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Palo Duro Canyon Hiking Adventure with Backwoods, Feb 2020
At roughly 120 miles long with depths up to 1,000 ft, it’s easy to understand why Palo Duro Canyon has been affectionately dubbed “The Grand Canyon of Texas”. Part of the Caprock Escarpment in the Texas Panhandle, the canyon system is home to the 26,000-acre Palo Duro Canyon State Park. With over 30 miles of multipurpose hiking, biking and equestrian trails, it’s no wonder Palo Duro is one of the top-visited state parks in all of Texas. We added 12 people to the visitors log in February.
Day 1: Arrival & A Taste of The Park
We arrived at the Wolfberry Group Campground on the afternoon of Friday, February 21st and after a quick unpack of personal gear and meet and greet, wasted no time in setting out on our first hike. Albeit a short and easy trip, we got our first taste of the park as we departed from camp and hiked portions of the sunflower trail and juniper cliffside trail.
Upon realizing that we were making great time and were ahead of schedule for dinner (and after a unanimous vote) I opted to venture further down juniper cliffside so that we could explore one of the neatest features in the park, the cave! (Okay, technically it’s the product of a percolation pipe but cave sounds so much cooler.) Our adventurous nature satisfied, we returned to camp where a hearty meal of sausage jambalaya awaited us, and we fueled up for a busy day two.
Day 2: The Fun Stuff
Our second day was our most challenging; two substantial hikes totaling 11 miles and about 1,300 ft. of elevation gain. We began our day in pursuit of Palo Duro’s most noteworthy feature: The Lighthouse, a 300-foot tall hoodoo rocketing out of the quartermaster rock that splays across the canyon. Most of the hike is fairly easy and the majority of elevation gain comes in the last ¼ mile or so as you approach The Lighthouse.
After a short snack break and countless of pictures, we found ourselves descending from the park’s hallmark and returning to the trailhead, at which we found an overflowing parking lot (good thing we got on trail early!).
You ever look at a topo map of a hike you’re about to do, see a bunch of lines close together, and get super excited? Yeah, me too! After a quick re-fuel lunch and rest, we were back on trail by 2:00 pm to start our hike up to the north rim of the canyon. Rock Garden Trail ascends about 8oo ft. only to abruptly end about a ¼ mile short of the main rim, though frequent users of the trail prefer to continue on for the reward of a spectacular view of the entire park.
We must have been motivated by the prospect of a steak dinner because we made great time on the way down. I was so stoked to get back to camp, in fact, that I chose to run the last half mile to the trailhead. I was joined by 16-year-old Avery and I’ll just say these 23-year-old legs don’t move like they used to. She kicked my butt.
Our busy day two was capped with a steak dinner and campfire entertainment by local musician Logan Robb, who was a smash hit taking requests throughout the evening.
Day 3: A Hike Through History
I’d been looking forward to our final day in the park since putting the itinerary together. Not because we’d be saying goodbye to Palo Duro, but because we’d be taking a hike through time on our last trek. A very early morning found us heading up to the Visitor’s Center to catch the sunrise peeking out over the rim. Upon downing our last bit of coffee, we departed on our final hike of the CCC Trail, my personal favorite trail in the entire park.
Embarking from the Visitor’s Center, the trail descends nearly 500 feet to the canyon floor, concluding at the park’s amphitheater which is home to the musical Texas during the summer months. The CCC Trail was the original trail built by the Civilian Conservation Corps upon the conception of the park in 1931 and remained the only route into the bottom of the canyon for about two years. It is an easy 1 ½ mile downhill trek complete with panoramic vistas of the entire park, a great option for one last relaxing stroll through the canyon.
As we shared a victory breakfast of French toast and bacon on Sunday morning, we recalled the highlights of an adventure-packed last three days. We had lucked out with the weather, taken in some beautiful scenery and made acquaintanceships that we wouldn’t soon forget. Palo Duro Canyon is quickly climbing up my list of favorite places to visit, and I can’t wait to get back with another Backwoods Adventures group real soon.