Palo Duro Canyon State Park: The "Grand Canyon of Texas"

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas

Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

This dramatic attraction is one of many State Parks in Texas, and is also referred to as "The Grand Canyon of Texas."

Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the entire United States of America, second only to the Grand Canyon. It is a Texas site worth putting on your list of places to visit.

The Lone Star State is literally filled to the brim with fabulous Texas sites, but Palo Duro is a real surprise to those who might never have seen it or known of its existence. Nothing in the surrounding landscape would give one even the slightest hint of what lies ahead as one approaches the canyon.

Located in the Texas high plains area in the northwest part of the State just South of Amarillo and East of the town of Canyon, the scenery is flat where one can literally gaze for miles and miles until the unbroken level fields of grass meet the horizon.

Unexpected beauty lies ahead when one enters into the spectacular canyon.

Suddenly the land gives way and one starts the descent down into the Palo Duro Canyon where one can view the landscape up close and personal. Unlike peering over the rim of the Grand Canyon, one becomes intimately involved with the Palo Duro Canyon because of the close proximity to everything.

Palo Duro Canyon

The first time that I got to see this dramatic attraction, I was traveling with my mother. We were following the map and as we kept getting closer and there seemed to be nothing different about the landscape, I was beginning to wonder if the map was correct.

The picture above will show you how the landscape looks until one gets to the very edge of the canyon and why I was beginning to doubt the accuracy of the map.

My second visit was with a girlfriend and I could prepare her in advance as to what was about to unfold before her very eyes. Out of flat seemingly endless similar terrain suddenly this scenic canyon appears!

It must have been quite a surprise to the first people who first discovered it.

Palo Duro Canyon was the home of prehistoric Indians who lived there almost 12,000 years ago. They found sustenance and shelter in those artistically sculpted canyon walls.

Unfortunately for the Native Indians, as America was being colonized by people moving west the Indians were being forced to live on reservations.

During the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon in September of 1874, the 4th cavalry under the leadership of Colonel R.S. Mackenzie tracked a large group of Indians to their camp in Palo Duro and surprised them in the early dawn hours.

The Indians knowing every nook and cranny of the canyon had the tactical advantage.

So once Colonel Mackenzie realized that, he ordered the Indian's camp and supplies burned while the Indians were busy escaping capture. But Mackenzie's troops took with them around 1,400 of the Indian's horses eventually killing almost 1,000 of them.

This was almost a bloodless battle except for the carnage of the horses. Only 4 Indians were killed and no cavalry soldiers died. But left without their horses, camp and supplies, the Indians finally gave up and went back to their reservations at Fort Reno and Fort Sill. So the battle was successful from the viewpoint of the U.S. government.

Not our proudest moment in terms of how the Native Indians were treated in this author's opinion.

Formation of the Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon was formed over a period of millions of years from erosive action of wind and water. Scouring of the rocks took place from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River during this time and has left behind some distinctive rock formations as well as beautiful scenery.

The canyon depth is almost 800 feet deep and it is around 120 miles long. It's width varies from 6 to 20 miles at the widest places.

In 1934 the State of Texas purchased 20,000 acres of land of the Palo Duro Canyon making it into a State Park for everyone's enjoyment.

Amenities within the Canyon

  • Campsites: There are campgrounds within the park which accommodate both tents and also campers and motorhomes. There are even a couple of cabins that can be rented for lodging in Palo Duro Canyon. The campsites offer picnic tables and a BBQ grill. Water faucets and restrooms with showers are nearby. For those with motor homes, water and electricity are provided with both pull-through and back-in parking. There is also a sanitary dump station in the park.
  • Trails: There is a 4.6 mile round trip trail that offers both great hiking adventures as well as seeing the scenic beauty while riding horses which can be rented. They keep a stable of horses inside the park for trail riding. One can also bring their own horses to go riding within this state park.
  • Goodnight Trading Post: One can purchase any needed supplies one might have forgotten to bring as well as souvenirs, film, and snacks.
  • Sad Monkey Railroad: This miniature railroad can take one through the park for a fee and one can not only see the beauty of the area but a guide explains different aspects of the park. My mother and I took advantage of this while there. Sad Monkey gets its name from a rock formation in the park.
  • Visitor Center: Open Wednesday through Sunday from June 1st to August 31st from 11 AM to 7 PM. One can view exhibits on the history of the park as well as learn more about geology.
  • Pioneer Amphitheater: This is a 1742 seat outdoor theater that offers performances during the summer. The musical drama "Texas" is done and sadly we did not get to see it either time of our visits to Palo Duro Canyon. We were not there at the right time of year.

