6 min read

A Short Trip to Palo Duro Canyon State Park

For as long as I can remember, I've had a certain infatuation with nature.
A Short Trip to Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Photo by Michael Dziedzic / Unsplash

For as long as I can remember, I've had a certain infatuation with nature. I don't really know how to put it into words, but I suppose I can explain how it came about.

Growing up, while I wasn't a boy scout or anything, my dad and I would go camping frequently. The trips were never anything monumental, usually short and close to home but nonetheless a getaway from the hustle and bustle of Houston.

Over the years, going camping and hiking has become one of my favorite hobbies. For me, it's reflective. I can forget my worries and just take in what's in front of me. Nothing else.

It's being present. It's appreciating what you have. It's grounding yourself. It's a safe space to let your mind take a couple of laps and discover what you have laying in the deepest, darkest crevices of your mind.

Sometimes, it isn't that deep. It's just a damn good time to drop your things and go on a weekend escapade away from civilization.

My trip to Palo Duro Canyon State Park was the perfect start to a new year. It was fun and constituted quality time with my girlfriend. Can't possibly beat that (minus the fact it was 20 degrees).

Every time I hike in a beautiful place like Palo Duro Canyon, I'm always left with one question plaguing my mind.

"Why don't I do this more?"

Perhaps I forget how much I enjoy and appreciate some solitude with nobody but myself and Mother Nature. No bullshit, no distractions, just raw and utter beauty.

Perhaps I get caught up. Lord knows I bite off more than I can chew in just about every aspect of my life. I'm attempting to get through university, run a business, keep up my blog, and maintain good relationships with my family, my friends, and my girlfriend of course.

I've got a lot on my plate, and sometimes time for myself finds itself neglected, thrown by the wayside without even realizing it.

One of my goals this year is to spend more time in nature. After all, I bought a state parks pass so money is not the issue anymore. No more excuses.

Four Days of Endless Adventure

You know, I think Texas deserves more credit than we lend it. The city of Houston is wonderful, but outside of that? No nature whatsoever. It's ugly and sometimes dreary.

However, once you head North, things change. Truth be told, Dallas isn't all that pretty to look at either, but once you get up into the Panhandle, things begin to morph.

Eventually, after a solid 9 1/2 hours of driving, the world opens up beneath you and the canyon captivates you in its entirety.

This trip was my second time visiting Palo Duro Canyon and it was just as breath-taking as the first time, maybe even more. The anticipation of laying eyes on this natural beauty was yet again well deserved.

The canyon itself is gorgeous. I mean, c'mon.

While the air was quite literally freezing, it was so crisp and refreshing - much different from the air of a large city like Houston.

In the night sky, the stars are abundant and the moon shines brighter than I have ever seen in my life. If stargazing is your thing, Palo Duro Canyon is a bucket list destination.

And the red rocks! I may be a bit colorblind, but the canyon is a rich red color, ever-changing because of its soft rock makeup. The color of the clay draws the eye and it's hard to look away.

Little fun fact: Palo Duro Canyon is the second biggest canyon in the United States, obviously trailing the one and only Grand Canyon in Arizona. It's incredible to me that it remains somewhat of a hidden gem.

Best Trails

This trip was one rugged adventure - we camped in 20-degree weather and hiked for three days until our feet just about fell off. I wouldn't change it for the world.

We hiked four trails in our two days at Palo Duro Canyon, and while all of them were impressive, two stood out above all.

The Lighthouse Trail

The Lighthouse Trail is the crown jewel of Palo Duro Canyon State Park. It's justified in being immensely popular but beware of the crowds.

The trail itself is 5.75 miles round trip and rated moderate intensity. Most of the trek from the trailhead to the scenic overlook is easy with no immediate changes in elevation. It's just long.

The end of the Lighthouse Trail is more strenuous with steep grading and some fun rock scrambles. If you like a challenge as I do, this will be welcomed.

The natural rock formation at the end of the trail is larger than life, and you'll probably have to wait to snap your photos there. We ate some trail mix and just enjoyed the view. In addition to the rock, there's nearly a 360-degree view of the canyon.

While waiting for our opportunity to take a couple of pictures, we ran into an older couple with their grandson. He had, "wanted to see a canyon," and so they took him to Palo Duro Canyon.

The older gentleman was very kind and more than willing to give us his recommendation of favorite trails to tackle next. We rambled on, small-talking until it was time for them to get moving.

Interactions like that get me fired up. Part of what I love about traveling and exploring new places is the chance to meet new people and gain their perspectives on certain things.

All in all, Lighthouse Trail is one you cannot miss. Bring lots of water if hiking during the summer; the canyon floor can reach up to 120 degrees. I would also advise getting up early to beat the crowds.

The Rock Garden Trail

I'd never heard of this trail before, so it was a pleasant surprise to come upon it on the map. I enjoy finding the best-kept secrets, especially when it means there won't be a hoard of people overcrowding the trail.

Rock Garden is a 5.0-mile round-trip hike rated as strenuous intensity. I can confirm: that shit is hard. I can only imagine trying to hike it in the Texas Heat.

The challenge of this trail comes from its relentless elevation. I believe the total elevation of the trail is 600 feet, so it's truly an uphill battle.

It's entirely worth it though. If you're able, I cannot recommend it enough. The trail takes you through an ancient rock garden created by a landslide - you wouldn't believe some of the formations before your eyes.

The other reason I loved this trail was the views. The ascent is tough, but that's because you're hiking to the canyon rim. We stopped many times along the way to appreciate the views we worked so hard for.

Views from the top of the Rock Garden Trail.

Like with the Lighthouse Trail, bring tons of water. During the summer, I'd be seriously concerned about the safety of how intense this trail is.

There weren't many crowds so if you have a leisurely morning, this might be a good trail for you to follow up with.

I cannot recommend this Palo Duro Canyon State Park enough; it is by far my favorite state park. The only one I can imagine would even be in contention with this is Big Bend, but that is a discussion for later this year.

Palo Duro Canyon was first, and Brazos Bend was second, what state park will be next? Subscribe to find out.