These state parks with campgrounds offer an array of outdoor activities for RVers
Texas is big, and has more than enough state parks to keep RVers busy exploring for a long time. Although I haven’t visited them all, I do have four favorites — Palo Duro Canyon, Caprock Canyons, Seminole Canyon and Davis Mountains. The first two, Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyons, are located in the Panhandle Plains Region, both of which are located southeast of Amarillo, Texas, and are must-sees.
PALO DURO CANYON STATE PARK
Although not as dramatic as the Grand Canyon, Palo Duro Canyon is said to be the second largest canyon in the country. Though it might seem smaller than it is, Palo Duro Canyon is actually 120 miles long, nearly 20 miles wide and as much as 800 feet deep. And unlike the Grand Canyon, where access to the bottom is only by foot, mule or raft, Palo Duro is accessible by RVs, even bicycles.
Protected since July 4, 1934, when the park officially opened, it
consists of 29,182 acres. The Civilian Conservation Corps, known as the CCC, built the park. Comprised of young men and military veterans, the men worked from 1933 until 1937 developing road access to the canyon floor, as well as constructing the visitor center, cabins, shelters and park headquarters.
Palo Duro Canyon is a favorite for several reasons. First, it is a great place to see and photograph wildlife. Within minutes of our arrival, in fact, while searching for a campsite, I photographed a brilliant, golden-fronted woodpecker. My husband, Mike, and I knew right then that we had hit the jackpot and opted to spend several days in the state park.
The park is also a tree-filled landscape and a wonderful place to hike, mountain bike or relax under the shade. Palo Duro means “hard wood”
in Spanish, thus the place was named for the tough wood of the Rocky Mountain juniper trees found here. In May, look for wildflowers such as
Indian blanket, Blackfoot daisy, tansy aster, and the blossoms of prickly pear cactus and yucca.
Visit in summer and you’ll thrill to Texas, an outdoor musical drama that claims to be the most spectacular outdoor musical drama in the world. The show runs from June through August. Call 806-655-2181 or visit www.texas-show.com for more information.
RVers will find several campgrounds with trails near all of the camp areas. Most of the trails are accessed by foot, horseback and mountain bike. Lighthouse Trail is the most popular trail in the park. It leads to the Lighthouse, a 310-foot high rock formation formed by erosion, and a National Natural Landmark.
As you explore, be sure to keep an eye out for the endangered Texas horned lizard and the Palo Duro mouse. In addition to these two endangered species, there are mule deer, coyotes, Barbary sheep (an introduced species), bobcats, roadrunners, cottontails, wild turkeys, Mississippi kites and western diamond-back rattlesnakes. When driving the canyon rim, just past the entrance station, look for longhorn steers. Part of the official Texas State Longhorn Herd, the animals are fenced in and do not roam the park.
Reach the park by driving south from Amarillo or north from Lubbock and exit on Texas Highway 217. Follow the signs 10 miles east. There’s a daily fee for being in the park and another fee for camping. The park has 32 RV sites with 30-amp service and water, and 47 RV
sites with 50-amp service and water. The fee is $24 per night.
CAPROCK CANYONS STATE PARK & TRAILWAY
Caprock Canyons is known for its extreme weather. Fashioned over millions of years by wind and water, the park is located along the Caprock Escarpment, a long, narrow rocky formation stretching as
high as 1,000 feet. Its bluffs and steep, colorful canyons are fun to explore. Visitors can hike or bike or drive the main park road in search of fantastic scenes and abundant wildlife.
Opened in 1982, Caprock Canyons State Park consists of 15,313 acres. Here, flora and fauna are varied. Above the escarpment, you’ll find High Plains with short-grass prairie. In the western half of the park, the canyons offer scrub oak and juniper trees. In the bottomlands, search for grasses, hackberries, wild plum thickets and cottonwood trees.
During our spring visit we found wildflowers and animal life. Caprock Canyons boasts a number of wildlife species. More than 12,000 years ago, the region was home to the now-extinct mammoth and giant bison. There were even camels and horses when the climate was cooler. Humans caused the demise of gray wolves and black bears in the area by the 1950s.
Visit today, and you might see pronghorn, mule deer, white-tailed deer, coyotes, bobcats, raccoon, jackrabbits, gray fox and African aoudad sheep (an introduced species), and bison. Part of the Official Texas State Bison Herd, these woolly animals roam free on more than 700 acres near the entrance to Caprock Canyons State Park.
