Explore Texas / Explore The Outdoors

Hiking to the Lighthouse in Palo Duro Canyon State Park

A lighthouse is the iconic symbol of Palo Duro Canyon State Park, just outside of Amarillo, Texas.  It’s not a lighthouse like you would see along a coastline.  It’s a sandstone rock formation.  To see it, you have to hike to in the Grand Canyon of Texas.  Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the country.   

My friend Kristen and I hit the Lighthouse Trail at 8 a.m.  There was not a cloud in the sky and the temperature was around 40°.  Getting on my hiking safety soapbox for a moment, I would recommend hitting the trail early, especially in summer when temperatures could be scorching by mid-morning.  Make sure you take plenty of water and sun protection as there’s not much shade on the trail.  If hiking with your dog, make sure you have plenty of water for your pooch too.  In summer heat stroke and heat-related deaths have happened.  We were the only ones on the trail versus day before when there were hikers and mountain bikers when hiked a little.  It was 65° by noon, but we felt like we were baking on the red sandstone.

Starting out, you’re heading toward this monster sandstone mountain.  The trail curves around to the right of Capital Peak.  On the backside, as you’re hiking along the canyon floor, you can really take in the different colors of gray to rust in the shale, siltstone and sandstone.  I loved watched the morning shadows dance across the artist’s palette of colors.     

At the 1.2-mile marker, there’s a shade shack, just to reiterate the danger of the summer heat.  At 1.4 miles into the hike, you get the first viewpoint of the Lighthouse rock formation. 

At the 2.4-mile marker, we had a great view of the Lighthouse.  Kristen commented they look like chess pieces and I had to agree with her.

At about 2.5 miles, we lost sight of the Lighthouse as we head into the scrubby forest that we hike through to a picnic area with an end of trail sign. 

It’s a little confusing as to where to go from here.  Kristen decided to relax in the shade while I hiked up the drainage area.  I didn’t see any cairns or trail markers so when I came up to a V in the trail, I went left.  I bushwhacked my way up to a spot with a great view, but I couldn’t go any farther. 

I could hear Kristen chatting with someone who came up on a mountain bike.  As I was climbing back down to the V, Daniel the mountain biker was hiking up.  He told me he and his two sons had hiked up about twenty years before.  We scrambled our way up what looks like a rocky stairway. 

Once it flattens out, you get an incredible view of the Lighthouse soaring 312 feet high.  I had to stop for a moment just to take it in. 

We gotten even closer and hiked around the base then took in the expansive view of the canyon.

Before hiking back down the drainage, I took one last look of the iconic rock formation of Palo Duro.  Daniel and I hiked back down, he jumped on his bike and Kristen and I hiked out the same way we hiked in.  It was a great morning in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

After our hike, Kristen and I headed over to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in the small town of Canyon mainly to see the headdress of Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Comanches.  It’s the largest history museum in Texas.  If you have time on a visit to Palo Duro, I highly recommend checking out the museum.

Author Jennifer Broome wrote a “Three Days in North Texas” article for AAA Colorado EnCompass. Hiking to the Lighthouse in Palo Duro Canyon State Park was just one of the many adventures on that road trip. If you want more hiking suggestions in Texas, check out blog “5 Trails to Hike in Texas.”