Before a few months ago, I’d never spent any time at all in northern Texas, and had certainly never considered any hikes in Palo Duro Canyon. But we knew we wanted to try to safely meet up with my sister and her family. With them living on the east coast and us on the west coast, the second-largest canyon in the United States seemed as good a place as any.
And wow, were we impressed! I don’t know what exactly I was expecting, but the landscapes were somehow reminiscent of both southern Utah and also the Deep South. It was beautiful!
We were super impressed with the hiking in Palo Duro Canyon. There were options for lots of different skill levels, with varied landscapes and difficulty levels.
Here are 10 beautiful hikes in Palo Duro Canyon that are great for beginner hikers or kids, as well as a family guide to Palo Duro Canyon!
Table of Contents
When To Visit Palo Duro Canyon
Texas weather is notoriously moody and unpredictable, so it’s hard to pin down a perfect time for a family visit to Palo Duro Canyon. That said, most times will be really enjoyable! Summer can get extremely hot, however, so I would personally stick to the other seasons. We visited in December and it was chilly but not cold – great for hiking!
Where to Stay When Visiting Palo Duro Canyon
Palo Duro is just outside Amarillo, in the northern panhandle of Texas. We rented a darling little Airbnb that was spacious, had a big backyard, and was conveniently located for driving to Palo Duro Canyon. While we didn’t end up staying there, this is a great and clean hotel in Amarillo for families.
There are plenty of other hotels and home rentals available in the area, as well!
We love this backpack to carry our food and extra clothing, as well as any baby items. (It’s also terrific as a travel carry on.) We wore the baby in this baby carrier, but if you’re spending a longer time or have an older/bigger baby, we absolutely love this baby and toddler hiking carrier. It also has plenty of storage room to carry all your gear in there without needing. a separate bag.
This is especially important if visiting in shoulder seasons. I highly recommend packing along waterproof layers – it’s no fun walking around when sopping wet. I like this rain jacket (here’s the version for men, kids, toddlers). If you’re confident in rain happening, we really like using rain pants to keep everyone dry and happy when outside for extended periods. (Here are the rain pants we have for women, men, kids, toddlers, and a one-piece.)
For older kids and adults, we love this water bottle for hiking and anything else – it’s a great size, fits in a side pocket, and keeps drinks cold for forever. We also love THIS one and THIS one. (You can often find them on sale here.)
This is my personal favorite mineral facial sunscreen (use code LPF15 for 15% off). I also love this sunscreen for my kids. It’s a mineral (zinc-based) sunscreen, so it protects the skin on top instead of soaking in, and rubs in so easily (so many zinc suncreens don’t). I also love this mineral sunscreen that smells amazing (or here is the spray version).
Since we knew we were going on a day that didn’t have rain planned, I took a chance and wore my beloved white tennis shoes and was totally fine. All the paths are on boardwalks, so you definitely don’t need super rugged hiking shoes. If there were a quick, light drizzle, I think they would’ve held up fine.
Still, if there’s a chance of consistent or heavier rain, I highly recommend wearing something a bit sturdier or waterproof. For traveling, I love these boots because they’re cute with regular clothing but also hold up well for walking and are also quite water resistant. If you’re doing any more serious hiking, I really love these hiking boots – super sturdy, really comfortable, and waterproof.
Where to Stay for a Family Plitvice Lakes Trip
Since we were only doing a day trip to Plitvice Lakes, we opted to stay in Split. This allowed us to spend a couple days in Split, a day trip in Plitvice Lakes, and then leave Split the next morning for Dubrovnik more easily. Especially when traveling with kids, it made it much easier to not need to move around to different hotels. When staying in Split, I highly recommend staying as close to the Old City as possible – we loved being able to easily walk into town.
Split Lodging Options with Kids:
- Hotel Agava Split
- Dioklecijan Hotel & Residence
- Splendida Palace
- Cornaro Hotel
- Radisson Blu – this resort is further away but has great family amenities
And here are some wonderful apartment and home rentals if you need more space:
- Gorgeous stone villa
- Terrace apartment next to Dioclecian’s Palace
- Luxury apartment in Old City
- 3BR holiday house in Old City
If you’d like to stay closer to Plitvice Lakes, here are some good options:
- Plitvice Lakes Villa Irene
- House Poljana
- Apartment Mila
- B&B Green Serenity
- 3BR House
- 1BR Apartment near Plitvice Lakes
- House 500m from Splitvice Lakes – sleeps 7
- 3BR family home with swimming pool
How to Get to Plitvice Lakes National Park
Best Hikes in Palo Duro Canyon with Kids
Pioneer Nature Trail in Palo Duro Canyon
Distance: 0.5 miles
Elevation: 29 ft
If you’re just interested in a very short stroll, this this is the perfect pick. At only half a mile, it’s great for even toddlers to walk on their own, and you’ll even get to go down to the river.
CCC Hike in Palo Duro Canyon
Distance: 2.7 miles
Elevation: 541 ft
This is a great and relatively short introductory hike in Palo Duro. The hike winds down over a ridge into the canyon, but you’ll get great views even if you don’t go all the way down. The views stop being as stunning as you cross over to the Amphitheater side, so we opted to turn around before going all the way down. The rock vistas are stunning!
Juniper Riverside Palo Duro Trail
Distance: 2.0 miles
Elevation: 95 ft
This flat trail meanders next to the river and has beautiful views of rock formations. It’s one of the best easy hiking trails in Palo Duro Canyon!
Lighthouse Hiking Trail in Palo Duro Canyon
Distance: 6 miles
Elevation: 492 ft
This is arguably the most popular hike in the entire park. While a bit on the longer side for young kids, it’s relatively flat and doable for elementary school and up.
Rojo Grande Palo Duro Hiking Trail
Distance: 2.4 miles
Elevation: 140 ft
This short little trail is a perfect out-and-back to get a feel for Palo Duro hiking. Starting from the same parking lot as the Lighthouse Trail, it gives a similar feel but is a quick jaunt.
Kiowa Hiking Trail in Palo Duro Canyon
Distance: 2.9 miles
Elevation: 137 ft
Another easy and flat one to add to the list of Palo Duro trails, this one gives great views of Triassic Peak and goes along the river.
Sunflower Hiking Trail
Distance: 2.4 miles
Elevation: 82 ft
Not many Palo Duro hiking trails are shaded, so this one is great for that reason! Keep an eye out for beautiful gypsum on this trail.
Paseo Del Rio
Distance: 2.2 miles
Elevation: 85 ft
If you have kiddos who are interested in history or cowboys (or both), this is the perfect pick. This short Palo Duro hiking trail meanders by the restored Cowboy Dugout to get a glimpse of life nearly 150 years ago.
Rock Garden Trail
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation: 777 ft
With nearly 800 feet of elevation gain, this one isn’t for the faint of heart but is definitely doable even for children. And you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views of Palo Duro Canyon, by climbing the only hike in Palo Duro that goes from the bottom of the canyon all the way to the rim.
Givens, Spicer, Lowry (GSL Trail in Palo Duro Canyon)
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation: 192 ft
Though on the longer end, this was our favorite hike we did in the park. With sweeping vistas and stunning views, this trail connects to the Lighthouse Trail but is significantly less traveled. We loved climbing up and down red rock and taking in the beautiful scenery.
If you go to the intersection of the Lighthouse Trail, the round trip distance will be just over 6 miles. If, however, you choose to go all the way to the Lighthouse (which I would recommend), the round trip distance is just about 8 miles with 636 feet of elevation gain.
Have you ever visited (or even heard of) Palo Duro Canyon before? If not, I hope it’s on your list now!
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