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My Life Outdoors

Palo Duro Canyon – Sunflower Trail

Palo Duro canyon in the Texas Panhandle is the second largest canyon in the United States. The Canyon is close to 120 miles long and 6.2 miles wide on average, but reaches a width of 20 miles wide in some places. Its depth varies between approximately 820 feet to 997 feet. Palo Duro Canyon has been nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of Texas,” due to its size and dramatic geological features. The Canyon was cut by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River which continues to cut its way through the canyon today.

 Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon State Park rests on the northern most section of the canyon. Sprawling over 29,182 acres of the canyon the park has a lot to offer including hikes, camping, river wadding, horseback riding, nature viewing and mountain biking.

Last week we headed out to Palo Duro Canyon and chose to camp overnight at the parks Fortress Cliff Primitive camping area. Our five month old’s first camping trip, we opted for a drive up “primitive” camping spot. The area was beautiful with several trails going right past our tent. We arrived in the park close to 6:00 pm, set up our camp and then hit the Sunflower Trail. We didn’t have a whole lot of time before sun set and still hadn’t eaten dinner so the one mile (2 mile round trip) Sunflower Trail was a perfect warm up for our big hike the next day.

 Our Campsite with Fortress Cliff in the background.

Located smack dab in the middle of the canyon we found ourselves hiking alongside the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. Small walls of red sandstone with white layers of gypsum blocked our view of the western rim but where beautiful in their own right. At several points the trail would pass through what seemed to be a forest of Texas cedar trees. Every once and a while the trees would clear enough to see views of the Eastern Rim and Fortress Cliff. The trail was well maintained with several wooden bridges crossing over the river.

 Hiking alongside the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River
 Small walls of sandstone and gypsum blocked our view of the west rim.
Red Sandstone with layers of white Gypsum
The Trail meandered through small forests of Texas cedar and other trees.
Every once and a while we would pass a break in the sandstone wall and catch a glimpse of the west rim.

We were not alone on the trail. The park is very popular with mountain bikers and we had more than five pass us during our short time on the trail. All in all we spent maybe 45 minutes on the trail before the sun began to set and our stomachs told us to head back. When I first looked at the map I turned my nose up at the Sunflower and similar trails (Rojo Grande, and Juniper Trails) because they were surrounded by park roads. I was surprised that I never noticed the roads and felt very isolated while on this short trail.

 We passed several mountain bikes along the trail.
Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River a small sandstone peak and Fortress cliff in the far background.
Park road with the west rim in the background.


  • Anonymous

    April 16, 2010

    What's the trail like? I'm tempted to bring my mtn bike up there and take in a lot of scenery in a short-ish period of time. I can't stand most of the trails around here, they are all rather technical and I spend more time trying not to fall down than actually riding – and that's coming to you live from a guy who spent about 15 years racing road bikes.

    Thanks for the motivation to get out of DFW!

  • Steven

    April 16, 2010

    I'm not a mountain biker but it seems like a good trail. There are more then 30 miles of trails available in the park. Most are open to mountain bikes. I will be posting soon about our hike to Lighthouse rock. My wife and I both thought mountain biking these trails looked like fun. Be careful coming around blind curves. We where almost hit a number of times.

  • Anonymous

    April 17, 2010

    Sadly not everyone is courteous!! Glad ya'll weren't hit!!

  • Anonymous

    August 26, 2010

    nice post!!!

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