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13 Things to See and Do in One Day at Caprock Canyons State Park (including Hikes!)

13 Things to See and Do in One Day at Caprock Canyons State Park (including Hikes!)


avatar   Stacy
Trip Date 10/25/2019
Posted On 01/20/2020 13:17:14

Destinations | Hiking | Texas | Quitaque | Caprock Canyons State Park | Official Texas State Bison Herd | Tourist Attractions in Texas Panhandle | What to see and do at Caprock Canyons | Day Trips from Amarillo | Texas State Parks



Caprock Canyons State Park is located about 100 miles southeast of Amarillo in Quitaque, Texas. After hearing positive comments from friends, the state park was on our radar for over a year before our visit. Following our days inside the park, we can now confirm that Caprock Canyons State Park is definitely one of the many "must visit" tourist attractions in the Texas Panhandle.

Although we planned too late to find available campsites with utilities inside the park, we did find full hook-up RV sites just three miles from the park entrance. We also lucked out when it came to our time exploring the park as we didn't face any big crowds. (The temperature swings likely scared some people off. The high on our first day in the area was 78. After hitting a low of 31 with snow flurries on our second day, the temperature rose into the low 50s on our final day at the park.)

As the saying goes, "everything is bigger in Texas" and that is no different with Texas State Parks. In addition to being the Home of the Official Texas State Bison Herd, Caprock Canyons State Park has over 15,000 acres of land including more than 1,200 acres of trailways. Exploring and hiking the state park takes time - lots of time! The good news, however, is that even those who visit Caprock Canyons State Park on a day trip from Amarillo or some place else will find that it was a destination worth visiting.

This post is designed to guide those with just one day through what to see and do at Caprock Canyons. If you have more than one day, you'll find additional suggestions on where to take your time, when to enjoy a more leisurely pace and when to incorporate more hiking into your plan. Whatever you choose, your time at the park will be well worth the daily entrance fee of $5.00 per person over the age of 13 (waived for those with a Texas State Parks Pass).

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Background Information on Caprock Canyons State Park

It is believed that Native Americans lived on the land that makes up what is known today as Caprock Canyons State Park more than 10,000 years ago. In the early 1880's, J. A. Ranch was born after acreage including today's park land was purchased for John Adair. After changing hands multiple times, the state of Texas purchased over 15,000 acres of land in 1975 from the estate of Theo Geisler, the owner at the time. The state park was opened about seven years later in 1982.


Entrance to Caprock Canyons State Park

Entrance to Caprock Canyons State Park

Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to Caprock Canyons State Park

Here's a few tips and suggestions to make the most of your time at the park:
  • If you plan to camp, check for availability at ReserveAmerica (reservations open five months in advance and, depending on your preferred site amenities, do fill up);
  • Download the following two maps before your visit (or request both maps at the park headquarters) as they each have unique and useful information:Caprock Canyons State Park Map and Caprock Canyons State Park Trails Map;
  • Either before your visit or upon check-in, inquire about any scheduled events (ranger led hikes, tours, historical talks, etc.);
  • Dress appropriately for the expected weather - the average daily temperature can range from the 30's to the 80's depending on the season. Be sure to have a hat, sunscreen and comfortable walking shoes;


    What a Difference a Couple of Days can Make!

    What a Difference a Couple of Days can Make!

  • Pack either a lunch or some snacks to enjoy at one of the picnic areas or lookouts within the park (and, of course, make sure to properly dispose of any waste);
  • Bring lots of water - and drink it throughout the day to stay hydrated;
  • Keep your camera handy as you'll find lots of photo opportunities. You may even want to carry extra charged camera batteries just in case; and
  • Be on the lookout for signage within the park as you'll find good information that will enhance your visit.

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Overview of One Day Visit to Caprock Canyons State Park

First, a brief overview of what to expect by following this one day itinerary. In just over a five mile drive along the main park road, you'll pass from the state park entrance to the South Prong. In addition to being the home of one of the park's primitive camping areas, there's also a scenic overlook and trailhead at the South Prong turnaround.

