One of the most iconic landmarks in Texas lives deep down in the second largest canyon in the United States. Standing 310 ft above the flora, the red sandstone “Lighthouse” hoodoo serves as a navigational landmark that can be seen throughout most of the park. Before leaving for this hike, pack lots of water — this trail is very exposed and is subject to many heat related accidents throughout the year. But don’t let that scare you, be well prepared and you’ll be well rewarded!
After checking in at park headquarters, drive 5 miles down Park Road 5 and find the lot for the Lighthouse and Capitol Peak Trails. The trail head is on the right side of the parking lot and leads you up and over a small ridge back towards the heart of the park. The first 1.8 miles will take you around a small peak and through small ravines and washes.
The colors of the canyon are a mix of vibrant red and orange which provide a stark contrast against the scattered green vegetation. But keep your eyes up, as you traverse through the canyon you will catch glimpses of the Lighthouse on the horizon. After crossing a few seasonal drainages that may or may not have water due to recent weather, you will see a rest area with a bench that lies at the foot of the Lighthouse. Pause here for a breath and sip of water, beyond this point is a small but steep incline that leads to the plateau where the Lighthouse stands.
Follow the trail through the brush and scale the small incline that is directly beneath the towering landmark. Once you are here, you can explore the flatter parts of the plateau and we recommend standing directly beneath while turning your head up to see this leaning tower of sand. More athletic hikers can climb the small hill directly behind the Lighthouse and boulder the backside of the formation to access a higher view that overlooks the Lighthouse and provides deeper, further views across the canyon landscape.
If you want a great introductory hike to Palo Duro Canyon that’s not far from the park entrance, explore this trail! In the early 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps hiked in and out of the canyon on this trail as they worked to construct other trails and facilities within the park. Much like the CCC Lookout on the canyon rim, the CCC Trail offers grand views of the canyon as you hike along.
The upper trailhead is at the parking area for the CCC Lookout and Visitor Center. As you descend 500 feet from the canyon rim to the canyon floor, you’ll cross four historic CCC bridges on the winding trail. You can hike the first mile and turn around (easy) or hike the entire trail to the canyon floor (challenging) to the lower parking area, where the lower .5 mile of the trail descends more steeply.
Hiking the entire 1.4 mile long trail will also take you through four distinct geologic layers, which is on prominent display throughout the park. Halfway through the CCC Trail, take a small detour and check out the .4 mile Goodnight Peak Scenic Loop spur trail offering even more scenic vistas along the top of the ridge.