll clear out in about 30 minutes.
  • Take bug spray.  The horseflies are bigger in Texas.
  • Plan your visit according to the weather forecast.
    •  Some of the roads are prone to flash-flooding. 
    • And during the heat of summer, limit your hiking activities to early morning or late evening. There is little shade and no water along the trails.
  • Carry water and electrolytes.
  • Cell service is almost non-existent in the canyon. 
  • No wi-if is available in the park.

If you are seeking a gorgeous red-rock hiking experience, then visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park.  A well-maintained park, it is proudly recommended by locals and park rangers from other parts of Texas.  You have to go a bit out of the way to get there, but it is a destination that is well-worth a bit of driving.

Fast Facts