Along the five mile journey between the entrance and turnaround, you'll find several other intersecting roads. Depending on which roads you choose to veer off on, you'll find picnic areas, more trails, camping areas and scenic overlooks, additional points of interest and even a historical marker. All of the main driving roads within the park are paved and you'll find parking areas near many of our recommended stops. Most of the park's trails are multi-use (shared between hikers, bikers and horse back riders).

As our plan starts at the park entrance, no modifications are needed for those planning a day trip to the park. If, however, you will be camping, RVing or staying at the park lodge, you can easily start the itinerary closest to the point where your "home" is located. Once you get to number 13, just work your way back from your starting point until you get to number 1. As mentioned above, the following two maps are helpful for planning your visit (and can also be picked up when you enter the park):

To see and do all of the 13 items included in our list will require a full day that will include a combination of driving and walking/hiking. For those that prefer, you can see some of the park's natural beauty (and probably some wildlife) with more limited walking. Making the most of your day, however, will require getting out of your car as recommended.

If you do decide to get some exercise, you'll be pleased to know that our recommended hikes are interspersed throughout the day to give your legs some time to rest. If you are worried about time, since you'll be driving opposite directions along the same road between your entrance and your exit, you can save a less appealing hike (or any other item in our list) for later in the day. At that point you can decide whether or not you have enough time. (Don't forget that temperatures tend to rise in the afternoon, so if you are visiting during the summer months it will likely be hot and you'll want extra water!)

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And now, here's our recommended one day itinerary for Caprock Canyons State Park:

1. Keep your Eyes Peeled for Bison

Almost immediately after entering the park, you'll see Entering Bison Range and Watch for Bison Crossing Roadway signs. If you haven't seen at least one bison out of the corner of one of your eyes before seeing the signs, start watching. (Yes, on one of our days at the park, we saw several bison immediately after entering.) Since the park is their home, you are their visitor ... and they may be roaming just about anywhere!


Signage at the Official Texas State Bison Herd Grazing Prairie

Signage at the Official Texas State Bison Herd Grazing Prairie

Be Bison Aware - They're Everywhere!

Be Bison Aware - They're Everywhere!

Remember that these wild animals can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. When they want to, they can run fast - like up to 30 miles per hour. Believe it or not, bison have also been seen jumping over fences that stand as high as six feet. With all of that in mind, you should always keep a distance of at least 50 yards between you and any bison - even when in a car.


Waiting Our Turn to Enter ... As the Bison Cross the Main Park Road

Waiting Our Turn to Enter ... As the Bison Cross the Main Park Road

We had to force ourselves to continue on, but if you'll have more than a day inside the park and are interested in seeing this amazing herd, you can spend hours watching them. Just remember that you can't rely on them to be in the same place two days in a row!


Caprock Canyons State Park - No Matter Where You Are, You Might See a Bison

Caprock Canyons State Park - No Matter Where You Are, You Might See a Bison

2. Get your first View of the Canyons near the Visitor Center

It's at the Visitor Center where you'll need to either pay (or show your Texas State Parks Pass to waive) your day use fee and/or check-in for a campsite. Since you'll be out of your vehicle, it's also the perfect time to get your first view (although a distant one) of the naturally created Caprock Canyons from the nearby overlook.

An escarpment is formed by either erosion or due to a fault. Often referred to as ridges, escarpments are natural boundaries which separate two masses of land where one sits higher than the other. While some of the geologic layers within the state park were formed over 250 million years ago, the Caprock Escarpment, along which the park is located, was formed over one million years ago.


View from the Overlook at Caprock Canyons State Park Visitor Center

View from the Overlook at Caprock Canyons State Park Visitor Center

If you are staying outside of the park but plan to return for multiple consecutive days, inquire about prepaying your day use fees on your day of arrival. This time savings step will allow you to immediately head further into the park each day without stopping (and maybe waiting in a line) to obtain your required permit.

