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" . . . The full-service park offers primitive and developed campsites as well as
newly renovated rock cabins and fully-furnished CCC-constructed cabins . . ."
~ Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept. State Park Guide, p. 28
If you came along on my virtual tour of Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the last entry, you got an idea of the variety of sedentary and/or recreational activities that visitors can enjoy:
  • scenic driving tours along the sixteen miles of park roads on the rim and in the canyon
  • taking pictures from overlooks and along the roadways

  • attending a ranger-led nature program or walk
  • watching the longhorn steer feeding
  • picnicking at one of many locations throughout the park
  • reserving a seat at the dinner/theater pioneer history production, "Texas"
  • browsing the geological, cultural, and natural exhibits at the visitor/interpretive center

  • shopping for Native American art, rare and historical books, and other items at the museum store
  • enjoying a meal at the Trading Post restaurant, which also does catering for groups
  • watching birds and other wildlife at several easily-accessed viewing areas; wild turkeys (below) routinely walked right through our campground!

  • observing and photographing wildlife and scenery along the canyon trails
  • relaxing at one of the old stone CCC cabins
  • hanging out in one of the campgrounds
  • taking a guided or self-guided horseback ride

  • exploring the canyon on thirty miles of trails by foot or on a mountain bike; you can make that as easy or as challenging as you want! (more about trails in the next entry)touring the park roads on a bicycle -- pretty easy in the canyon, tough if you bike up to the rim
  • roughing it at a primitive campsite in the backcountry

If you like fishing or golfing you're out of luck at Palo Duro Canyon! There are no lakes or golf courses, and the streams are intermittent and seasonal.


Unless you have one of the Texas State Parks passes, the cost to enter Palo Duro Canyon is $5 per person over age thirteen per day. This is in addition to overnight lodging fees, if any. Children twelve and under get in free. Very popular state parks like Palo Duro, Brazos Bend, and Mustang Island can charge a higher fee than less-visited parks like Caprock Canyons, which charges only $3/day to enter.

Ancient Quartermaster Formation rock (red sandstone/clay stone
with stripes of white gypsum) along the Lighthouse Trail

I'll list the current fees for most of the overnight facilities in the next section. Click here for other park fees, such as for groups and the dinner theater. 


Some visitors live close enough to enjoy Palo Duro Canyon during the day and return home at night; the park is located about twenty miles from the city of Amarillo and twelve miles from the town of Canyon.

Many folks come from farther away and need overnight accommodations in town or in the park.

There are only two broad categories of lodging options within the park: rent one of the seven cabins or camp out in a sleeping bag, tent, or some sort of RV. Here are some details about staying overnight in the park.


Palo Duro Canyon has seven unique CCC-built stone "cabins" for visitors to rent. Each cabin sleeps up to four people.

Four small "Cow Camp" cabins (one is pictured below) are located across from the Mesquite Camp Area near the far end of the canyon loop road. These each have heat, air conditioning, and a fireplace, a microwave and mini-refrigerator, full-size bunk beds, and an outdoor grill, picnic table, and water. They do not have linens or bathrooms. Guests must walk a short distance to the restroom at the campground. The cost is $60/night at the present time.

Three larger cabins are available along the rim, about half a mile from the entrance gate. They overlook the canyon and are often booked far in advance, despite ranging in price from $110-125 a night. Besides more room and awesome views, these cabins also have indoor bathroom facilities, showers, coffee makers, linens, pillows, and towels.

Pets and smoking are not allowed in the cabins. We weren't able to see inside any of them so we can't vouch for their comfort or convenience. They must be decent, however, or they wouldn't stay booked up like they are.


Palo Duro Canyon has a good variety of camping options, all of them down in the canyon. Pets are allowed on-leash.

A secluded back-in site in the Mesquite CG

1. There are 79 sites in three RV campgrounds (Hackberry, Mesquite, and Sagebrush) with various sorts of hookups. Forty-seven sites with water and 50-amp electrical service cost $25/night. Thirty-two sites with water and 30-amp service are $22/night. Each camping area has a dump station, although the one at Mesquite was closed while we were there. We used the one at Hackberry on our way out this morning.

We were generally pleased with the Mesquite Campground; I'll talk more about it below.

Mesquite Camping Area

2. There are two primitive drive-up tent-camping areas, Fortress Cliff and Cactus, with 25 sites that cost $12/night. Water and restrooms are available.

