Palo Duro Canyon has been called the Grand Canyon of Texas—and once you’ve experienced it, you’ll understand why. At 120 miles long, it’s the second longest canyon in America. It varies in width between six and 20 miles, and ranges in depth between 800 and 1,000 feet.
With its steep Mesa walls of multi-colored rock punctuated by caves, Palo Duro Canyon gives visitors a rare opportunity to experience the power and beauty of nature up close and personal. And if you’re like us, you know stunning scenery is best viewed from the saddle of a motorcycle.
The two Palo Duro Canyon loops
This route offers you plenty of bang for your buck, since it’s actually made up of two unique loops around and through Palo Duro Canyon. The first loop is longer and brings you around the outside of the canyon, crossing it twice. The second loop, which isn’t directly accessible from the first, takes you down into the canyon itself.
The big loop
This route covers 176 miles and travels around the outside of the Palo Duro Canyon. You’ll ride through the open plains of the Texas panhandle, and cross the canyon twice. Starting on eastbound I-40 out of Amarillo, take exit 78 onto US Highway 287 (US287) south. You’ll pass through the community of Ashtola and then come to Clarendon, where you’ll pick up State Highway 70 (SH70) south.
Continue on SH70 until it merges with State Highway 256 (SH256), then continue on SH256 when it branches off into the city of Silverton. At Silverton, continue straight and pick up combined state highways 86 and 207 (SH86, SH207). About four miles west of town, follow SH207 as it splits to the right and heads north. This will bring you back across the canyon and into Claude. From there, you can return to Amarillo on US287.
The Palo Duro Canyon State Park loop
Heading south on I-27 out of Amarillo, take exit 106 onto State Highway 217 (SH217) east. This highway will take you on a straight shot to Palo Duro Canyon State Park. The ride from Amarillo to the Palo Duro Canyon State Park entrance is less than 29 miles. Once you’ve ridden the park road, hop back on SH217 and return to Amarillo.
To clarify a common question—“Can you ride motorcycles in Palo Duro Canyon?”—the answer is yes. Park Road 5, the paved road you’ll follow through the canyon in the state park, is around 15 miles long, and you’re allowed to ride on all of it.
Bear in mind that there are places where heavy rain can cause flash floods. This also means there are places where sand and dirt get deposited on the road surface. Never attempt to ride across a flooded road, and use caution riding through sand and loose dirt.
Both loops are easy to find and travel, and they each offer unique experiences. The big loop will help you appreciate the stark, windswept landscape of the Texas Panhandle, while the state park loop highlights the incredible beauty and power of erosion.
How long does it take to drive through Palo Duro Canyon?
Riding the state park loop could take as little as just 45 minutes—not counting the trip from Amarillo and back—but you’ll surely want to spend a few hours making frequent stops to enjoy the scenery, take pictures, and maybe hike a little.
Motorcycle riding weather in the Texas Panhandle
This part of the country offers you plenty of opportunities for year-round riding, though some times of year will definitely be more comfortable than others. Here are the monthly averages for Amarillo, Texas, the nearest major city:
Riding the Palo Duro Canyon loops safely
Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind as you get ready to ride:
Fill up your gas tank before you start your journey. It can be a good distance between gas stations once you leave Amarillo, and there’s no gas available for purchase in the state park.
Bring plenty of water. This region is known for its hot, dry, and windy climate.
Use sunscreen and check the weather forecast for the day’s UV index.
Watch the forecast and never ride through water-covered roads. In the dry climate around and within Palo Duro Canyon, heavy rains can cause flash flooding. Because the soil can’t absorb the rain fast enough, dry creek beds can turn into fast-moving waterways in an instant.
Watch for surface hazards. Rain and wind can deposit sand and dirt on the road surface and tar snakes can be common.
Stay alert for wildlife, cattle, and farm equipment on the road and along the roadsides.
What’s the most popular hiking trail in Palo Duro Canyon?
The Lighthouse Trail is widely considered the most popular trail in Palo Duro Canyon. This moderate-difficulty trail is just under six miles round-trip. Plan to spend at least three hours hiking the trail.
The trail features a hoodoo—a tall spire of rock carved by wind and water erosion—that looks like a stone lighthouse guarding a sea of multicolor canyon walls. The lighthouse is recognized by the National Natural Landmark Program of the National Park Service for its unique and outstanding beauty.
Bring plenty of water with you and take your time on this hike. Pack good hiking shoes, as motorcycle boots won’t give you the traction and support you’ll need for hiking this trail.
Location: 4989 County Road 25, Goodnight, TX 79226
Saints’ Roost Museum
Clarendon was one of the original settlements in the Texas Panhandle, founded in 1878 by a Methodist clergyman as a sober community. The local cowboys called the town “Saints’ Roost” since it was a dry town. Today, Saints’ Roost Museum is home to collections of early panhandle artifacts from ranches, farms, and local businesses, along with many Native American artifacts.
Constructed in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Canyon Gallery is a beautiful example of Depression-era work program projects. You can see natural and archeological exhibits and historic videos along with the opportunity to buy local crafts. Make sure to enjoy the splendid view overlooking Palo Duro Canyon.
Location: State Park Road 5, Canyon, TX 79015
With Amarillo as your home base for exploring Palo Duro Canyon, take some time to explore several nearby stops along historic Route 66.