The backdrop is the 600 foot canyon wall that one faces while seated in the amphitheater and a professional cast of 80 puts on a show celebrating the early settlers, cowboys and Indians that interacted with one another during the 1880s.

There is dramatic lighting, elaborate costuming, and this Official Play of the State of Texas is well worth seeing as told to me from people fortunate enough to have enjoyed a performance of "Texas."

Admission is free to the park for theater patrons who start arriving after 5:30 PM. For an additional charge from 6 to 8 PM a BBQ dinner is served prior to the nighttime performance of "Texas." It must be quite a sight!

The following is the inscription in marble at the back of the Ampitheatre at Palo Duro Canyon. This is exactly how this inscription is written in all caps and some of the words are in bold lettering for dramatic effect.



We found this to be quite moving and it certainly tells the history of the area!

Dramatic shots of Palo Duro Canyon set to music of Beethovan

If you ever have a chance to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas you will not leave disappointed. Truly the "Grand Canyon of Texas" is a photographer's as well as artist's dream.

Hikers, bikers, those who like to ride horses or simply drive the paved roads through the canyon will not lack beautiful scenery and discoveries around every nook and cranny. This is Nature at its best!


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 18, 2016:

Hello SaddleScamp,

How wonderful that you got to ride horses in Palo Duro Canyon and are planning to go back. Thanks for the tip on visiting Caprock Canyon. If I ever make it back to that part of Texas, I'll try and check it out. Texas is so vast as you probably are aware. Appreciate your comment.

Donald McRaven from Belknap, ILL on September 17, 2016:

Thanks for the beautiful, descriptive article. My companions and I have been to Palo Duro and ridden our horses in it. We are planning to go back again because we just know we missed something. Palo Duro is just a wonderful place for free minded souls to be in. If you have not been to Caprock Canyon state park just south of Palo Duro I recommend it. Again I say thanks, the Saddlescamps.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 13, 2012:

Hello alocsin,

Glad to hear that I could introduce you to the Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas. I haven't read any of your railroad hubs yet, but will! Thanks for your comment and votes.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 13, 2012:

Have not heard of this at all, but your photos make it look beautiful. I'm a bit of a railroad buff as well, so appreciate the heads-up on the Sad Monkey Railroad. Voting this Up and Beautiful.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 07, 2011:

Hi JSParker,

So very happy that I could introduce you to the Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas. As you know...it is a BIG STATE! Few of us have seen all of it even if living here. Thanks for your comment.

JSParker from Detroit, Michigan on July 07, 2011:

Wow, I am amazed. I'm a born and bred Texan transplanted to Michigan (via Colorado and North Carolina) and I did not know about this canyon. (Course we did move out when I was 8, but you know how it is with Texas...once a Texan, always a Texan. And I return almost yearly to visit family.)

Anyway, we recently drove from Austin to Big Bend National Park, so I thought from that, Texas really does have some cliff and canyon country. But Palo Duro goes beyond that.

Very cool to know this.

Great photos and other visuals in your hub. Voted "Up" and "Awesome".

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 26, 2010:

Hello leyzaa,

Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas is a wonderful place indeed. From your comment I am assuming you have visited there? Thanks!

leyzaa on December 26, 2010:

wonderful place, thbanks good job

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 01, 2010:

Hi Micky,

All depends on your definition of "civilization." We don't exactly have a stellar record from the past, do we? Thanks for reading this hub about Palo Duro Canyon State Park and leaving a comment. God bless you too, MD.