3. Primitive backpack campsites also cost $12.

4. Primitive equestrian camping is $12/night.


By the time we made reservations for a week at Palo Duro Canyon, the only sites available with 50-amp service for a 36-foot 5th-wheel coach were in the Mesquite Camp Area, the one located the farthest back on the canyon road. We were mostly pleased with that campground.

There are two main advantages of staying in the Sagebrush and Hackberry campgrounds: they are  closer to the park entrance/headquarters and those folks don't have to negotiate five low-water crossings every time they leave/return to their campsites.

Visitors can request a particular campground but they cannot reserve specific sites. Since we arrived on a Wednesday and only a few sites were taken, we were able to choose a roomier, grassier, shadier site (above) at Mesquite than the one we were originally assigned. We ended up next to the CG hosts, a nice retired couple from Texas who were on their first hosting assignment.

There were some problems with this campground and our particular site:

  • The long, slow drive (fifteen miles and ten low-water crossings, total) became tedious after several trips up to the entrance station and one trip into the town of Canyon.

  • We quickly learned there was no Verizon cell service anywhere in the canyon. We couldn't make phone calls or get online with our Verizon broadband service. To make calls or get on the internet, we had to drive 7 miles each way to the entrance building. Their WiFi didn't work well, either. The CG hosts next door were also unable to get cell phone reception with AT&T. To communicate with HQ they had to use two-way radios.

Nice picnic area, but on wrong side of campsite!

  •  The layout of our particular site was inconvenient. The hookups and the covered picnic table were both on the same side! Since it was a back-in site, we could only park one way -- back end in first. The water and electrical hookups were in the correct location but the picnic table was on the wrong side of the camper. The camp host site had the same goofy layout; their picnic table was more convenient for us than them! Most of the other sites were laid out "properly" but we liked the size, location, and trees in that one so we stayed despite the location of the table.

Despite its drawbacks, we liked the Mesquite Campground better than Hackberry or Sagebrush and will probably request a site there if we return again. About half of the sites are large enough for our rig. The sites in Hackberry are too small and the ones in Sagebrush are closer together.

Mesquite CG is attractive and has some very cool rock formations and views:




Cody and I had fun climbing around and over some of the rocks on our morning and evening "dog potty" walks. They made good vantage points for sunset pictures (we're rarely up early enough to see the sunrise).

Early morning sunshine begins to brighten Mesquite CG.


See the "mushroom" rock?



We were glad to have 50-amp service so we could run both air conditioners and the microwave at the same time! The temperature got up to 91F. at our partially shaded campsite on Wednesday afternoon. High winds didn't provide much of a cooling effect and prevented the use of our awning to provide shade from the intense sunshine. Thursday was much more pleasant: sunny again, but only 80F. and a gentler breeze. The desert nights were cool and in the 40s.

If it gets this hot in the canyon in mid-May, we wonder how hot it gets in the middle of the summer!


Reservations for the cabins and developed campsites at Palo Duro Canyon may be made online or by phone (512-389-8900).

Earlier this week the Texas state park system rolled out a new, comprehensive software system that is experiencing some hiccups but should make reservations (and other park business) easier for visitors and staff once the bugs are worked out.

ReserveAmerica is no longer used for reservations; they are now made "in-house" at the state park headquarters in Austin and the $3 fee for internet reservations has been eliminated. It always seemed counter-intuitive to me to pay that fee each time we made campground reservations online -- but we could call a real person and get the same service for free! Now both ways are free. There is still a cancellation fee, however.

Although we knew vaguely that the state park system was going to start using a new software system this spring, we really didn't pay attention to the date of onset nor had any idea how difficult it would be to check in upon our arrival at Palo Duro.

Wednesday, the day our reservation began, just happened to be the first day the parks would be using the new system. Oh, my.

Even though we had reservations for a week, it still took us almost an hour to check in. It took four rangers most of that time to figure out how to input our discount coupon! We had already paid for the first of seven nights we planned to camp. That part was OK in the computer. The rangers got so frustrated with the discount thing that they finally charged us for only the second night, which was half price, and asked us to return on Thursday morning to pay for the remaining five days!

For various reasons (the very rainy/windy weather forecast for those five days, the large number of individuals and groups that will be in the park this weekend, the hassle of driving fifteen miles round trip to the entrance building every time we want to get online or make a phone call, the very poor TV reception, and the rather high campsite cost), we decided to stay for only the two nights for which we paid. We notified park staff that we'd be leaving today (Friday).

The computer glitch was a blessing in disguise for us! It made our decision to leave easier and saved the further hassle of getting a refund for the last five nights.

Next entry: the trails at Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil