Palo Duro Canyon — the bottom drops out!

  • Tom Dell
  • May 14, 2018
  • Road trip destinations and stopovers, like beauty, are in the eyes of their beholders.  So it is with Palo Duro Canyon – a remarkable formation in a part of Texas whose best-known attractions are a row of old Cadillacs planted next to Interstate 40 and a restaurant offering a free 72-ounce steak to anyone who can eat the whole thing.

    Most people have never heard of Palo Duro Canyon. They whiz across the table-flat Texas Panhandle on I-40 (the old Route 66) – one of the nation’s major east-west highway routes.  They stop only to fuel themselves and their vehicles before roaring off, having no idea of the scenic and geological eye candy just a few miles to the south of Amarillo. 

    Lighthouse Rock, is the park’s iconic trail destination. PHOTO: State of Texas
    Trail ride. PHOTO: State of Texas

    Geological eye candy

    In this week’s post, I hope to surprise and delight some of them with a diversion that will enrich their road trips.

    Texans, on the other hand, know all about Palo Duro Canyon State Park.  They love the place. It’s the major scenic and recreational resource for a wide swath of the Lone Star State.  Please take 3 minutes to view this official State of Texas YouTube promo.  You’ll get a nice visual introduction to the canyon, and you’ll listen to the enthusiasm from several drawling devotees.  Go to:    If this link fails, Google Palo Duro Canyon for another link.                                             

    This pathetic stream carved the canyon. PHOTO: Trip Advisor

    These Texans claim Palo Duro is the nation’s second-largest canyon.  Strictly speaking, however, it’s the eroded edge of a huge plain covering most of west Texas.  Within this escarpment is a system of individual side canyons that’s 120 miles long and up to 20 miles wide.  The canyon bottom is an average of 800 feet beneath the rim.  Way down there is its primary architect – a pathetic trickle called the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River.

    Also way down there are colorful formations, rich botanical diversity, and lots of wildlife.  The contrast with the level farmland above is profound.

    Amazing contrast

    What you’ll also find in Palo Duro is a much greater focus on involvement and active recreation than we typically see in other states, including California.  The park offers 30 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails.  You can rent a horse at the stables or bring your own (this IS Texas, after all).  Want to stay overnight?  The choice is wide:  Cabins, RV sites, tent sites, backpacking sites, all supported by a trading post, store, gift shop, and meal service.  Campsites can be reserved in advance.

    Palo Duro Canyon also features the highly regarded outdoor musical Texas, which has been presented nightly in summer for over 40 years.  You’ll need to buy tickets in advance for the show.

    For details on facilities and recreational activities, go to the park’s web site —  Phone (806) 488 -2227.

    DIRECTIONS:  From Amarillo, turn south onto I-27.  Exit at Canyon onto SR 217, then drive eight miles east to the park entrance. 

    For those not staying overnight, hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.  Admission is $5 per person, under 12 free.

    I think you’ll find a side excursion to Palo Duro much more satisfying than driving I-40 with a 62-ounce gut bomb and an empty wallet because you failed the eating challenge at the Big Texan Steak Ranch.  Don’t you agree, podna?




    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *