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Trip Guide: Palo Duro Canyon

Plan a family weekend of hiking and horseback riding using this guide with tips on what to do, where to eat, and where to stay.

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I’ll admit that Palo Duro Canyon State Park doesn’t get nearly the love that its cousin, Big Bend National Park, receives. That doesn’t mean I think it’s right. Palo Duro is rich in history: Quanah Parker and the Comanche claimed it as their final stronghold during the Red River War of 1874 and 1875; shortly after their defeat, Charles Goodnight returned to Texas following an old Comanche trail and soon established the legendary JA Ranch in the canyon. The Panhandle was so wild that the Legislature didn’t draw boundaries for its counties until 1876, forty years after independence. And the canyon’s beauty is unrivaled in Texas, with dramatic features carved out of the majestic caprock by the waters of the Red River over the span of one million years. With stunning views, remote trails, and unforgettable horseback rides, Palo Duro makes for an excellent weekend of accessible isolation that allows you to reconnect with one of the things you love most about Texas: your family. Read the rest of Brian D. Sweany’s account of his father-daughter trip to Texas’s Grand Canyon from the May 2014 issue.

The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum is the largest history museum in the state.
The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum is the largest history museum in the state.

Photograph by Jordan Breal

SEE + DO

Palo Duro Canyon State Park // With an admission fee of $5, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, and its stunning trails through million-year-old caprock formations, is one of the best bargains in all of Texas. Highlights—including The Civilian Conservation Corps Trail, Old West Stables, The Lighthouse Trail, and The Cowboy Dugout—are catalogued in my piece for the May issue’s 13 weekends package available here. Familiarize yourself with the 1,500-acre park with this handy map. 11450 Park Rd 5, Canyon (806-488-2227)

Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum // Here’s a simple test for folks who claim to be the ultimate Texan: have you visited this museum? If not, immediately punch your card and brag about seeing my favorite history museum in the state, which features Quanah Parker’s Winchester .44/40 repeating rifle and Charles Goodnight’s .50 caliber percussion Plains rifle with the inscription, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” Admission: $10 for adults. 2503 Fourth Ave, Canyon (806-651-2244)

EAT + DRINK

Tyler’s Barbeque // This relative newcomer has established itself as one of the best joints in the region. You owe it to yourself to try to the brisket and pork ribs, which Tyler smokes with mesquite instead of hickory. And, if you can, schedule your visit for Thursday, when you can also get a side of homemade mac and cheese. 2014 Paramount, Amarillo (806-331-2271)

Blue Sky // The burgers you remember eating as a kid are alive and well at both Amarillo locations of Blue Sky, which grills fresh (never frozen) patties and serves them up with just-baked buns and hand-cut fries. And did I mention the Blue Bell milkshakes? 4201 I-40 West, Amarillo (806-355-8100) and 5060 S. Coulter, Amarillo (806-322-3888)

Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Photograph by Earl Nottingham/TPWD

STAY

Cow Camp Cabin // You can’t visit Palo Duro without spending a night in the canyon. Book a rustic but cozy cabin with stone exteriors and floors in the southern tip of the state park. Charles Goodnight once boasted that he slept under the stars for five consecutive years, but even he would approve. Follow the main road into Palo Duro Canyon State Park to get to Cow-Camp loop.

BEFORE YOU GO

Read Empire of the Summer Moon, S.C. Gwynne’s epic history of Quanah Parker and the Comanche. And as you’re driving across the High Plains, turn up Don Williams, who was born in nearby Floydada (“Last night I drove the truck to Amarillo . . .”) Bring plenty of provisions for your camping trip—and fill up your canteen on your hikes—but don’t fret if you’ve forgotten something: the park’s Trading Post will keep you stocked up with everything from bottled water to sunscreen, and it will also grill a mean hamburger for lunch after a hard morning on the trail.

 

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