As we hiked some of the park trails, I imagined life 10,000 years when the region was first inhabited by the Folsom culture. Artifacts from the archaic period, which lasted from 8,000 to 2,000 years ago, include boiling pebbles for heating food, knives, dart points and grinding stones.
Today, there are almost 90 miles of multiuse trails for hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders. When you visit, be sure to check out the Caprocks Canyon Trailway. Opened in 1993 as part of the national Rails-to-Trails program, the trailway crosses 46 railroad bridges. Information about the trails can be found at park headquarters, located 3 miles north of Quitaque. The park has nine RV sites with water only ($14 per night), 25 RV sites with 30-amp service and water ($15 per night), and 10 RV sites with 50-amp service and water ($20 per night).
SEMINOLE CANYON STATE PARK & HISTORIC SITE
Head south to Big Bend Country and you’ll find Seminole Canyon State Park &
Historic Site. Located off U.S. Highway 90, the park is a delight with ancient pictographs, trails to hike or mountain bike and a spacious campground as well.
The park is home to Fate Bell Shelter, one of the oldest cave dwellings in North America with some of the oldest Native American pictographs. Sign up for a tour to see the pictographs, as visitors are not allowed in the canyon area without a guide. Tour times vary depending on the season, so contact the park for more information.
Opened in February 1980, the park, which is west of Comstock, contains 2,172 acres. Today’s visitors see something very different from early man. First visited around 12,000 years ago, it was a time when elephants, bison, horses and camel (species that are now extinct) roamed the countryside. Earlier visitors witnessed lush landscapes with trees such as oak, juniper and pines, as well as flourishing grasslands.
About 7,000 years ago, the climate changed and inhabitants saw a land more closely resembling what we see today. It was probably during this time that inhabitants painted more than 200 pictograph sites, everything from single paintings to art panels hundreds of feet long. Though you might recognize the animals in some of the painted figures, no one really knows the meaning of the paintings.
During our visit, we searched for local wildlife such as white-tailed deer, armadillos and raccoon, but we only saw some feral goats across the canyon from where we stood. However, seeing the pictographs and feral goats, along with some fossilized shells, made our visit worthwhile. The park has 15 dry camping sites ($8 per night), eight sites with shared water nearby ($14 per night), and 23 sites with electricity and water ($20 per night).
DAVIS MOUNTAINS STATE PARK
The Davis Mountains State Park is last on my list, but certainly not least. Located northwest of Seminole Canyon, also in Big Bend Country, it is a terrific place for a scenic drive, a hike or a mountain bike ride. Equestrians (who must bring their own horses) also have the opportunity to enjoy 7 miles of trails in Limpia Canyon Primitive Area. And if you enjoy birds, be sure to visit the bird feeding and watering areas. Like many of the other parks, the CCC was responsible for developing much of this park.
The park offers everything from plains grasslands to pinyon-juniper-oak woodlands. This means a varied habitat for all sorts of animal life, including Montezuma quail. Although not common, species regularly seen include scrub jays, curve-billed thrashers and white-winged doves. Rock squirrels are the most common mammal, but be sure to search for javelinas early and late in the day.
Located 4 miles northwest of Fort Davis, Davis Mountains State Park is comprised of 2,708 acres. Situated roughly halfway between the more famous Guadalupe Mountains and Big Bend national parks, you’ll be surprised to know that the Davis Mountains are the most wide-ranging mountain range in Texas. Formed by volcanic activity about 65 million years ago, the mountains were named for Jefferson Davis.
Davis Mountains State Park has 33 sites with water or shared water nearby ($15 per night), 34 sites with partial hookups ($20 per night), and 27 full-hookup RV sites ($25 per night).
Nearby Fort Davis, also named for Davis, who was U.S. Secretary of War and later president of the Confederacy, is a must-visit. In fact, for the more adventurous hiker, there’s a trail that leads from the state park to Fort Davis.
Just 4 miles south of the town of Fort Davis, is the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Gardens, a fun place to explore. And while you’re in town be sure to drive the 75 miles long Scenic Loop Drive. The highest elevation on the loop is about 6,700 feet, which makes this the highest public highway in Texas.
For More Information
Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailway
806-455-1492 | www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/caprock-canyons
Davis Mountains state park
432-426-3337 | www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/davis-mountains
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
806-488-2227 | www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/palo-duro-canyon
Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site
432-292-4464 | www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/seminole-canyon
Donna Ikenberry is a full-time freelance writer and photographer. She lives in South Fork, Colo., with her husband, Mike Vining. They travel half of the year in their RV.