My review and recommendations for Palo Duro Canyon outside of Canyon, Texas.
Last weekend was Labor Day in the United States, a glorious day that includes a paid holiday at work to recognize all the hard workers that seriously deserve a break. Because of the three-day weekend, my roommate and I decided to head up to Canyon, Texas (very close to Amarillo, Texas) to hike and camp at the Palo Duro Canyon. Best Decision Ever!
If you want to camp at the actual park you need to reserve really early in advance. Even though we reserved our tickets to the park (day passes) a month or so in advance, all of the camping spots were already taken. This may be due to lower capacity because of COVID-19 and it was definitely due to the fact that it was a holiday weekend. Either way, we ended up staying a the campground that the Palo Duro Zip Line owns and it was perfect. The campground is literally right outside of the state park entrance and abuts the canyon. You can go to https://www.palodurozip.com/ to register with them (not sponsored or anything). They even give you discounted zip line tickets!
The campsite we chose overlooked the canyon but on the flip side meant we often had high winds at night, make sure to stake everything in securely! Other than that, we enjoyed camp food and smores!
The drive to Amarillo from DFW takes about 5.5 hours, not too bad but literally other states would have been closer! 😂 Once we got past the super flat, areas full of small towns we were greeted with landscapes that reminded me of the countryside in Spain. It is a beautiful drive, so if you sleep, try to do it in the first half!
Our adventures started the next day. Over the course of two days we did two main hikes; the lighthouse trail and the Rock Garden to the Fortress Rim trail.
The lighthouse is Palo Duro's most recognized rock structure. About 600 feet in elevation gain and a bit of scrambling at the end brings you to this amazing outlook that spans the entire valley! The entrance to the rimmed outlook is far in the back of the picture, but we traveled a little further out for some of these amazing pictures! I would say that as long as you have enough water, this hike it totally doable for a reasonably fit adult. There were lots of dogs on the trail and we left early in the morning so it wasn't super busy. My biggest recommendations for this trail: go early (the canyon heats up fast!), drink lots of water, and remember to eat! Bring snacks and take breaks as needed.
This day Kristin got a little heat sick, partly due from the sun and partly due from the fact that she ate hardly anything before, during, or after the hike. Often times, during rigorous outdoor activity, your body's hunger cues get suppressed. It's so important that you get enough to eat the night before and the morning of long hikes in order to prepare your body for the strain it's about to undergo!
The Rock Garden to the Fortress Rim trail was so awesome! Once again, we started early and enjoyed the shade that the canyon provided from the rising sun. The actual rock garden includes some scrambling with switchbacks to get to the rim of the canyon. It was once an old landslide and is now an amazing array of weathered rocks (that are pretty fun to climb too!). Here we are on one of the rim lookouts. These look outs are scattered along the Rock Garden trail. This trail is not for those super afraid of heights as some parts of the trail can get close to the edge. Once you get to the rim, it's basically flat and slightly windy, which was great as the sun started heating up. If you're interested, the rim also has some of the best cell service in the area!
Overall I thought Palo Duro Canyon was totally worth the drive. We had an amazing time and got to get up close and personal with nature. I rarely used my phone (basically just to take pictures and text my parents that I was still alive) and got to instead invent my days in sightseeing and my nights in stargazing.
Come up with a water/food break plan. We ended up stopping every half mile for water breaks and every mile for a snack break. Forcing ourselves to slow down not only allowed us to enjoy the hike more but we were less sick afterwards. Bring enough to last for your entire hike.
Be aware of your own physical ability. We are both generally fit adults with no underlying medical conditions. If you have a condition that makes exercise difficult for you, don't stress it! The canyon has so many amazing trails that are available for all abilities. Enjoy yourself!
Reserve early. Especially right now, day passes and camping passes go quick. The early you register the better chance you have. Camping can normally be reserved at a Texas State Park up to three (3) months in advance. Also consider purchasing a Texas Parks Pass. I got one and I've already paid it multiple times over!
Most importantly, remember that you came here to have fun and enjoy yourself. If you're not having fun, it's not worth it for you, and that's ok! Figuring out what you want to do is a part of life. I would totally recommend this if you want to see the "little Grand Canyon"!