Caprock Canyons State Park is undeniably one of the best parks to visit in Texas. Moreover, it is one of our favorite Texas State Parks to date.
There are so many fun things to do in Caprock Canyons State Park. You can enjoy the great outdoors by hiking and biking over 25 miles of trails, encounter wildlife such as bison and prairie dogs, wander through tunnels inhabited by bats, admire majestic canyon views, go stargazing at night, and more.
Caprock Canyons State Park is often overshadowed by its neighbor State Park, Palo Duro Canyon, but both parks are equally magnificent. It is said that Palo Duro Canyon is the mini version of the Grand Canyon. Therefore, I believe that Caprock Canyons is the mini version of Zion National Park.
Needless to say, both parks are a remarkable piece of Texas and a lot of fun to explore. Luckily people can visit both parks in one weekend for an epic Texas road trip.
You can easily spend a full weekend exploring Caprock Canyons State Park, but one day is also plenty of time to hike, relax, and enjoy the park. In one day, we hiked 7 miles with a baby and still had time to explore more of the park.
Here are a few of the best things to do in Caprock Canyons State Park.
The Best Time to Visit Caprock Canyons State Park
The best time to visit Caprock Canyons State Park is during the spring and fall (March-May, and September-November). The weather is perfect for long hikes and the park is full of either wildflowers and green grass or sunflowers and fall foliage trees.
The summertime is very hot with temperatures reaching 110° F. If you do plan on visiting during the summer, pack plenty of water and sunscreen. If it is too hot to hike, there are still plenty of things to do in Caprock Canyon in the summer such as swimming and fishing at Lake Theo and enjoying a scenic drive to view the bison.
Winter in Caprock Canyons can be one of the most beautiful times of the year if snow graces the park. Thus, the temperatures can get extremely low to 19°F. So pack warm!
We visited in October and January. Surprisingly, our visit in January was warmer and sunnier than our visit in October. In October, we faced very low temperatures and a cloudy forecast. This is why it is recommended to always check the weather before your arrival.
The Best Things to Do in Caprock Canyons State Park
Here are 10 of the best things to do in Caprock Canyons State Park.
Remember to make reservations through the Texas State Park website for a day pass or overnight pass.
Hiking at Caprock Canyons State Park
With at least 25-miles of trails, where would you even begin to figure out the best trails to hike!? There are so many amazing hiking trails in Caprock Canyons that it is truly hard to choose.
A majority of the hiking trails are considered to be a moderate level of difficulty. The easiest hiking trail is the Mesa Trail and the most challenging is the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail.
A few of the best hiking trails in Caprock Canyons State Park are Upper North Prong, Upper South Prong, Haynes Ridge Overlook, Canyon Rim, Eagle Point, and the Caprock Canyons Trailway (located outside of the park).
Upper Canyon Loop Trails
If you only have one day, the best trail to hike in Caprock Canyons State Park is the Upper Canyon Loop Trail. With that said, there are several different ways to hike the Upper Canyon Loop Trail.
There are three different routes to hike the Upper Canyon Loop Trail. Though there are three options, each loop trail has two things in common – scenic views and a chance to see the Fern Cave. Here are the three different loop routes:
- Haynes Ridge Overlook and Upper North Prong Trail Loop
- Haynes Ridge Overlook and Upper South Prong Trail Loop
- Upper South Prong and Upper North Prong Trail Loop
If you decide to hike the Upper South Prong combined with the Haynes Ridge Overlook and/or Upper North Prong Trail, keep in mind a portion of the hike will be on the road. Whether you begin your hike at the South Prong or North Prong parking lot, you will need to hike on the road from one parking lot to the next to complete the loop.
Haynes Ridge Overlook and Upper North Prong Trail Loop
The most popular route is the Haynes Ridge Overlook and Upper North Prong Trail Loop. This 6.3 mile-long loop is estimated to take 5 hours and is considered to be a challenging hike.
It is one of the favorite loops because it includes Haynes Ridge Overlook. Haynes Ridge Overlook might be the most challenging part of the trail but it is worth every sore muscle. The 6-foot ascend leads to the highest portion of the park with breathtaking 360-degree views.
The Upper North Prong Trail is also one of the best trails because it offers a variety of geographical features. The trail is both flat and steep with some rock scrambling.
One moment you are walking on a red dirt trail and the next moment you are walking on the canyon floors parallel to the famous “Last Dance” rock formation. Make sure you take time to explore the little slot canyons and red rock fins along the trail.
Visit the Fern Cave
The Fern Cave is easily one of the best things to do in Caprock Canyons State Park. It is also one of the most sought out points of interest on all of the hiking trails.
Luckily, you can hike to the Fern Cave from three different hiking trails – Haynes Ridge Overlook, Upper North Prong, and Upper South Prong Trail.
There is some rock scrambling to ascend or descend (depending on the route you take) to visit the Fern Cave. Once you arrive, you will find beautiful ferns growing along a small canyon cave.
Find the Texas Bison Herd
Did you know that bison is the national mammal for the United States? The bison were once almost extinct, but thanks to some private-government partnerships, the bison herds are doing well and can be found throughout several states – one being Texas.
In fact, Texas has an official Bison Herd that can only be found at Caprock Canyons State Park and San Angelo State Park. Needless to say, finding the official Texas State Bison is one of the best things to do at Caprock Canyons State Park.