Micky Dee on December 01, 2010:

Just incredible Peggy! I so love your work! I feel like I'm watching the History Channel when I visit you. Thank you for loving the Indian. We're a bit late but I wish we could use better judgment as our civilization spreads but I'm not sure "civilization" will. God bless Dear Peggy.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 28, 2010:

Hi SweetiePie,

Ah, yes...I have heard of Waimea Canyon. Maybe someday we will return to see more of Hawaii. Thanks for coming back to this Palo Duro Canyon hub and answering my question. My parents toured various islands in Hawaii many years ago and loved Kauai. They undoubtedly saw the "grand canyon" of Hawaii since they were on a tour.

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on November 28, 2010:

Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai is known as the grand canyon of the Hawaiian Islands. I very much want to see it as well as the Palo Duro you have introduced me too.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 28, 2010:

Hello SweetiePie,

On which island is the "grand canyon" in Hawaii? We've only been to the big island of Hawaii. Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas is much smaller than the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but it certainly has it's attractions. Plus, as one drives down...one is actually in it instead of just looking down at it as most people do of the one in Arizona. Thanks for your comment.

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on November 28, 2010:

I think it would be nice to see the grand canyons of both Texas and Hawaii. I have already seen the more famous one in Arizona.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 28, 2010:


No one would know, better than you, having lived in Texas just how large this State is! One could spend many years exploring every nook and cranny and the distances are vast. Hopefully you will someday get to see Palo Duro Canyon State Park. It truly is an amazing site. No wonder it is called the "Grand Canyon of Texas" although it is much more intimate. Thanks for the visit and comment.

SUSIE DUZY from Delray Beach, Florida on November 28, 2010:

I really enjoyed your photos. I lived in Texas for 15 years, but did not get to Palo Duro canyon. Will have to go back and see it.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 24, 2010:

Hello billyaustindillon,

Palo Duro Canyon is amazing. Out of the seemingly endless flat lands, this canyon opens up before one's eyes as one drives down into it. It literally surrounds one. Hope you get to spend a bit more time there than the two different day visits that I got to do. Hiking and horseback riding would be a lot of fun.

billyaustindillon on July 24, 2010:

Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas is a region of Texas I haven't visited yet and plan to do. As always your photos are superb - the red looms are so rich.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 19, 2010:

Hello ahorseback,

Happy to hear that you liked the photos of Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas. Texas has so many beautiful areas including the Hill Country. You'll have to come and visit this Lone Star State someday. Thanks for the comment.

ahorseback on June 19, 2010:

Love your pictures and what a beautiful state, been everywhere but texas I guess, always wanted to though,how bout that hill country?

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 07, 2010:

Hello Rose Kolowinski,

What a fabulous way to have visited Palo Duro Canyon...in a 5th wheeler! That is a great way to camp, with all the creature comforts of home away from home surrounding you. I would imagine that it was a bit of a challenge pulling it and working your way down into the canyon!

Wish we had more time to explore as you would have had by spending a week there. Were you there the right time of year to see the show Texas?

Thanks for the comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 07, 2010:

Thanks for the visit, texas campgrounds. Palo Duro Canyon State Park is a special place...one of many as you say...but unique in its special way.

Rose Kolowinski on March 07, 2010:

Great hub, Peggy. Loaded with interesting tidbits. I vacationed there for a week about 15 years ago. The road down in pulling a long 5th-wheel was rather scary but oh the views! Had a great time. Love the pictures!

texas campgrounds on December 04, 2009:

i love the canyon state park too, and visited it a lot of times but still some places are left to visit.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 22, 2009:

Hi GNelson,

Nice that you also got to enjoy the wild beauty of the Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas. Were you there the right time of year to be able to take in the musical production "Texas"?

GNelson from Florida on October 22, 2009:

Been there! Loved it! Your pictures are perfect!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 01, 2009:

Greetings Live Work Dream,

I like your name BTW. Am happy to have shown you a little more about Palo Duro Canyon State Park so that you will plan a visit on your way back to Texas this winter. Nice life you have if you live in Colorado in the summer and Texas in the winter! Two great states! Thanks for the comment.

