Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas

Palo Duroy Canyon State Park Lighthouse Trail


We saw a heart-warming display of  human kindness and empathy in Palo Duro Canyon in Texas.

With over 30 miles of hiking, biking, and horse tracks to choose from, on this occasion we hiked the Lighthouse Trail. It’s a two hour, one way, moderate hike.

The website comes with the ominous warning for this hike:

Don’t miss the park’s most popular trail leading to the iconic Lighthouse rock formation. Do take plenty of water, as most heat-related injuries and deaths to people and pets occur on this trail.

Forewarned, we loaded up on water bottles in our backpacks and smothered our exposed skin in sunscreen. And because I like to be prepared, we packed our hoodies in case the weather changed.

At the start of the trail, we notice groups of really fit young women running this hike on a day so stinking hot in Texas that waves of heat bent the atmosphere as we walked around tall stacks of orange and red hoodoos.

So any illusions we may have had about our fitness were quickly reassessed. The young woman were so fit that they all managed friendly hellos as they kicked up red dust and sand with their heels as they flew past.

The Lighthouse trail was easy going for the most part, and relatively flat with small inclines and declines. These flat areas give us a good vantage point to view the burnt orange desert sand and large sandstone hoodoos – towering rock pedestals common in arid regions like Texas –  in shades of red, sand and orange. The ground was scattered with patches of scratchy looking scrub and prickly pear cactus, the state plant of Texas.

Palo Duroy Canyon State Park Lighthouse Trail

Like its namesake, we could see the Lighthouse rock formation off in the distance. Our runner friends made it in far better time than we did, and we heard triumphant shouts up at the formation.

We reached the part of the trail which warrants the “moderate” rating. It’s a steep incline, with some tricky footing required to climb up the rocks. I was wearing a brace for chronic knee pain that trip, and North Nomad helped me with every difficult change in foothold.

It’s at this stage we heard discussion going on  below us between a few groups of climbers. A middle-aged couple were talking about how steep and scary the incline was. North Nomad is a little afraid of heights, and he’s doing fine, so I was a little bemused. Maybe they’re very afraid of heights, I thought.

Then we heard another group of young men further down saying the same thing.

I’m not more scared of heights than your average person, but I wouldn’t call myself brave with them either.

And then it made sense. Below everyone was a young man, struggling with the incline. He was tall and broad shouldered, but wearing knee braces like me, and sweat dripped off him like he was in a sauna.

And he was utterly petrified of heights.

Everyone above him yelled out encouragement and talked about how freaked the height was making them, too.

We scaled towards the Lighthouse formation and could hear him making his way up with the help of everyone.

Sometimes humans are okay, aren’t they?

The Lighthouse formation was huge. The runners yelled a hello to us and waved as we hit the top.

Palo Duroy Canyon State Park Lighthouse Trail

From the top, it’s spectacular. It feels like you can see the entirety of Palo Duro Canyon State Park from this rock, and the breeze is refreshing with all the desert dust and sweat sticking to your skin.

The hike is described as moderate, but for the most part it’s easy going with some steep and a bit trickier to navigate sections with rocks as you get towards the Lighthouse formation.

We didn’t know it at the time, but I had a partially torn hamstring (it wasn’t actually a knee problem and I didn’t need the brace!) and managed this hike pretty well and enjoyed myself. So that’s probably a good indication of its low difficulty level.

Aside from the lighthouse trail, we also did the Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail. The GSL trail was 2.5 hours one way and rated as difficult. It’s another trail aimed at runners, and has the most impressive hoodoos in the park that we saw – both in size and colour. The park’s website says the trail is named after the runners who helped build the canyon’s trail system, and it offers a challenging work out.

The cool thing about Palo Duro State park is that it has a variety of trails that people with varying levels of fitness and ability can enjoy. And this was one of North Nomad’s favourite parks we’ve hiked in so far!


Cost: Adult : $5 Daily, Child 12 Years and Under: Free

Location: 11450 Park Road 5 , Canyon, TX 79015

Contact Details and Opening Hours:

Open daily. Phone: (806) 488-2227

Palo Duroy Canyon State Park Lighthouse Trail
You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica, over at Google+.

Copyright statement

2 thoughts on “Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas

    • Thanks, Jamie. 🙂 It’s such a beautiful area in Texas. I think that canyon was one of our favourite parts of the States (along with Roswell, NM, which was a surprise hit with me!).

      Australia hits 113/115 degrees regularly in Summer, and Toronto in Canada sits around 90%+ humidity all Summer, so we’re used to extreme weather! And we’re probably a little crazy, too. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *