Palo Duro State Park is the second largest canyon in the US gaining it the nickname of the Grand Canyon of Texas.
The State Park is just around 5-6 hours from Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas and offers some great hiking trails in a rather empty part of the United States. The park is located right outside of Amarillo, TX in the city of Canyon. While the park is roughly half the size of the Grand Canyon it still offers plenty to enjoy over a long weekend.
We ended up visiting Palo Duro in early May which to my surprise had rather pleasant weather for being in the Texas Panhandle. May is sometimes an unpredictable time in Texas with high temps and thunderstorms but we lucked out this weekend with some great shady skies and temps in the 80s.
We spent one full day hiking Palo Duro since we where on a tight time crunch and wanted to see as much of the park as we could. After some researching through various blogs and state park maps we decided on combining three trails to get the most out of our time at Palo Duro.
The Perfect Palo Duro Trail Loop
We decided to combine three of the best trails in the park to make what I think is the perfect loop trail system to see the most variety in the park.
The loops only adds about 1-2 miles more to the Lighthouse in and out trail but you get to see quite a lot more of the park and it directs you back to the Lighthouse Trailhead parking lot.
The three trails we combined where:
The Lighthouse Trail
The Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail
The Paseo del Rio Trail
You can see the full downloadable Trail Map Here.
We started at the Lighthouse Trailhead which is by far the most popular and famous trail at Palo Duro. The trail is about 2.7 miles each way and is generally flat for the most part until the very end where a few difficult and slippery dirt slopes take you to the best view in the park.
This trail is multi-use meaning you will find cyclist along the trail so keep an eye out and make sure to wait for the whole group to ride by.
You also will run into small areas with not a picnic table but more of a wooden bench with a shelter above that is a nice spot to grab a drink and snack depending on how winded you are. We mostly used these rest areas as a reminder to reapply sunblock since personally I don’t play when it comes to sunburns and always do my best to reapply throughout any hike I do.
The Lighthouse trail technically ends by my understanding at a grey metallic bench but the best part and best view is once you continue up one of the two options to the actually Lighthouse platform.
You have the option to climb up the left or right side of the bench which have not the best marked trails but if you look hard you can find your way up. The right side is definitely the more thrilling with some sharp drop offs so if you do not feel like testing yourself I would recommend following the trail to the left of the bench. Both side will be slippery and steep but the left side offers less technical and no drop offs to worry about.
Once at the top I highly recommend to make this your break area for a snack or small lunch to get your energy back before heading back out through the GSL Trail.
You do have the option to climb to the very top of the lighthouse which while exciting could get pretty dangerous if you are not being careful. Just remember there is most likely no cell signal out here so if you do get hurt it will be sometime before anyone comes to help you.
Once you head back down from the Lighthouse formation you will come back down the Lighthouse trail until you hit a fork in the road that has a sign directing you towards the GSL Trail.
You do have the option to keep going back towards the Lighthouse Trailhead but for just an extra 1-2 miles you will get to see quite a lot more of the park and easily get back to the Lighthouse Trailhead parking lot.
The GSL Trail starts out rather flat at the fork of the Lighthouse Trail but does have quite a few more ups and downs along the way. While it is in no way strenuous, depending on you fitness level it could become slightly more taxing than the Lighthouse Trail was.
Along the way we ran into very few people along the GSL trail which depending on how you like to hike that is a blessing or a curse. The one big difference with the GSL trail is that it is extremely well marked compared to the Lighthouse trail. Now I don’t mean you will get lost in the Lighthouse trail but mileage is tracked almost every half mile across the entire time until the trailhead.
The most impressive things about the GSL trail is the amount of stunning hoodoos that poke above the horizon along most of the trail. On top of this we noticed a lot of changing scenery across the 3 miles of that we where on the trail. It went from towering hoodoos down to complete desert areas and shockingly some forested areas as well.
The most interesting sites around the trail are actually these hoodoos about halfway back to the trailhead that are mind boggling balancing on a tower. The pictures below do not do it justice but it is a site worth seeing.
After getting back to the GSL trailhead you end up in a parking lot area near the Hackberry Camp Area. If you are in need of a restroom this is my recommended location since it has a high chance of being open. Almost all the other restrooms in the park not in a campground where closed when we looked around.
Once you are ready to get on the Paseo del Rio trail to head back to the Lighthouse Trailhead and parking lot, you will head down the main road for about 5 minutes until you see the river under the road. This part was a tad confusing and we had to backtrack to cross the bridge on the road then walk down onto the Paseo del Rio trail.
The Paseo del Rio trail is a quick 1 mile trail that will get you back near the Lighthouse parking lot and is a nice wrap up to this loop around the park. The trail is essentially flat and follows the river next to it.
We where originally excited to see the Cowboy Dugout but honestly it was quite a let down to be upfront with you. We had seen pictures of the inside but I am assuming unless you go with a Park Ranger it is locked and you can just see the outside area.
After a quick stop we continued and where ready to get to our car and some cold Gatorade and Coca-Cola!
Once you get to the end of the trail its again a quick 2-5 minute walk to the entrance of the Lighthouse parking lot and you have just completed in my opinion the best way to spend 1 day at Palo Duro.
In my book this is the best way to spend a full day at Palo Duro State Park and the best way to get to see the most of the park in order to not waste any time or have to move your car between trailheads.
Have you ever been out to Palo Duro or Amarillo? If so what did you like or do that I didn’t mention?
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