Palo Duro Canyon State Park

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About Palo Duro Canyon State Park

You know the largest canyon in the nation, Grand Canyon, but do you know the second largest? You will now! At roughly 70 miles with an average width of 6 miles, and depth of up to 1000 ft., Palo Duro Canyon is often referred to as the ‘other’ Grand Canyon. Beat the crowds and heat by visiting in the winter months ($5 entry fee year-round) and explore the canyon by foot, mountain bike, horse ($35 for a tour) or car on 30+ miles of trails. For the more adventurous at heart, you can take the “big zip” tour across the canyon or go rappelling into the abyss--this is surely a great gift for your friend who is afraid of heights! Activities of the artistic variety include an annual photography contest in early January, and TEXAS, an outdoor musical drama performed throughout the summer. Photographers, adventurers, and families alike will lose their ish over this larger-than-life canyon. If you want to go big when you’re in Texas, you have to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park!

Campgrounds in Palo Duro

Sagebrush Campground

1. Sagebrush Campground

Sagebrush Campground is the jam! When entering larger-than-life Palo Duron Canyon State Park, this is the first camp you’ll pass. Each site boasts...

10 Saves
Hackberry Campground

2. Hackberry Campground

100% Recommend (4 Campers)

If you’re looking for a central spot in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Hackberry Campground is the place to be. Each site boasts a picnic table,...

4 Saves
Mesquite Campground

3. Mesquite Campground

Not only is ‘mesquite’ an awesome word, it’s also an awesome campsite! At the southernmost end of Palo Duro Canyon State Park, these 20 sites sit...

Guy
Guy: Palo Duro Canyon is a hidden gem. We enjoyed hiking and then taking in 'Texas' at the amphitheater. The show is not to be...
3 Saves
Cactus Campground

4. Cactus Campground

Talk about an alluring name for a tent-only campsite! Cactus Campground is a small set of seven sites on the southern end of the park, near the...

3 Saves
Fortress Cliff Campground

5. Fortress Cliff Campground

Fortress Cliff Campground is a set of 18 tent-only sites on the southern end of the park, near the equestrian campground, and over 10+ miles of...

Greg
Greg: Decent sites in a great park. BUT.....when I was there...mid Sept, the flies at the campsite were unbearable from about 5p til...
2 Saves
Equestrian Campsites

6. Equestrian Campsites

Ten equestrian campsites sit at the southernmost end of the park, in this open camping area that has picnic tables, fire rings, and two water...

Keely
Keely: Back Country Camping - For dispersed camping in Palo Duro you are required to start in the equestrian area then hike in for a...
1 Save

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Palo Duro
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January 26th, 2015
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Hipcamper Forever

This is "the best state park in Texas" and for good reason. Best way to explore this place is for sure by Mountain Bike! Make sure to bring plenty of water. The canyon and colors are breath taking. Not to mention Amarillo is super cool

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Hipcamper Greg

Decent sites in a great park. BUT.....when I was there...mid Sept, the flies at the campsite were unbearable from about 5p til just after dark. Literally had hundreds of flies covering my car and picnic table. With just a 2 man tent and 95 degree temps, I had a pretty miserable afternoon after a great day of hiking. Check out your site before you set up camp and change if you need to.

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Hipcamper Guy

Palo Duro Canyon is a hidden gem. We enjoyed hiking and then taking in 'Texas' at the amphitheater. The show is not to be missed. Our girls, who were six at the time, were completely engaged the entire time. The canyon is beautiful. We hope to camp in one of the old cow camp cabins on our next trip.

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Hipcamper Marissa

Notwithstanding the flash flood that caused us to evacuate at 3 AM through thigh deep water, I'd have to say this was one of the more spectacular places I've camped in recent years. Everything is breathtaking and I wish our morning return to the canyon hadn't been spent sorting through muddy belongings. We never did get any hiking done as we were trying to stick to some kind of schedule but I hope to go back in the near future. Even our brief car tour was worth it.

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Hipcamper Seamus

We stayed at the Sorenson cabin, which is one of the premier cabins and higher cost. The cabin was awesome. There were no TV's so staying unplugged was easy. The cabins are 30-seconds from the main entrance and are very private. They are located behind a wood privacy fence and sit directly on the rim of the canyon. The cabin was very clean but there are plenty of bugs that get in everyday in the summer, which likely cannot be prevented by park staff. It's just part of the experience. Lots of geocaching available in the park.

Hipcamper Keely

Back Country Camping - For dispersed camping in Palo Duro you are required to start in the equestrian area then hike in for a least 30 minutes. Start hiking up on the bluffs if you can. You can also hike in on the stream valley, but it was very dense with brush and grass. Snakes are a concern so come prepared. On top of the bluffs we found ample spots to pitch a tent. Access to water is an issue in the backcountry since the stream may not have much water. For back country camping pack it in with you. Amenities in the canyon: rest rooms with showers, restaurant, store, campsites with hookups, horse riding, a musical play

History of Palo Duro Canyon State Park

People have inhabited Palo Duro Canyon for about 12,000 years. The Clovis and Folsom peoples first lived in the canyon and hunted large herds of mammoth and giant bison.

Other cultures, such as the Apache, Comanche and Kiowa, used the canyon’s plentiful resources more recently.

These early cultures left behind rock art and bedrock mortars, where they ground mesquite beans and roots for food. Preserve the past by looking at but not touching any artifacts that you see.

Early Spanish explorers probably discovered the canyon, naming it Palo Duro, Spanish for hard wood.

Battle of Palo Duro

The Red River War between the U.S. Army and southern Plains Indians lasted from June 1874 to spring 1875. A decisive battle occurred in the canyon on Sept. 28, 1874.

Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie led the 4th U.S. Cavalry in a surprise attack at dawn on a camp of Comanches, Kiowas and Cheyennes. The families fled up the canyon, leaving everything behind. MacKenzie’s troops captured 1,400 ponies and shot most of them. Soldiers also burned all the teepees and winter stores.

With no horses or supplies, the families had no choice but to return to the reservation. The reign of Native Americans over the Panhandle plains ended soon after.

Charles Goodnight, a former Texas Ranger, drove 1,600 Longhorn cattle to the canyon in 1876. He and his partner John Adair, an English aristocrat, founded the JA Ranch in 1877.

At its peak in 1885, the ranch grazed 100,000 head of cattle on 1,325,000 acres spread across the Panhandle.

After Adair died, his widow, Cornelia, took over as Goodnight’s partner. In 1887, Goodnight decided to scale back his ranching activities. The partnership ended that year, and the partners divided the land.

Most of the canyon belonged to the JA Ranch up until 1890. Adair descendants continue to run the JA Ranch today.

The state bought the land for the park from Fred S. Emory in 1933. Soon after, Civilian Conservation Corps workers arrived, and spent the next five years creating a park.

First, they built a camp for their home base, and then they set to work in the immense canyon.

The men built the winding road to the canyon floor. Until it was finished, they hiked in and out of the canyon on what is now the CCC Trail.

CCC workers made all of the park’s original improvements, including El Coronado Lodge (now the Visitor Center), the cabins on the rim and canyon floor, and trails. Designers planned the park to maximize views and complement the surroundings. The CCC used local stone and wood for building materials. In addition, workers forged decorative metal and crafted furniture.

The park opened in 1934 before it was complete. It is the second largest park in the state parks system today, with about 28,000 acres.