A lighthouse in the desert? It does seem like an odd thing to see, but I can say I’ve seen it. OK, actually it’s not a lighthouse but a rad rock formation that paints an awfully close resemblance to one. The Lighthouse Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park is the park’s most popular trail. And it’s popular for a reason.
The trail takes hikers, bikers, and equestrians to the park’s most iconic natural feature – the Lighthouse which stands tall over the canyon floor. The Lighthouse is 310 feet tall. The same wind and water that created the 800-foot-deep Palo Duro Canyon, also shaped the Lighthouse.
The Lighthouse Trail has a round-trip distance of 5.75 miles and is fairly moderate with a little steep scrambling at the end. For those on bikes, the park provides a bike rack where the trail gets steep, about 0.25 miles from the actual Lighthouse. I hiked a little further past the Lighthouse to get a good view, so my GPS recorded 3 miles one-way.
Finding the Trailhead
There is only one road in the Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Park Road 5 makes a lollipop loop from the park entrance. The park has a wonderful and extremely detailed map of the trails. The trailhead for the Lighthouse Trail is located where the road intersects to make the loop.
A multi-use trail
The Lighthouse Trail is multi-use and open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians. When encountering another person enjoying the trail, it’s good to know who has the right-of-way. Bikers yield to hikers, and bikers and hikers both yield to equestrians.
The Lighthouse Trail
The trail begins by taking you to the northwest, sort of parallel to the road. As you hike along this path, you hike toward a deep red peak marked with white stripes.
Don’t be fooled that the lighthouse looking rocking formation on this peak is “the” Lighthouse. It is not, but it looks very similar, only it is smaller. Palo Duro Canyon is only giving you a sneak peek of what you are going to see later.
I loved seeing how each rock formation is shaped, similar yet different. And it gives a great testament to how the land was formed.
The Lighthouse Trail swings around to the east side of the peak before turning and heading southwest toward the Lighthouse, which is around 0.75 miles.
The trail follows a valley and crosses several washes; however, I saw no water on the trail anywhere. But I did enjoy seeing how water carves out the canyon.
I also thoroughly enjoyed seeing the red rock mountains and the different colored layers throughout the rock – yellows, whites, and reds.
The official trail ends at the base of Lighthouse Peak. This part is easy to spot because there is a bike rack there. The hike up to the peak
Base to Peak
There are two ways to get to the peak from this point. You can go to the left (which is the way I went up) or go straight (the way I came down.) I’m not sure if one is
If you chose to go to the left, once you get past the steep part, there is a bench in a prime spot for viewing the Lighthouse. In the steep part, I did have to use my hands and to pick up my dog, Caddie. She has bad knees, but I’m not sure she would have been able to get up it anyway.
After I rested on the bench, I followed the path toward the Lighthouse. There is some
I did have to use my hands again and to pick up Caddie to get to the flat portion (a natural bench) between the Lighthouse and another monolith. Getting up on the bench is breathtaking and well worth the effort. You can view the Lighthouse right from the base and marvel at how flat the bench is.
Be sure to look back over the view of the canyon. Being up high on the bench give you a great since of where you just hiked.
From there I walked toward the other monolith and a little ways down its base to get the best view of the Lighthouse.
A wonderful day hike
When I visited Palo Duro State Park it was Thanksgiving weekend and extremely busy. I almost didn’t hike the Lighthouse Trail because I wanted to avoid the crowds. But I’m so glad I went ahead and hiked it. It is truly is amazing.
Bring lot of water
Be sure to bring lots of water. There is little shade on the trail, and it can get hot, even in the winter. The desert air always dries me out quicker too. One thing to remember is you don’t notice how much you are sweating in the desert, and therefore losing water, in the desert because it evaporates so quickly. So for this girl from humid Arkansas, I tend to not realize how much water I’ve lost.
- 3 miles out and back
- Elevation gain 380