Drive up the highway toward Amarillo, and the city fades away. The land turns into rocky terrain stubbled with cacti under hazy blue skies. There, you’ll find the second biggest canyon in the United States, Palo Duro Canyon. Around 120 miles long, 20 miles wide, and 800 feet deep, Palo Duro is one of the most stunning geological marvels in the state.
It’s easy to drive through Palo Duro; you can drive the loop around the canyon in half an hour. But to do that would mean missing some of the truest gems of Palo Duro.
People come from all over to stand on the canyon rim, ride on horseback down into the canyon floor, and see the majesty of Palo Duro’s most famous rock formation, the Lighthouse. More than 50 miles of trails snake through the property, dotted with roadrunners and turkey vultures. The cave trail takes intrepid wanderers through a series of cool, shady caves cut out of sandstone. It’s an easy trail and a lightly trafficked one, ending in a formation called Judy’s Arch. Inside the caves, the temperatures drop, and hikers find respite from the sun. At the trading post, hikers stop for well-earned lunches of cheeseburgers and fried pickles—and to stock up on gas, supplies, and most importantly, water.
Easily the best way to enjoy Palo Duro Canyon is to stay overnight. The Sorenson, Lighthouse, and Goodnight cabins were built by the CCC in the 1930s. They perch on the rim of the canyon like ants on the edge of a bowl with dizzying views of the Spanish Skirts. Every morning, sunrise over the canyon through the bedroom windows. Though their unique exteriors are largely unchanged, park rangers have updated the cabins. Each one offers air conditioning, heaters, and microwaves. They are available for rent through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Throughout the year, the state park hosts all kinds of guided hikes and birding tours. In addition, their several campgrounds throughout the state park provide the bare bones needed for RVs to park, and easy access to their various trails.
Originally published as part of the May/June 2021 Weekend Getaways Issue. To all those who crave starlight, beaches, and summer breezes: Texas highways are calling you. From rugged stone canyons to the kind comfort of hill country, Texas destinations are ready to welcome weary travelers. If you’re feeling cooped up this year, it’s time to run free.