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The Best Things to Do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park in One Day

There are several things to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, but the absolute BEST 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. Furthermore, it’s 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 that will take your breathe away.

A valley of orange canyons with lush green vegetation from the Lighthouse at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

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, 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 in One Day

Beautiful orange rock formations at Palo Duro Canyon State Park

As one of the largest and most popular Texas State Parks, there are so many fun things to do. From mountain biking to horseback riding, zip-lining, bird watching, and attending the famous, Texas Musical Show – 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.

A couple holding hands and enjoying one of the best things to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, hiking the Lighthouse Trail.

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 trees. This is the fork of the trail. If you go left, you will need to do some rock scrambling which 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. They have so many fun flavors such as pickle and pina colada. It is the perfect treat to enjoy after a long hike!

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 shortly after you pass through the entrance, 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.

A scenic view or the vast canyons covered in vegetation at CCC Overlook at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

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 left-hand 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 additional things you can enjoy at the park.

A beautiful rock formation with layers of orange, yellow and white at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Stay in a Cabin or a Luxury Camp (Glamping)

The best way to spend more than one day in Palo Duro Canyon State Park is to go camping. Moreover, stay in a cabin or luxury camp and wake up to breathtaking views.

Go Horseback Riding

A great way to see Palo Duro Canyon State Park is by horse! Book a horseback riding tour with either Old West Stables or Palo Duro Creek Ranch. Tours are available from March – November.

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.

Go Zip-lining!

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!

A picturesque view of canyons at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

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

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 by millions of visitors a year. That’s right, at this public art installation you can make your mark on this famous route 66 landmark.

You can buy spray paint from a nearby vendor or bring your own. Spray paint your name or fun art. Then take a picture with it because it will not last for long. Chances are it will be gone the next day from another spray painter!

Enjoy a Steak Dinner at The Big Texan Steak Ranch

A plate of fried shrimp and an 18 oz steak with a side of mac n cheese and fried okra from 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 all within 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, a baked potato, salad, a roll with butter, and only an 18oz top sirloin steak.

Caprock Canyons State Park

Another great thing to do near Palo Duro Canyon State Park is to visit a second Texas State Park, Caprock Canyons. This hidden gem 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.

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