Hiking The Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States right after the Grand Canyon. Overall, the canyon is about 120 miles long and ranges from 2 to 20 miles wide. The closest town to the Palo Duro Canyon State Park is Canyon, Texas.

I visited Palo Duro at the end of April 2021 with a friend which you can read more about here. We took a long weekend and flew into Amarillo and explored both Palo Duro Canyon State Park as well as Caprock Canyon State Park on the trip. One of the most popular hikes in Palo Duro is the Lighthouse Trail so we decided to spend our first morning in the area hiking this 6 mile round trip trail.

Entering the Park:

Since we visited during late Spring of 2021, there were a few measures in place to enter the state park. We booked our tickets for each state park online prior and were to print them out and bring them. I forgot the printed tickets at home, but at the entrance they were able to just look up my last name when entering and provide me with a receipt to stick on the window when entering. It was $8 per person per day when entering Palo Duro which was absolutely worth it.

About The Trail:

Length: About 6 Miles out and back

Elevation Gain: About 520 Feet – most of this being at the end of the trail when you get up to the lighthouse.

Parking: After entering the park, you’ll follow the park road about halfway down into the canyon. There will be a large area for parking on your right and will be clearly marked as parking for the “Lighthouse Trail”.

Best time to Hike: Early morning or evening, especially in the hotter months. We started our hike around 8 AM. It will get VERY hot as it’s not really shaded at all so bring lots and lots of water and wear sunscreen. Also if it’s a windy day, I’ve heard the top of the lighthouse is not that enjoyable so keep an eye on weather.

Navigation: I’d recommend the AllTrails app to help you along your way. The free version works with service to track your hike but with very little or no service in the canyon, I’d recommend using it on either Airplane mode, or buying the $30 subscription to be able to download the map offline.

Wildlife: You may see wildlife along the trail. We saw a roadrunner while we were hiking, but have heard others have see tarantulas or snakes so keep an eye out.

Trail Tips:

  • The trail starts out from the parking lot on the right side. There’s a place to fill your water before setting out. The trailhead is right near the sign reminding you to bring lots of water and wear sunscreen.
  • You share the trail with bikers at a few points so just be aware that they can come up quite quickly on you.
  • If you notice the parking lot is full and can’t get in, the Givens, Spicer & Lowery trail meets up with this trail so you can hike the entire way to the lighthouse. It would be around an 8 mile round trip hike if you chose to take this trail.
  • About 2.7 ish miles in, when you get to the picnic tables and bike rack, go to the very far right trail. Don’t take the options on either side of the picnic table, but keep going around to the far right. This will be the best and easiest way up. While it’s still steep, it’s not one that is straight up and more of a rock scramble. This was our big mistake. We saw the picnic table and heard to take the left trail, which we did. I think it was a rain wash because it was incredibly steep and full of rocks and almost straight up. It required some crawling on hands and knees to get the entire way up and would have been even worse coming down. (See below)
  • At the top of the lighthouse, you can just hang out on the flat rock or you can climb up a narrow trail to the top of the second peak behind the lighthouse. We did not do this but saw many others doing it.
  • I recommend packing a snack or picnic lunch for the top of the lighthouse. The view at the top is incredible and you can see over the canyon.
  • While we were at the top, there were quite a few other people coming up. We met a family from the east side of Texas who told us about other hikes in the area that are a bit off the beaten path. They also shared some of the tips for hiking in the canyons and the “right” way down.
  • The trail is also dog friendly and we saw a few of them on the hike!

Overall Thoughts

While this is probably the most popular hike in the Canyon, it’s a must do. It was a pretty easy hike, and if you follow the directions for the hike well, you shouldn’t have an issue getting to the top. We saw all ages as well as dogs make it to the top! Bring sunscreen, double the amount of water you think you need, and pack some snacks for the hike and as much as possible, arrive early in the day to get parking and avoid crowds. After you finish the hike, there’s a cafe in one of the buildings on your way back to the entrance to the park, so grab a burger here before you continue exploring the canyon. Overall, this is one of the top 3 hikes I’ve done because of views of the red rock the entire way.