Skip to Content

The Best Time to Visit Palo Duro Canyon in 2023

The Best Time to Visit Palo Duro Canyon in 2023

The Texas Panhandle might not be the first destination that comes to mind when considering a vacation spot. However, the area is home to one of the most remarkable geological features in the state.

Palo Duro Canyon draws visitors for its unique geography, access to outdoor activities, wildlife viewing opportunities, and its status as the second-largest canyon in the United States.

You can visit the area by heading to the Texas state designated to protect the area. Those unfamiliar with the region should consider the best time to visit, factoring in their comfort level and weather conditions.

Fortunately for you, our travel experts have done the hard work so you don’t have to. We’ll show you the best, worst, least busy, and cheapest times to visit, and a few things to consider before going. Let us be your guide!

Why You Should Visit Palo Duro Canyon

Most people come to the Texas state park to visit the enormous canyon that is the centerpiece of the park. Trails surround the area, most of which are designated for hiking, but others are also open for horses and bikes.

You can descend 800 feet to the canyon floor or view the colorful layers from the rim. In addition to the canyon itself, there are historical sites to explore and learn more about the area.

There are multiple types of accommodation in the park if you want to stay overnight, from primitive campgrounds to glamping sites. Several nearby cities also provide places to stay if you prefer hotel-style lodging.

The park is also only a 30-minute drive from the Texas Panhandle’s most populous city, Amarillo. The city, also known as the gateway to Palo Duro Canyon, boasts museums and gardens worth checking out if you visit the park.

Overall Best Time to Visit Palo Duro Canyon

Guy sitting next to his dog on a rock formation overlooking the Palo Duro Canyon during the best time to visit

Barna Tanko/Shutterstock

The overall best time to visit Palo Duro Canyonis during spring and fall. Late March through early June and late September through early November mark the most temperate time to visit this state park.

However, it’s crucial to note Palo Duro Canyon experiences extreme weather throughout the year. Milder temperatures mean more time to explore the canyon. Starting hikes during the hottest part of the day isn’t recommended on hot summer days.

You can hike all day long during these cooler months with the proper supplies. In addition to ideal temperatures for hiking, mountain biking is a popular way to explore the park year-round, particularly in the spring and fall.

Geocaching provides another family-friendly activity to check out when you visit Palo Duro Canyon, with treasure hunts ranging from easy to challenging.

While the weather during fall and spring provides a better temperature for outdoor activities, these times also experience extreme weather. The geography of the park and surrounding areas creates the right conditions for rapidly changing weather, including tornadoes in the spring.

Cheapest Time to Visit Palo Duro Canyon

Like other U.S. destinations, winter provides a cheap time to visit Palo Duro Canyon. The number of travelers decreases during this time, leading to price declines.

These apply in particular to airfare and other travel expenses. If a winter vacation doesn’t fit your ideal travel plans, consider other cost-saving measures to keep your trip cheap.

Though nearby cities provide ample opportunities for lodging, camping in the park is more cost-effective and cuts down on travel expenses since you’ll be staying where you want to explore. While many parks only offer seasonal camping, Palo Duro campsites stay open year-round.

Prices on amenities inside the park also remain the same, in addition to lodging costs throughout the slow and busy seasons. The least expensive way to stay in the park is by booking a primitive campground.

However, it’s essential to know that these sites lack water, and you’ll need to bring your own. Bringing the correct gear and whether or not you already own the proper supplies is another factor to consider.

Least Busy Time to Visit Palo Duro Canyon

Cars driving on a road going through Palo Duro Canyon during the least busy time to visit

Alizada Studios/Shutterstock

The least busy time to visit Palo Duro Canyon is during the winter, starting in November and lasting through February.

These fall in line with national trends for travel but also reflect the chillier conditions during this time. Though this spot is one of the region’s most popular places, visitorship is relatively low compared to other similar areas.

Consider the millions of people who visit the Grand Canyon. Despite being the second-largest canyon in the United States, Palo Duro receives around 300,000 visitors yearly.

Visiting parks while school is in session usually results in fewer crowds if you avoid the weekends and holidays.

Consider a weekday trip if you want to visit during warmer times in the park with fewer crowds. One of the benefits of coming to this park in the slower season is that there are rarely closures.

Many of America’s parks are in rugged areas, some of which face closures due to winter weather conditions. Though Palo Duro Canyon does experience snow and cold temperatures, the snow often melts just as quickly.

Worst Time to Visit Palo Duro Canyon

If you’re hoping to avoid the hottest temperatures, the worst time to visit Palo Duro Canyon is during the summer, especially in July and August.

Despite this, summer is still one of the most popular times to see the park. While hiking in the canyon, you can expect temperatures up to 120°.

This area is where overheating is most likely, especially among tourists unfamiliar with the climate. Plan for hikes in these weather conditions by starting early and bringing plenty of water.

For many folks, especially families, summer is the most convenient time to plan a vacation. Don’t let the extreme temperature deter you. Some excellent options to beat the heat include glamping in the park.

These campsites provide a more comfortable way to stay in the park, AC included. Another unique offering only available in the summer is an outdoor musical staged in the park.