At Caprock Canyons State Park, there are 300 official Texas State Bison grazing the plains throughout the park. There are two areas within the park dedicated to the bison – the Prairie and the Grazing Prairie.
The Prairie is across from the Visitor’s Center and the Grazing Prairie is behind the Visitor’s Center. There are benches and a pavilion behind the Visitor’s Center for guests to sit and view the Texas State Bison Herd.
Remember, the herd roams FREE! So you can find the large mammals along the scenic road, crossing the street, or along a hike. I will never forget when a bison and a calf crossed the street right in front of our car – it was such a special moment for us.
With this said, you are a visitor in the bison’s home. Here are a few rules to abide by.
- Keep at least 50 yards between you and the bison
- Quietly observe the bison
- Bison always have the right of way when crossing the street. You may even find yourself in a bison traffic jam. DO NOT honk at them.
- If you see a bison showing signs of agitation and/or lowering its head, cautiously, leave at once.
Watch the Prairie Dogs Play
The prairie dogs are such cute animals and a lot of fun to watch play. One moment the prairie dogs will be hiding in their hole and the next, they are running everywhere, standing on two legs looking around, and moving their whiskers.
The prairie dogs can be found at the Honey Flat Prairie Dog Town, near the Honey Flat Camping Area. Though they are small mammals, you cannot miss all of the mounds and holes that make up their town.
Just like the bison, the prairie dogs roam free and this is their home. So do not disrupt their safe environment. Also, be mindful of the cars behind you – do not stop for too long.
Explore the Clarity Tunnel with Bats
Located just outside of the park is the Caprock Canyons Trailway. The Trailway is 64-miles-long and includes a passageway to the famous Clarity Tunnel.
In 1977, the Clarity Tunnel was enlisted in the National Register of Historic Places. It is known as one of the last active railroad tunnels in Texas and home to half a million Mexican free-tailed bats.
To reach the Clarity Tunnel, visitors should access the Trailway at Monk’s Crossing and hike west. From Monk’s Crossing parking lot, a round-trip hike to Clarity Tunnel is approximately 9 miles.
The Clarity Tunnel is the most popular attraction on the Caprock Canyons Trailway because of its history and the inhabited Mexican free-tailed bats. Though the bats inhabit the tunnel year-round, the largest number of bats can be found between April to October.
Bats are very sensitive to noise, light, and human presence, so it is advised that visitors take precautions when visiting the Clarity Tunnel. Visitors are recommended to wear long-sleeved outerwear and hats when hiking the tunnel. Furthermore, DO NOT pick up a bat whether it is alive or dead because bats can transmit rabies and histoplasmosis.
Drive the Scenic Road
One of the best and easiest things to do in Caprock Canyons State Park is to drive the scenic road and enjoy the spectacular views. Just remember to keep at least one eye on the road because you never know when a bison will cross in front of your car. Trust me, it happens!
There are several scenic overlooks that are accessible from the road. One is located at a parking lot after the Honey Flat Prairie Dog Town and before the Wild Horse Trail – it is marked on the State Park map. The other two are at the Upper North Prong and Upper South Prong parking lots. So make sure you stop, stretch those legs, and enjoy the views.
Go Horseback Riding
There are nearly 14,000-acres of riding areas and 20-miles of riding trails at Caprock Canyons State Park. The trails are easy for first-time riders and challenging for experienced riders. From flat, sandy trails to more rugged trails with cliffs and steep climbs.
You can either bring your own horse for day use in the park or rent a horse with a guide at Quitaque Riding Stables. Make sure you either check the park for further information or contact Quitaque Riding Stables for reservations.
Go Mountain Biking
In addition to hiking and horseback riding, mountain biking is one of the best ways to explore Caprock Canyons State Park. The park is full of red dirt trails with different elevation changes for both novice and experienced bikers.
Most of the park’s trails are accessible to mountain bikers with the exception of Haynes Ridge Overlook and Upper South Prong Trails.
The most popular mountain biking trail loop is about 13.3-miles long. It begins and ends at Canyon Rim Trail. Bikers will begin at Canyon Rim Trail and continue to Mesa, Mesa Spur, Lower North Prong, North Prong Spur, and finish through Eagle Point.
Catch a Fish at Lake Theo
Fishing at Lake Theo is another fun thing to do in Caprock Canyons State Park. You do not need a license for fishing at Lake Theo, but you can only catch five fish per day.
There are several different species of fish to catch at Lake Theo including channel catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and the most popular, trout. You can enjoy fishing year-round at Lake Theo but the best time to fish for trout is during the winter months.
Stargaze at Twinkling Lights
As the song lyrics say, “the stars at night, are big and bright… Deep in the heart of Texas”!
If you decide to camp at Caprock Canyons, you will be rewarded with some of the most stunning stargazing at night. In fact, Caprock Canyons State Park is listed as a Class 2 on the Bortle Scale for some of the best dark skies with stars.
Enjoy a peaceful night looking at our star system after a hard day’s work of hiking or biking. Who knows, maybe you will be graced with a shooting star or meteor shower.
I hope you have enjoyed my list of all the fun things to do in Caprock Canyons State Park. Moreover, I hope I have inspired you to visit Caprock Canyons State Park. It is truly one of the best parks in the Lone Star State with so many outdoor activities and wildlife encounters.