The Grand Canyon of Texas

Texas State Parks celebrates 100 years of adventure, natural beauty, and community. The Texas State Parks Board was created in 1923 as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal program.  

What began as a simple idea to establish roadside stops for highway travelers across Texas has now blossomed into a network of parks, historic sites, and natural areas for millions of visitors to enjoy each year. 

Nestled right in our own backyard is the awe-inspiring Palo Duro Canyon. Join us as we delve into the history of this natural wonder and uncover the excitement surrounding Texas State Park’s 100-year celebration. 

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The History of Palo Duro Canyon 

Palo Duro Canyon, often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” boasts a fascinating history that spans centuries. This geological wonder holds profound significance for both the region’s Native Americans and modern-day explorers. 

The canyon’s rugged terrain served as a natural refuge for various Native American Tribes, such as the Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa. Its sheltered alcoves provided safety and sustenance, while the surrounding plains offered abundant game for hunting. 

Battle of Palo Duro

The arrival of Spanish explorers and later American settlers marked a shift in the canyon's dynamics. In 1874, Colonel Ranald Mackenzie led a military expedition that saw the forcible removal of the Southern Plains tribes from their ancestral lands, a tragic chapter known as the Red River War. As settlers moved in, Palo Duro Canyon transitioned from a place of refuge to a symbol of conflict and change.

Texas State Parks are situated on the traditional lands of numerous indigenous peoples. They acknowledge those who have ancestral history in Texas State Parks.

Building the State Park in Palo Duro Canyon 

Black and white photo of palo duro canyon road being paved

Photo via Texas Parks & Wildlife

By 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) initiated infrastructure projects like roads, trails, and facilities, opening pathways for visitors to explore its wonders directly.

Palo Duro Canyon Today

Today, Palo Duro Canyon State Park stands as a testament to this intricate history. Its striking geology, lively flora, and sweeping views provide a glimpse into the past and a haven for nature enthusiasts. 

Enjoy an array of activities such as hiking scenic trails like the Lighthouse Trail, exploring rugged terrain on horseback, or camping under the starlit skies. The park's rich history and geological wonders provide opportunities for exploration, while seasonal events and performances of TEXAS Outdoor Musical at the Pioneer Amphitheatre add cultural charm to this PDC.

As visitors hike its paths and marvel at its beauty, they become part of a living narrative that continues unfolding within this Texas treasure's walls.


Celebrate Texas State Park’s Centennial in Palo Duro Canyon: Prairie Palooza - September 16, 2023


Graphic for Prairie Palooza 2023 featuring the Lighthouse Trail

Join Partners in Palo Duro Canyon Foundation and Texas State Parks for the Prairie Palooza on Saturday, September 16, 2023. Enjoy FREE admission to the PDC all day.
Park in the state park or take advantage of free parking and a shuttle to Palo Duro Canyon from Sad Monkey Mercantile

Sad Monkey Mercantile 5K
This day-long celebration begins with the Sad Monkey Mercantile 5K Race benefiting the Amarillo VA’s suicide prevention program. Runners will meet in the Mack Dick Pavilion Parking lot. The race begins at 7:30 AM. Runners must pick up their packets on September 15th from 5-8 PM at Sad Monkey Mercantile. 

Vendor Booths 
From 10 AM to 6 PM, over 15 Panhandle organizations will showcase booths and demos at the Pioneer Amphitheater parking lot.

Partners in Palo Duro Canyon Foundation Chuckwagon Lunch 
Enjoy a true Chuckwagon Lunch at the Chuckwagon park next to the Pioneer Amphitheater parking lot provided by the Partners in Palo Duro Canyon Foundation at 1 PM. Get a taste of an authentic chicken fried steak lunch with all the trimmings for just $25 from 15 chuckwagons across the Texas Panhandle. 

Purchase your tickets at Tickets will also be sold on-site. 

A Special Showing of TEXAS Outdoor Musical
End the day with a free special performance of TEXAS, which will showcase some of the music and dance from the show. Tickets are not necessary; seating will be first come, first served. The show begins at 6 PM.

Things to Do in Palo Duro Canyon

Experience Palo Duro Canyon’s year-round delights – ride horses, experience the official play of Texas, and even hop onto a Humvee for a wild adventure through the stunning landscape and more!

Old West Stables 
Immerse yourself in the spirit of the West with Old West Stables in Palo Duro Canyon. Traverse rugged trails and relive frontier history while experiencing horseback riding against the stunning backdrop of Texas' iconic canyon landscape.

Group of friends in humvee overlooking palo duro canyon

Palo Duro Creek Ranch 
Horses not your thing? Unleash your inner adventurer on a humvee tour at Palo Duro Creek Ranch where you'll conquer challenging paths and discover hidden vistas while enjoying a unique blend of adrenaline and natural beauty.

Cowgirls & Cowboys in the West
Discover the thrill of horseback riding "posse-style" on a private ranch perched on the edge of Palo Duro Canyon. Explore daily rides lasting 2 hours or 3 1/2 hours, and indulge in unforgettable "special occasion" experiences. Did we forget to mention that Cowgirls & Cowboys in the West is the #1 rated Amarillo attraction on TripAdvisor?

TEXAS Outdoor Musical
TEXAS Outdoor Musical is a captivating open-air theatrical production held in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, renowned as the "Official Play of the State of Texas." This vibrant and immersive show combines live performances, intricate set designs, and a rich narrative to celebrate the history and spirit of the Lone Star State.


Golden Retriever posing in front of Sad Monkey Mercantile Building in Canyon, Texas

Sad Monkey Mercantile 
Sad Monkey Mercantile is a versatile haven in Canyon, Texas, catering to both tourists and locals alike. Beyond being a retail gem for camping gear, homewares, and local merchandise, it offers a respite with its food, drinks, and resting spot. And the best part? Friendly dogs are welcome!

Merus Adventure Park 
Merus Adventure Park, situated in Palo Duro Canyon, is a dynamic all-inclusive destination catering to adventure seekers, families, and outdoor enthusiasts. Discover a range of exhilarating activities, including off-roading and overlanding, mountain biking, hiking, and cave tours. Don’t have a vehicle? Rent one of their Jeeps!