There are several things to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, but the absolute BEST things to do can all be done in just one day. So if you are taking a quick day trip from Amarillo or if Palo Duro Canyon State Park is along your epic Texas road trip, this guide is going to be perfect for YOU!
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is one of the best State Parks in the Lone Star State. It is known as the Grand Canyon of Texas. Moreover, it is the second largest canyon in the Unites States (second to of course, Grand Canyon National Park).
The entire park is full of lush vegetation with layers of orange and red canyons. The combination creates a perfect landscape. Needless to say, Palo Duro Canyon State Park will take your breathe away.
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The Best Time to Visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park
The best time to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park is during the spring (March – May) or fall (September – November) because of the weather. This is especially true if you plan to do some hiking. Trust me, you do not want to be hiking during a Texas summer.
The canyon floors at Palo Duro Canyon State Park can reach a temperature of 120°F – Wowza! So even during the spring and fall, the weather will be enjoyable but you need to prepared for Palo Duro Canyon to be hotter than the forecast predicts. If you are visiting the park during the summertime, I would proceed with caution.
Best Things to Do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park for One Day
As one of the largest Texas State Parks and most popular, there are so many fun things to do. From mountain biking to horseback riding, zip-lining, bird watching, and attending the famous show, Texas Musical Drama – there is something for everyone to enjoy at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
However, if you have just one day at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, these are the best things to do! If you do them all, your time in the park will be around six hours.
Hike the Lighthouse Trail
Hiking the Lighthouse Trail is THE BEST thing to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. This hiking trail is the most popular reason why people visit the park. As the symbol of Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the iconic Lighthouse rock formation is truly a sight that cannot be missed.
The Lighthouse Trail is a 5.6 mile round trip trail and is considered a moderate hike. A majority of the trail is flat with a steep incline and some rock scrambling at the very end.
The entire trail has no shade, so it is VERY important to pack plenty of water. It is recommended that you should bring at least one gallon per person. You should also plan to start your hike as early as possible to beat the heat.
Near the end of the trail, you will come across a picnic table under some shaded trees. This is the fork of the trail. If you go left, you will need to do some rock scrambling, but it is a lot of fun and the fastest way to get to the Lighthouse. If you go right, the trail is easier, but it takes at least ten minutes longer.
Bonus: There is a snow cone stand at the Lighthouse Trail parking lot. It is the perfect treat to enjoy after a long hike!
Or Go Mountain Biking
In addition to hiking, the second most popular thing to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park is mountain biking. There are three trails designed to be biked – Givens, Spicer & Lowry Running Trail (also known as GSL), Lighthouse Trail, and Capitol Peak Mountain Bike Trail.
The Lighthouse Trail is the most popular hiking trail, but the GSL is the most popular mountain biking trail. The GSL trail is the best because it’s considered to be the most fun and scenic of the three trails.
If you enjoy hiking AND mountain biking, I suggest two days at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. However, if you only have one day, then the Lighthouse Trail would be the best option.
There are no bike rentals or tours at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, but Amarillo has two shops that offer bike rentals – Hills Sport Shop and Sun Adventure Sports.
Drive the Scenic Palo Duro Canyon Loop
If you do not hike, do not worry! One of the best things to do in Palo Duro Canyon is simply driving the scenic Palo Duro Canyon Loop. In fact, as soon as you pass through the entrance gates, you will find yourself surrounded by a beautiful and vast landscape.
The Palo Duro Canyon Loop takes about 30 – 45 minutes or longer if you stop to take pictures. I would plan for the route to take longer because you will definitely want to take your time enjoying the scenic views.
Soak Up Views at the CCC Overlook
Speaking of scenic views, one of the best paranormal views is at CCC Overlook. The best part, it’s located at the visitor center which is just a few minutes from the entrance.
The CCC Overlook at the visitor center is a sight to behold. On a clear day, you can even see the Lighthouse formation in the distance!
Stopping here first is the perfect way to begin your day at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. In fact, I always recommend stopping at a park’s visitor center to get trail maps and valuable information from the park rangers.
Visit Longhorn Pasture
Did you know that longhorns are the large mammal symbol of Texas? Yes! And what better way to see the longhorns than at a Texas State Park?!
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is home to a portion of Texas’ Official Longhorn Herd. More of the Texas Official Longhorn Herd are located at San Angelo, Copper Breaks, and Lyndon B. Johnson State Parks in an effort to help conserve the breed.
In addition, these are longhorns are HUGE! As a born and raised Texan, these are the biggest longhorns I have ever seen.
The Longhorn Pasture is located at the park entrance. As soon as you pass through the gates, the pasture is on the lefthand side. You can park in one of the very few parking spots or along the road.
Visit the Palo Duro Canyon Trading Post
During your one day in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, you might get hungry or want to take home a souvenir. So I recommend visiting the Palo Duro Canyon Trading Post.
The Palo Duro Canyon Trading Post serves American cuisine for breakfast and lunch. You can order classic American fare such as onion rings, chicken tenders, corn dogs, cheese fries, chicken fried steak, and more – but what they are really known for, are the famous juicy burgers!
If You Have More Than One Day in Palo Duro Canyon State Park
If you have more than one day in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, here are a more things you can enjoy at the park.
Stay in a Cabin or a Luxury Camp (Glamping)
Go Horseback Riding
Go on a Jeep Tour
If horses are not your thing, try an adventurous jeep tour! Drive along the canyon rim and make your way down to the canyon floor. Check out Palo Duro Creek Ranch for several jeep tour options.
Enjoy beautiful views while zip-lining across Palo Duro Canyon State Park. The Palo Duro Canyon Zip Line Adventure Park is perfect for first-timers or repeat thrill seekers!
Watch the Famous Texas Musical Show
Watching the famous Texas Musical Show at the Pioneer Amphitheater is one of the best things to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. It is a family-friendly show focused on the 1800s and the Texas Panhandle settlers. The show brings these fictional characters to life through stories, music, dancing, humor, and an amazing firework show.
The show is only performed from June 1st through mid-August.
Bonus: Things to Do Near Palo Duro State Park
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is only 30 minutes away from Amarillo. Though there is plenty of things to do in Amarillo there are two attractions on Route 66 that you cannot miss – a steak dinner at The Big Texan Steak Ranch and an Instagram-worthy photo at Cadillac Ranch.
In addition, there is another great Texas State Park worth visiting near Palo Duro.
Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation and sculpture of ten vintage Cadillac lined up in a row and buried nose-down into the dirt. The Cadillacs are all spray painted from millions of visitors a year. That’s right, this public art installation is for visitors to make their mark on this famous landmark.
You can buy spray paint from a nearby vendor or bring your own. Spray paint your name or fun art and take a picture with it because it will not last for long. Chances are it will be gone the next day from someone else leaving their mark!
Enjoy a Steak Dinner at The Big Texan Steak Ranch
Build up an appetite and visit The Big Texan Steak Ranch for a meal of a lifetime! The Big Texan Steak Ranch is known as the number one steak house in Texas for its famous 72 oz steak dinner. Yes, 72 ounces!
Guests can enter the steak challenge where they have to eat a shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, a roll with butter, and of course, the 72oz steak in one hour. If you complete the challenge, your meal is FREE! Fail to complete the challenge, and you must pay the full $72 dollars. Did I mention you have to also complete this on stage in front of everyone?!?!
If the challenge is not for you, don’t worry. There is also a smaller version of the steak challenge that includes three fried shrimp, baked potato, salad, a roll with butter, and only a 18oz top sirloin steak.
Caprock Canyons State Park
Another great thing to do near Palo Duro Canyon State Park is visit a second Texas State Park, Caprock Canyons. This hidden gm is only 1 hour and 30 minutes away from Palo Duro Canyon and definitely a destination you need to visit.
Caprock Canyons State Park is home to the Texas State Bison Herd and prairie dogs. In addition to wildlife, you can also enjoy a scenic drive through the park, incredible hiking trails, go mountain biking, ride horses, camp, and more.