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Photo Adventure : Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Winter

Photo Adventure : Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Winter

Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States.  At 120 miles long, it is not quite the Grand Canyon, but it is still pretty impressive!  Formed primarily from water erosion, the Prairie Dog Town fork of the Red River flows through the canyon and continues to erode the surrounding rock.  Located in the Texas Panhandle just south of Amarillo, Palo Duro Canyon has been a favorite Texas State Park destination for generations.  The very popular TEXAS! musical draws crowds even in the sweltering summer.

Unlike the Grand Canyon, you can drive down to the bottom of the canyon and camp on the canyon floor.    There are miles of hiking trails.  The trails in the canyon are easy and relatively flat.  The more challenging Lighthouse Trail is the most popular of all their hikes, however.  At the end of the trail is the famous Lighthouse rock outcropping and crowds happily trek the six mile roundtrip journey it requires to view it up close.

We visited in mid March.  Just weeks before, the canyon received over a foot of snow, and the trees were not beginning to bud.  The daytime temperatures were in the 50s, with the nights down in the 30s.  The seemingly ever-present Panhandle wind was cold and biting, but we still enjoyed our adventure (see also “Visiting the Palo Duro Rim Cabins” for more on this trip).  Take a look!

rock layering palo duro canyon state park texas

Palo Duro Canyon is a fantastic place to learn about geology. Rock layering is clearly evident.

geology state park texas palo duro canyon

The red sandstone and white gypsum layers nearest the ground are from the Permian period.

geology palo duro canyon photos state park texas

The next layers are varicolored and from the Triassic period – sandstone, shale, and siltstone.

palo duro canyon state park texas geology

The top white level is white caliche. Caliche is often mined and used as dirt road surfacing in the Panhandle.

palo duro canyon state park texas geology

Hoodoos, like the thin rock spire on the left, can be found throughout the park.

palo duro canyon state park hiking

Lots of hiking for the kiddos here. It is one big red dirt playground!

palo duro canyon sign state park texas

We aren’t sure what this animal is, but we are pretty sure we didn’t see any.

palo duro canyon state park texas

Twisted log along the Lighthouse hiking path.

hiking texas

One last look at the Palo Duro Canyon State Park.


  1. Lish 20 March, 2013

    I literally whispered “woooow” when I saw these pictures. Beautiful!

  2. Lisa Goodmurphy 21 March, 2013

    Beautiful photos – I think that I need to spend more time in the American southwest! Love that you can drive down into the canyon and that the hiking trails are relatively easy. We did a lot of hiking around the rim of the Grand Canyon last week but didn’t feel comfortable attempting a hike down into the canyon with our daughter.

    • Amy 21 March, 2013

      We felt the same way about the Grand Canyon, but my husband is now dying to go hike rim to rim. I think he’s going to give it a shot this fall with his brother, while I do something else with the kids. It’s probably good to do things like that you really want to do while you KNOW you can instead of waiting till the kids get older.

  3. Tonya {The Traveling Praters} 21 March, 2013

    I’ve not even heard of this canyon, but it is certainly beautiful. I’m very curious about the lighthouse formations and I’m dying to know what the animal is on the sign.

  4. budget jan 21 March, 2013

    I love the way the blue and pink horizon colours of the first photo grab my attention and the blue of the kiddo hiking.

  5. Mary {The World Is A Book} 22 March, 2013

    I’ve never heard of this canyon but then again, there’s so much of Texas I need to explore. What a beautiful place! How great that you can drive down to the canyon. That beats hiking down or riding the burros at the Grand Canyon. Love your pictures!

  6. Tracy 22 March, 2013

    Another one who has never heard of this canyon either but wow your photos and description certainly make me want to go camping and hiking there. I think I’d almost have more fun than the kids investigating the geology there.

  7. Lucia 22 March, 2013

    Thank you for sharing this! Like others, I also had never heard of this canyon, but I am now bookmarking this gorgeous post of yours and adding it to our growing list of reasons we need to venture west!

  8. Staying in the Rim Cabins of Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas - Everything Everywhere Family Travel 22 March, 2013

    […] For pictures of the cabin from our winter Palo Duro visit see this Photo Adventure. […]

  9. Sonja 24 March, 2013

    I wonder why this canyon is not more famous? I’ve never heard of it anyway. It definitely rivals the Grand Canyon and I’d love to camp on the canyon floor.

  10. Michele {Malaysian Meanders} 24 March, 2013

    Seeing the TEXAS! musical has been on my list for a very long time, even before I had kids. We’ve somehow never made it out to Palo Duro even though everyone I know who goes loves it. That first shot of yours is beautiful and giving me another reason to go.

    • Amy Moore 1 July, 2013

      I’d definitely recommend seeing it once. The only problem is that they only put it on during the summer – which is not the best time to enjoy Palo Duro

  11. michelle 9 May, 2013

    Sharon at State to State Travel mentioned this place to me very recently and I’ve definitely added it to my must-go list. Do you know how hot it gets in the summer time?

    • Amy 9 May, 2013

      Welcome! I am not going to lie, it gets pretty dang hot. In fact I’d probably say brutally hot. It will get over 100 degrees for a significant amount of days. If I had to come in the summer I would try for early in June if possible and avoid late July and August. Take lots and lots of water, especially if you are going to do some hiking. Good news though, it gets quite a bit cooler at night, and you can check out the awesome TEXAS! live show in the canyon’s amphitheater during the summer.

  12. The History of the Last Herd of Buffalo - Caprock Canyons State Park, Texas - Everything Everywhere Family Travel 26 May, 2013

    […] the area became safer for cattlemen. Charles Goodnight was one of them. He started searching for Palo Duro Canyon, where the last of the large battles between the US Army and free roaming Native Americans took […]

  13. Mark 16 June, 2013

    Hi! Great post. Found it while searching for Palo Duro Canyon Goodnight Cabin.

    And the critter on the wildlife trail sign is a Greater Prairie Chicken.

    • Amy Moore 17 June, 2013

      Thanks, Mark. And a Prairie Chicken! I can definitely say we didn’t see one of those. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a prairie chicken!

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