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!
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!
As I mentioned, Mendocino weather can be fairly variable across different areas, and can also become cool rather unexpectedly. So it’s good to be prepared for a variety of circumstances when visiting Mendocino County. Here are a few essentials we take when visiting Mendocino with kids:
We like to take a lightweight but warm jacket (men, women, kids). These are my very favorite wool socks that stay dry, cool, and comfortable. And here are my favorite yoga pants with pockets that I always wear for hikes. And I LOVE this amazing rain jacket for kids – essential if the weather turns wet.
I always pack this water bottle since it’s tricky carrying a hydration pack while wearing a baby.
My kids always wear these kids hiking backpacks with water bladders and they are a literal lifesaver when hiking. They help us go so much further because they don’t need to stop every 45 seconds for a drink, and they stay better hydrated, too.
Though it can be cool, the sun can also be intense when exploring Mendocino, especially with the reflection of the water. This is my very favorite sunscreen for myself and especially 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).
If you’re heading out early or late, you definitely want to be prepared. A headlamp makes it so much easier and safer to see, especially if camping or out late at the beach.
You can find all our favorite kids’ hiking gear here!
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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