How to spend 1 day in Palo Duro State Park

Palo Duro Canyon, though tucked away deep in the panhandle (northwest section) of Texas, definitely rewards its visitors with great views, excellent hiking, and some very peculiar geology. With beautiful formations and canyon walls of dark reds, yellows, greens and other vibrant colors, it isn't hard to understand why this place was deemed the "Grand Canyon of Texas." Additionally impressive, and probably the real reason it received its nickname, Palo Duro is actually the second largest canyon system in the United States. 

Geological layer variation and erosion from the waters and winds of time have left some particularly interesting formations in the canyon. These forces have whittled the softer bottom layers much quicker than the harder top sections, resulting in some strangely mushroom shaped features, known as hoodoos. At times, its feels like walking through a Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory stationed on Mars. 

Hiking in Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Hiking in Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Palo Duro Canyon has miles and miles of hiking and biking trails to explore. But if you only have one day to check out the park, we would highly recommend doing the following loop:

1. Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail  

2. Lighthouse Trail to the Lighthouse Rock

3. Lighthouse Trail to Paseo Del Rio Trail

4. Paseo Del Rio Trail

This easy to moderate 8 mile loop provides a great snapshot of all the park has to offer while also minimizing your time on the most crowded trails. The hardest (aka funnest) portion of this hike is a small uphill scramble to Lighthouse Rock, the most iconic feature of the park. Otherwise, expect relatively easy and level trails on this loop. 

Givens, Spicer, and Lowry Trail

The Givens, Spicer, and Lowry Trail is definitely our favorite section of this loop hike for a couple reasons. For one, this trail takes you through some bizarre and stunning scenery, such as the mushroom spires and diversely colorful formations mentioned earlier. Secondly, there is a lot less foot traffic than the other trails nearby, which makes this gem a peaceful encounter with nature. 

An impressively large mushroom formation on the Givens, Spicer, and Lowry Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

An impressively large mushroom formation on the Givens, Spicer, and Lowry Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Lighthouse Rock and Trail

The Lighthouse Rock is certainly worth a gander too as its massiveness and isolation really steal the show. Once you've reached the foot of the Lighthouse Rock, a little more hiking (a few hundred feet toward the Pride Rock-ish cliff next to it), will take you to canyon views worth writing full articles about (or poems, whatever you're into really). 

Lighthouse Rock at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Lighthouse Rock at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Hint, Hint...not necessarily recommended, but it you're feeling brave and want the best seat in the house, you can scramble to the top of that Pride Rock-ish cliff from the back side of it. JUST BE SAFE; there is a pretty gnarly unprotected cliff below you. 

Note, if you opt to skip the Givens, Spicer, and Lowry Trail and take the Lighthouse Trail both to and from Lighthouse Rock, you're journey will only be 5.5 miles round trip. But, you will have to deal with the crowds of this popular trail for your whole hike and you will miss out on some wonderful sights. If you go this route, we highly suggest you go early in the day.

Paseo Del Rio Trail

The Paseo Del Rio Trail is great way to finish off the hike as the sandy and flat surface along a river make for an easy and tranquil 1 mile walk back to the parking lot. Additionally, it provides you with a larger variety of flora than drier sections of the park. Be on the lookout for the Cowboy Dugout right off the trail to get a taste of how the cowboys lived in the late 1800s! 

Have fun in Palo Duro Canyon State Park!

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