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3. Learn about the Official Texas State Bison Herd

Also at the overlook, you'll find a large rock with a plaque commemorating the donation of the JA Bison Herd. It is estimated that over 30 million bison lived on North American plains prior to the "great slaughter" which reduced the number to under 1,000. Wanting to prevent the extinction of this iconic animal, five herds were started by groups who took on the responsibility of caring for orphaned bison calves.

In 1878, a well known rancher Charles Goodnight and his wife Mary Ann began caring for and raising some of these bison calves on the JA Ranch. Later becoming known as the Goodnight Herd, descendants of these southern plains bison make up the Official Texas State Bison Herd roaming around the park today. The herd was donated to Texas Parks and Wildlife in 1996 and relocated to the state park the following year.

If you are devoting more than one day to the park, you have time to more leisurely read all of the materials in the Interpretive Exhibit that tell more of the story of this herd of bison. (If your time is more limited, either read quickly or take some photos so that you can read more later!)

There's also a scenic overlook with a view of the Mixed Grass Prairie located on the left side of the road just past the Visitor's Center. If you have more than a day and the bison are roaming within eyeshot, take your time to watch and get some great photos. If you're only at the park for a day, you'll want to make this stop a quick one, or wait to stop as you are leaving the park. (Just remember, though, that there is no guarantee that the bison will be in the field when you return!)


Official Texas State Bison Heard Roaming the Mixed Grass Prairie

Official Texas State Bison Heard Roaming the Mixed Grass Prairie

4. Find the Historical Marker

Just before Lake Theo, you'll see a road on your left. In addition to finding some picnic tables and the Lake Theo Lodge, there's also a historical marker. (The paved road ends and you'll be traveling on a gravel road for the short distance past the lodge to reach the marker.)

Admittedly there is not a lot to see around the marker. It is, however, very interesting to read and imagine what was happening over 10,000 years before in the very area where you are standing.

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5. Enjoy a Snack or Picnic Lunch with a View of Lake Theo

In 1936, the namesake of the lake, Theo Geisler, purchased the property which is now the state park. Geisler was the last owner prior to the State of Texas purchasing the land and naming the lake. If you are ready for a snack or a picnic lunch, the picnic tables that you passed on your way to the historical marker all have nice views overlooking Lake Theo.


Lake Theo

Lake Theo

If you will be spending more than one day at Caprock Canyons (and you are blessed with warm weather during your visit), Lake Theo is a great place to spend more time. In addition to relaxing and enjoying the views, you can participate in water sports on the opposite side of the lake. You'll find a designated swimming area, a fishing pier and a boat ramp for no-wake boating. There's also a playground and restrooms on the lake's north bank.

6. Drive the Scenic Loop

On the north side of Lake Theo, you'll want to make the hard right to drive the Scenic Loop all of the way to the South Prong and back again. It is along this drive that you'll find the camping areas, most of the trailheads that are inside the park, more scenic overlooks and likely some bison.

If you'll have more than a day at the park, you don't have to keep such a tight "watch" on your time. When you see a place where you'd like to spend more of your time, you should have some leeway. If you've only got one day in the park, however, the remaining seven items on this list (including three hikes) will probably take the remainder of your day.

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7. Take in the View of the Canyons from the Amphitheater

Not long after turning on to the scenic drive, park in the small lot that you'll see on your left. A short walk down a paved walkway will take you to the Amphitheater and another Interpretive Exhibit. Beyond the exhibits and seating, there are some paths that will lead you to some great canyon views. Be careful as you head out on these paths as they take you very near the canyon's edge!