The amphitheater carved out of a natural basin in the canyon serves as the dramatic background for the show. The musical, aptly named “Texas,” tells the history of the Texas Panhandle.

Things to Consider

Wild turkeys roam free next to a picnic table during the best time to visit Palo Duro Canyon


Before hitting the road to head to the park, you should consider some things about staying safe in the park, including the animals you may see and the weather. We’ll also cover the trails at Palo Duro, so you can find the ones that match your skill level.

Animals in the Park

Though dangerous encounters are rare, Palo Duro Canyon hosts several animals that could cause you harm. Keep your distance from wildlife, stay alert, and never encourage human-animal interactions by feeding creatures.  

  • North American Mountain Lion. Though this solitary creature is rarely seen, it can be dangerous when threatened.
  • Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. These rattlesnakes bite with a poison that can be fatal. Watch your step to avoid these creatures.
  • Widow Spiders. These are poisonous but not as deadly as they are often depicted. They may still bite if startled, but no one has died from a bite in decades.
  • Wild Boar. Though these animals are descended from domestic creatures, feral hogs can be aggressive and dangerous.

Extreme Weather

One of the most important things to consider before going to Palo Duro Canyon is the extreme weather conditions. No season in the park is without its risks, and some inclement weather presents all year.

  • Rain. April through September marks the rainy season in the park, with three-quarters of the annual rainfall occurring during these times. These rainstorms result in floods, which can be especially dangerous in the canyon.
  • Snow. Snow occurs during the winter months. While it usually melts away in a day or so, heavier snows roughly every five years bring ten inches or more to the area.
  • Temperatures. While extreme heat is the norm during the summer, cold temperatures also hit the area. Cold fronts from the Rocky Mountains cause severe temperature drops, including 40° drops within a few minutes.
  • Thunderstorms & Tornadoes. The convergence of hot and cold fronts in the region causes thunderstorms, resulting in the formation of tornadoes during the spring and early summer.
  • Wind. The Texas Panhandle’s winds are some of the strongest in the U.S. Winds blow up to 50 mph occur each year, bringing weather changes and dust.

The Trails of Palo Duro Canyon

Not all trails are suitable for every hiker. Check this list of the trails in the state park to plan before you go to find which ones fit your skill level. If you’re unsure about what would be appropriate for you, consult with a ranger in the park.

  • CCC. A challenging trail crossing four bridges built by the CCC.
  • Givens, Spicer, Lowry. A challenging trail with great views spanning three miles one way.
  • Juniper/Cliffside. A moderate trail where you’ll notice caves in the cliff walls.
  • Juniper/Riverside. A longer but still moderate trail with views of the Spanish Skirts rock formation.
  • Lighthouse. A moderate trail that is one of the park’s most popular, leading to the Lighthouse rock formation.
  • Paseo Del Rio. An easygoing walk near the river with a historic cowboy dugout.
  • Pioneer Nature. A short, easy loop trail that brings you close to the river.
  • Rock Garden. A difficult trail with a 600-foot climb from the bottom of the canyon to the rim.
  • Rojo Grande. A moderate but shady trail leading to the Quartermaster geological formation.
  • Rylander Fortress Cliff. An easygoing but long hike along the canyon rim.
  • Sunflower. An easygoing trail with plenty of shade.
  • Upper Comanche. A challenging trail with stunning views takes you across the river.
  • Lower Comanche. The Lower Comanche Trail is longer but just as challenging as its counterpart.
  • Kiowa. An easy trail with a unique view of the park, including several formations.

Frequently Asked Questions

Close-up of a rock formation in the Palo Duro Canyon with white skies in the background

Junker Photography/Shutterstock

These are some of the most frequently asked questions about Palo Duro Canyon and the answers!

What city is closest to Palo Duro Canyon?

Amarillo is the closest city to Palo Duro Canyon, just about a half-hour drive from the park. This city is the largest, with a population of around 200,000. Canyon, another settlement in the Texas Panhandle, is closer to the park but is much smaller.

Do you have to pay to drive through Palo Duro Canyon?

Yes, the standard park entrance fees apply for driving through the canyon. The park charges an entrance fee of $8 per adult at the gate.

What movie was filmed at Palo Duro Canyon?

Several movies have been filmed at Palo Duro Canyon, perhaps the most famous of which was Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade. Additional notable works include The Sundowners and Waking Up in Reno.

How many days do you need at Palo Duro Canyon?

Despite the large size of the canyon, you’ll only need one or two days to explore the park. You could certainly spend more time here if you wanted to explore more trails!

How much does it cost to ride horses at Palo Duro Canyon?

If you’re bringing your equipment and horses, the park doesn’t charge anything extra to explore the equestrian trail in the park. Several stables provide horses for hire, costing between $100 and $200. Prices also fluctuate seasonally.

So, When Should You Visit Palo Duro Canyon?

Though the best overall time to visit Palo Duro Canyon falls in the milder spring and autumn seasons, a prepared traveler can enjoy themselves here anytime.

Consider a trip to the nation’s second-largest canyon system whenever it fits your schedule! So what are you waiting for — book your trip today and experience the Canyon’s gorgeous scenery yourself!