A Texas Gem: Palo Duro Canyon

The first time I heard of Palo Duro Canyon was when I was reading Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne. The book is the history of the rise and then fall of the Comanche Indians as well as telling the story about Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Comanches. In the story, Palo Duro Canyon was the site of a battle between the 4th U.S. Calvary and the Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne where the calvary attached and the groups fled up through the canyon.

Hearing the canyon’s vastness described in the book had me searching online for just what this place was like. I saw the pictures and was shocked I’d never heard of it before. I looked up places to stay in the area and found the Doves Rest Cabins which I’ll share more about below.

Getting Here:

It took me over a year to get here. I initially booked my trip at the end of 2019 to travel here in the spring of 2020. I was initially going to road trip from Austin through Texas over to New Mexico and then to Arizona. Since that didn’t work out for 2020, I moved my solo trip from 2020 to a trip with a friend in 20201.

We flew into Amarillo on a Thursday afternoon and headed straight for Palo Duro. The Amarillo airport is 40 minutes north so we were able to check in to our cabin and spend some time exploring the canyon before nightfall.

To Stay:

I admired the Doves Rest Cabins as soon as I saw them online. They are built right on the edge of the canyon and have a variety of options of places to stay. Each cabin is different, but there are some that are more studio like while others have multiple bedrooms. Each has a beautiful kitchen and western themed living room as well as a grill and wifi and where pets are allowed. There are a few with hot tubs and some have more patio furniture options than others. But no matter which you stay, they are truly a luxury and the absolute best way to enjoy Palo Duro Canyon.

My friend and I stayed in one of the newer Phantom cabins. They are more a studio like cabin but it was perfect for our needs. There was a king bed, a stocked kitchen, a luxurious bathroom as well as a sofa and living room area and a huge TV. We spent our mornings on the porch drinking coffee watching the sunrise over the canyon and our evenings sitting on the porch enjoying the sunset behind us. This place was truly one of the best places I’ve ever stayed.

About the Park:

Background: Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States behind the Grand Canyon. It can span from 120 miles long and 20 miles wide.

Admission: When we went, admission was $8 per adult. We purchased our tickets online ahead of time so we could just give our name at the entry.

Scenic Road: There’s a scenic road that goes down into the canyon a few miles and is the road to which there is access to the hiking trails and camping spots.

Wildlife / Animals: The Texas state longhorn herd lives on the top plateau by the canyon. Inside the canyon are road runners, snakes, turkeys, deer, and potential for bobcats and coyotes.

Camping: There are various camping options, some more primitive than others. There’s even glamping options inside the park.

Hiking: There’s a variety of different hikes in the canyon but the most popular is the Lighthouse Trail. We ended up doing this one and it was one of my favorite hikes to date.

Tips:

  • If you can, book a cabin with Doves Rest for your weekend. It’s the best location, best accommodations, and best views in the park.
  • Canyon is the closest town with food and other accommodations. They have great dinner options as well as coffee shops, a book store, an outdoors store, and other shops. Stock up here with any groceries you may need for your trip.
  • Whenever you go into the park, pack plenty of water. It gets incredibly hot and especially when hiking, you’re going to need it.
  • If you’re up for about a 6 mile hike, try out the Lighthouse Trail. If you’d like one that’s shorter, check out some of the other options on the park trail map.
  • If you have some extra time, spend a half day or full day in Caprock Canyons State Park and see the bison herd it’s known for up close.

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