Approaching Caprock Canyons State Park Amphitheater

Approaching Caprock Canyons State Park Amphitheater

Canyon View from Caprock Canyons Amphitheater

Canyon View from Caprock Canyons Amphitheater

Stacy Exploring Paths for Close-up Canyon Views

Stacy Exploring Paths for Close-up Canyon Views

View from the Canyon Ledge

View from the Canyon Ledge

If you plan to spend more than a day exploring the park, you'll have ample time for discovery at the Interpretive Exhibit and venturing out on the paths for great canyon views.


Replica of Bison Skull perched atop Bones discovered Nearby

Replica of Bison Skull perched atop Bones discovered Nearby

8. Watch (and Listen to) the Prairie Dogs

Although you can look out of your windows as you drive by, we definitely recommend parking and walking to get a closer look at the Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs. Look for the small lot near the restroom on the right just a short distance from the amphitheater as the nearest parking is located before you arrive at Honey Flat Prairie Dog Town. Unfortunately there's no sidewalk or path to get from the parking to the natural habitat of the prairie dogs. Getting a close-up look requires carefully walking along the road while staying alert for passing cars.

You can't miss seeing (or hearing) these fast, furry and rather loud animals. The large colony lives on both sides of the road ... and they frequently scurry across to get from one side to the other. As with all other wild animals, it's safe to watch and listen but do not approach the prairie dogs.

It's quite humorous to watch these animals while imagining what they are "barking" to one another as they run between their many burrows. It seems like just when you get your camera perfectly positioned, the prairie dog that you're zoomed in on retreats deep down in its hole! Don't worry, if you are fast enough, another one will pop up just a little further away!


Black-Tailed Prairie Dog

Black-Tailed Prairie Dog

A Burrow at Honey Flat Prairie Dog Town

A Burrow at Honey Flat Prairie Dog Town

If you will be returning to the park for at least one more day, you can spend additional time trying to get the best photographs of these curious creatures. There's also some information about the prairie dogs on a display board near the restrooms that you might want to read.

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9. Hike the Canyon Rim Trail / Spur

Leave your car parked at the restroom as the Canyon Rim Trailhead is nearby. Immediately after the road leading out of the Honey Flat Camping Area, there's a paved walkway with a sign for the trailhead (and more prairie dogs). A hike on the entire Canyon Rim Trail is much longer, however you can hike the shorter and fairly level loop totaling just over 1 3/4 miles.

By hiking a combination of the early part of the Canyon Rim Trail plus the Canyon Rim Spur, you'll pass nearby the rim of Holmes Creek Canyon. In addition to great views of the canyon, you'll hike through some of the mixed-grass prairie. This prairie is a small part of the 10,000 acres within the state park where the bison sometimes roam.


Hiking the Canyon Rim Trail and Canyon Rim Spur

Hiking the Canyon Rim Trail and Canyon Rim Spur

Holmes Creek Canyon

Holmes Creek Canyon

Mixed-Grass Prairie where the Bison sometimes Roam

Mixed-Grass Prairie where the Bison sometimes Roam

Lounging around in the Prairie Grasses

Lounging around in the Prairie Grasses

We actually hiked this loop on two different days. The first day there were quite a number of bison hanging out on the prairie. On the second day, although we did encounter a group of people on horseback, the only evidence of bison were the big piles of "poop" that they left behind. (It goes without saying that anytime you are on foot, in addition to being on the lookout for bison, make sure to watch the ground for bison scat!)


Don't Mess with Bison Scat!

Don't Mess with Bison Scat!

If you are lucky enough to be spending more than one day hiking inside the park, you may want to consider hiking the entire Canyon Rim Trail. The 3 mile long trail (one way) is rated "moderate" in difficulty and is estimated to take about 2 1/2 hours in each direction. The latter part of your hike will be up and down the Caprock Escarpment. For a slightly different view, hike the Canyon Rim Spur either on your way out or before heading back to your car.

