2019 #hike3 - Palo Duro Canyon State Park

“Wandering through the canyons was exactly what I needed.”

Quick Stats

Date: Saturday, January 19, 2019

Location: Palo Duro Canyon State Park - Canyon, TX

Distance: 10.4 miles

Trails: Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail, part of the Lighthouse Trail, Little Fox Canyon Loop

Miles from Home: 359 miles

Weather: Sunny, 30-40s

Equipment: Apple Watch, iPhone, Olympus TG-5 camera



  • Very few people at the park

  • Clear, sunny skies

  • Trails are well maintained

  • Park location is quiet and secluded

  • No cell service down in the canyon

  • Beautiful, varied terrain

  • Plenty of trails throughout the park for all skill levels

Low Points

  • The few people who were there were mostly nice, though some were too loud

  • Was a long drive from home

  • Half the park was closed for a Texas Parks and Wildlife sanctioned hunt, limiting trails

This park is a great option for anyone in Texas, or the surrounding areas, who want to experience red rocks and big canyons. If you love the Four Corners area, you’ll likely enjoy this park. I’ve visited before, check out that experience here. The plan was to leave around midnight for Big Bend National Park, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I had been speaking about avoiding NPS sites during the shutdown and exploring public land alternatives so I followed my own advice. I was going to wake up at 2 AM and begin the 5 hour drive to Palo Duro, but I slept on until 5AM instead. I finally hit the road at 8 AM and arrived to the park about 1 PM. Once I made it down into the canyon, there was hardly anyone at the trailhead parking.

I started my hike on a trail I had never been on and I was so excited for the unknown. When I set out that morning, it was frigid enough for a down puffy jacket, but I had settled on a hoodie and a t-shirt for the hike. Since I had visited two years prior, I had an idea of what to expect as far as terrain and conditions. What I didn’t expect, were the views. I mean, I knew I’d see some red rocks and green vegetation, but you never know how the light will dance around the canyon until you’re there. Red rocks soothe my soul and there is just no way around that fact.

As I made my way down the trail, I had a new view around every turn. There were plenty of great views but my favorite parts were when I was hiking right along the massive canyon edges, up close and personal with the rocks. I made my way to the next trail, one I hiked before, and out towards the iconic Lighthouse rock structure. The Lighthouse trail was much more populated, despite having a closed parking lot, and I moved quickly because it was relatively flat comparatively. By the time I made it to the end and back to the GSL, the people had vanished and I had the place mostly to myself again. I encountered several mountain bikers, but they were mostly courteous and polite passing quickly. I took a little offshoot trail called Little Fox Loop which led to a hill and great views in the canyon. As the afternoon ended and I was making my way back to the car, everything looked different in the setting sunlight. The beauty of the desert, the canyons, the red rocks, and even the forest is every trail can seem like a new trail as the light shifts around during the day.

These red rocks were worth the five and half hour drive each way. My day in the canyon, where it was silent and free from city noises, was exactly what I needed.


Before & After

#hike3 - McKinney Falls State Park

This hike was a little muddy but a nice new adventure.

Date: January 20, 2018

Location: McKinney Falls State Park - Austin, TX

Distance: 7.4 miles

Trails: Homestead, Flint Rock Loop, Williamson Creek Overlook

It was a Saturday morning out of town and I was determined to go hiking.  I got my car out of the hotel parking garage and drove to the state park before 8 am after being out all night before - it was a slow start.  I got to the trailhead parking, wandered down to the lower McKinney Falls and tried to figure out a way to cross the river.  The three trails I chose require a river crossing, though it wasn't well marked, I chose a spot just above the falls.  I started out, but ended up in ankle deep water and wet feet.  I had my wool socks and it was over 50 degrees, so I just carried on knowing I'd likely be a little squishy.

The trails were well marked, but seemed a little off in distance.  My tracking was a little higher than posted trail mileage, despite appearing to be accurate.  I realized on the Flint Rock Loop seemed about a half mile short, but I could be wrong.  Either way, I had extra distance by wandering along the river a bit too, so who knows.  The weather was gray and mild, but there was some rain the night before that made the trails muddy.  My feet were already heavy due to being wet, but add the sticky mud and it made it feel like I had bricks strapped to the bottom.  I persevered, eventually reaching that reflective, head clearing state of mind that I enjoy so much.

Things to be aware of:

  • This park is surrounded by industrial areas and busy roads, so outside noises are prevalent on the trails.
  • You will get wet crossing the river, so plan ahead for that
  • It's very close to Austin, so it can be reached by a ride share if you don't have a car available

What I learned

  • I can hike with wet feet for at least 7 miles and it's all good, if it's not cold
  • My need for quiet is becoming the main focus so I'm going to find some parks a little further away from main roads or bustling cities - SOON.
  • Crossing a river will clean off of the mud from a long hike

All in all, it was a nice hike and it was a great way to clear my head after a cloudy night.  Happy trails!