The great state of Texas is home to some of the best cities; Austin, Dallas, Houston… but one of my favorite things to do is explore the small Texas towns, I’m a sucker for a cute town square. Amarillo might be known because of the king of country music, George Strait, but it definitely has that small town, middle of nowhere feel. My friend Lex and I took a road trip to explore West Texas, driving eight ours one way from Austin and it was incredible! The focal point of the trip was to explore the second Grand Canyon, Palo Duro State Park, which is right outside of Amarillo. I’m incredibly jealous of the people who live in Amarillo for having such an amazing sight right in their back yard. Although we were only there for one weekend, we got little sleep and wanted to make the most of our time- we wanted to take advantage of everything Amarillo has to offer. It definitely did not disappoint! Whether you’re the outdoors type and are interested in exploring Palo Duro Canyon or want to take in the quaint town of Amarillo- you’ll find plenty of recommendations here!
The drive out through West Texas to Palo Duro was more scenic than you would think, it wasn’t just one of those straight highway trips. Most of the areas were desolate but we kept coming in and out of tiny towns with now stoplight along the route. In true Texan fashion, I encourage you to stop at the visitors center to see the longhorns once you arrive in the park. Grab a map too!! You will see an overwhelming amount of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails along with several camping areas. The park truly has so much to see and a lot of ground to cover. We began and ended our day in the park the same way, driving the “S” turns that descend into the canyon, the view was unimaginable- especially at sunset.
After we drove through the upper portion of the park descending into the canyon, we hiked the lower trails- they were shorter in distance and allowed us to cover more ground within the amount of daylight we had. Hiking Rojo Grande, Sunflower and Juniper allowed us to drive to some of the more monumental trails. I highly recommend the views from Capital Peak Trail, CCC Overlook and Spanish Skirts Overlook. We came across an amphitheater and trading post in our travels which were super cool to see. Some other recommended trails include Lighthouse, Rock Garden and Pioneer Nature Trail. I highly recommend checking out the Lighthouse even if it is from an overlook. If you’re unsure how to spend your time in the park, the map given at the entrance has some great information on each trail!
- CCC Trail, 1.4 mi. (one-way), 1.5 hour, difficult, cross four historic CCC bridges as you descend 500 feet through four geologic layers from the canyon rim to the canyon floor.
- JUNIPER/RIVERSIDE, 1.1 mi. (one-way), 1 hour, moderate, watch for the colorful Spanish Skirts rock formations along this flat tail beside the river.
- SUNFLOWER, 1.2 mi. (one-way), 1 hour, easy, watch for beautiful veins of white satin-spar gypsum about a quarter-mile past the trailhead on this shady, family-friendly trail.
- RYLANDER FORTRESS CLIFF, 3.7 mi. (one-way), 3 hours, easy, has the most beautiful view of the park, but only accessible from the Rock Garden Trail.
- ROCK GARDEN, 2.4 mi. (one-way), 2.5 hours, difficult, climb 600 feet from a field of boulders at the canyon floor to Rylander Fortress Cliff along the canyon’s rim.
Its no surprise these beer drinkers worked up a thirst as we explored the park, we came prepared and packed a lunch. We knew we found the perfect spot for a picnic when we came across an opening with a view on the Juniper trail past the river.
Palo Duro may have been the destination, but we were secretly excited to explore Amarillo! We ate massive burritos from Sharky’s Burrito Co., a local burrito legend who seriously still takes orders by fax! This place was amazing, the combinations seemed never ending- I think I could eat here for every meal and never get bored! We also scoped out the infamous Six Car Pub & Brewery. It was such an awesome venue- with an indoor tiki bar and an outdoor beer garden! Of course we loved their beer and we were pleasantly surprised to see some of our Austin favorites on tap!
The next morning before beginning our second day exploring Amarillo, we HAD to have breakfast at Ye Old Pancake Station, the name itself sounded right up our alley. It reminded me of home- a small town restaurant, not too many tables and plenty of friendly faces. Our server was either impressed or disgusted with the amount of food the two of us ordered… we’ll never know.
After we brunched until we were too full to function we decided to check out the historic Route 66 that runs through Amarillo. I’ve had the pleasure on other road trips to drive on Route 66 through Arizona and New Mexico, this time, we got to walk it! Route 66 through Amarillo is amazing, its everything you imagine when you think about a small town pit stop on the way through to your destination. There were so many bars, restaurants, coffee shops, local business, boutiques and artwork to adore.
The last item on our list left to explore before heading back to Austin was Cadillac Ranch. I have been in love with the concept of this art instillation since I moved to Texas and learned of its existence. Cadillac Ranch is exactly what it sounds like- Cadillacs on a plot of land. The twist- these cars are sticking straight up out of the ground for everyone to spray paint. We left our legacy in Amarillo and it was SO FUN!
Our trip to Amarillo was truly like none other; it was short, slow paced and we saw some great wonders we never would have discovered without making the 8 hour drive through West Texas from Austin. I couldn’t even begin to pick a favorite memory from this trip, it was all incredible! If you have ever wanted to explore Palo Duro or Amarillo or if you’ve made a trip of your own- I’d love to hear about it!