Live Work Dream on September 01, 2009:

Oooh, we wanted to stop there so bad when we were on our way up to Colorado. Thanks for showing us what we missed, we'll be sure to stop by when we come back down for the winter! Awesome page.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 22, 2009:

Hi santoion,

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is certainly that...beautiful. I agree! Thanks for leaving a comment.

santoion on August 22, 2009:

Beautiful Places!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 19, 2009:

Hi again jnnfr271,

At least you know pretty much what is in store for you when you spend a little more time in Palo Duro Canyon. It would really be fun to camp there and see more of the canyon. Hope your plans come true. Thanks for coming back and leaving another comment.

jnnfr271 from Texas on August 18, 2009:

I did a drive-through and ate lunch at a little cafe inside the park. All of the campsites were booked. Next time I visit I'll get out of the car and explore.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 17, 2009:

Hi jnnfr271,

So you camped on the rim. Did you enter Palo Duro Canyon and see it from the bottom looking up? Or will you do that the next time you visit? Thanks for commenting.

jnnfr271 from Texas on August 17, 2009:

I camped on the rim at a private campground on the way to Colorado last year. It was absolutely beautiful. I need to go back and ride some of those bike trails.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 16, 2009:

Hello QualityTownsville,

While Palo Duro Canyon State Park may not be one of the official "wonders of the world" it certainly ranks high as a beautiful place to visit. And yes, while seeing it on photos is nice, being there in person is the ideal way to experience Palo Duro. So happy that you liked this hub, and thanks for the comment.

QualityTownsville on August 16, 2009:

I enjoy reading and looking at the photos, I feel I am on tour. Is it one of the wonders of the world( just asking).It's beautiful, breathtaking. It's beautiful on photos, how much more if given a chance to see it personally!,

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 15, 2009:

Hi James,

Glad that you enjoyed the tour of Palo Duro Canyon State Park. These photos were taken years apart on 2 different trips and I also noticed the difference in the clarity and color of the photos. Different cameras. Perhaps also different film. Both were still simple 35 mm. cameras with a zoom feature, but nothing else. Thanks for the compliment on the framing of the photos. Also thanks for leaving a comment.

James A Watkins from Chicago on August 15, 2009:

Excellent Hub! I especially loved photos # 12 & # 20. Totally professional shots with perfect framing. I enjoyed the tour. Thank you.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 15, 2009:

Hello li7218,

Not sure how this applies to the Palo Duro Canyon hub...but glad that you are happy! LOL

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 15, 2009:

Hi Ethel,

Yes, the Native Indians were treated terribly and forced to go onto reservations...generally not the best of land. Imagine having the most beautiful of places in which to live, hunt, gather and grow food and then have it all come to an end because other people want to live there. No wonder they fought to keep what they had! As we all know...they eventually lost that battle.

But on to the main subject...

Yes...seeing Palo Duro Canyon "in the flesh" is a wonderful experience. Big sky overhead and being surrounded by natural beauty...everyone that has ever visited there that I know, loves it.

Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 15, 2009:

Hi Melody,

Palo Duro Canyon State Park truly is magical. It is so intimate an experience as once you have entered the canyon, it literally sounds you with its beauty. Wish we had been there at the right time of year to take in that "TEXAS" production. No theatre in the world would be quite like that one!

Thanks for the comment.

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on August 15, 2009:

Terrible treatment of the native Americans but all nations have bad periods in their history. This looks truly stunning. It must be breath taking in the flesh, so to speak

Melody Lagrimas from Philippines on August 14, 2009:

What a magical place.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 14, 2009:

Hi Pete,

We have just about every type of landscape here in Texas. Lush flowers and palm trees in the Rio Grande Valley to forests in the Piney Woods of East Texas to beaches along the Gulf of Mexico to desert in West Texas and everything in between.

Yes...the Indians were not treated well anywhere where settlement was taking place. That is a black mark on our history...no question about it.

Thanks for the first comment.

Pete Maida on August 14, 2009:

It is a suprise to see such different land in Texas. All of the land I saw there looked like the first photos. That was a terrible thing the cavalry did to the horses and to the Indians.

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