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10. See the 250 Million Years of History Viewpoint

There's no good signage, so be on the lookout for another parking area on the left just before the turnoff to the Wild Horse Camping Area. After exiting your vehicle, find the path that leads up to the 250 Million Years of History Viewpoint. Although the signage inside the viewpoint was beyond faded, we made out the brief descriptions of the three layers before us. While 250 million years ago was a very long time, it's still hard to believe that the area was once a seashore!


Gazing at 250 Million Years of History

Gazing at 250 Million Years of History

11. Hike the Eagle Point Trail

Even further up the road off on the left hand side is the well marked trailhead for the Eagle Point Trail. Signage for parking directs hikers to continue driving beyond the trailhead and across the bridge. Reaching the trailhead will require you to backtrack on foot across the bridge.

Shortly after the beginning of the trail, there's a narrower path veering off to the right where you can try your luck at finding the Natural Bridge. Created by erosion, the bridge and tunnel below it are actually located underneath the trail.


Search for the Natural Bridge and Tunnel under Eagle Point Trail

Search for the Natural Bridge and Tunnel under Eagle Point Trail

If you plan to spend at least one additional day hiking in Caprock Canyons, the four mile (round trip) Eagle Point Trail will take you from the canyons to the plains near Lake Theo and the amphitheater and back. The trail is rated moderate in difficulty, and with some noticeable changes in elevation will take upwards of 4 hours. If you'll only be at the state park for one day, you should have some time to hike a bit more of the trail - even if only to take some photos along the canyon.

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12. Relax and Soak in the View from the Upper South Prong Canyon Trailhead

The South Prong is the furthest point from the park entrance that is reachable by car. After parking, take advantage of the bench near the start of the Upper South Prong Trail to relax and soak in the view.


View from South Prong Scenic Overlook

View from South Prong Scenic Overlook

If you're up for a hike with steep grades (no bikes or horses) and plan to spend multiple days in the park, the Upper South Prong Trail will challenge you with over five miles of hiking (round trip). Willing hikers reportedly have access to impressive canyon views and rock formations.

13. Hike the North Prong Spur to Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail

The parking lot near the North Prong Spur trailhead is the last of our recommended stops. If you're up for some more hiking, the views from the spur between the parking area and the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail are excellent. We originally thought that we might hike to the Scenic Overlook along John Haynes Ridge. After realizing, however, that getting there was going to require a very steep climb up some rocks, we opted to stop earlier than planned.


Rock Formation near the North Prong Spur

Rock Formation near the North Prong Spur

Hiking along the North Prong Spur

Hiking along the North Prong Spur

At this point, you have hopefully been able to check off all thirteen things to see and do in just one day at Caprock Canyons State Park. If you still have more time, there are definitely more options. For those interested in additional exercise, two of the park's most challenging hikes up steep grades can be accessed from this area - the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail and the Upper North Prong Trail. Not quite as difficult, trailheads for the Lower North Prong Trail and Lower South Prong Trail can also be found in this area.

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Those who have had enough hiking might consider taking a drive back toward the entrance in search of more bison. One of our most interesting "bison encounters" was on the short road to the Little Red River Tent Camping Area. Because the park was not crowded and the bison were taking their time crossing the road, we had time to just enjoy the show ... along with our zoom lens!


Bison Crossing!

Bison Crossing!

One of Many Bison in the Official Texas State Bison Herd

One of Many Bison in the Official Texas State Bison Herd

Bison Proud!

Bison Proud!

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

It was our visit to Palo Duro Canyon State Park that got us interested in exploring Caprock Canyons State Park. During our early fall visit, we packed a lot in to our day. For ideas for planning your visit, don't miss our post titled Itinerary for One Day at Palo Duro Canyon State Park (including 18 Things to See and Do). You'll find a combination of hiking, views, history, nature and wildlife that you won't want to miss - plus you'll see the park's main points of interest.

Caprock Canyons State Park

In your opinion, what are the "must see and must do" places that you would recommend to people with plans to visit Caprock Canyons State Park?




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13 Things to See and Do in One Day at Caprock Canyons State Park (including Hikes!)







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