Caprock Canyons State Park has 25 miles of hiking trails, however, if you don’t have time to explore all 25 miles, the Haynes Ridge Overlook and North Prong trail system provides a wonderful loop so that you can sample the best of Caprock Canyons. In this Caprock Canyons hiking loop, the trail takes you to the highest point in the park and showcases the geography of the park, which makes it such a special place.
This hiking loop at Caprock Canyons State Park combines four trails to make a 7-mile lollypop loop. You begin the hike by heading north along the North Prong Spur Trail. The Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail intersects with the North Prong Spur Trail after about a half of a mile. You’ll hike the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail until it ends. Then take the Upper South Prong Trail north or your right until it ends at the intersection with the Upper North Prong Trail. That trail takes you back to the North Prong Spur Trail.
North Prong Spur Trail to Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail
The Caprock Canyons hiking loop begins at the North Prong Spur Trailhead. You begin by hiking north along the North Prong Spur Trail toward the mountains.
On this portion of the trail, you pass some deeply cut washes and creeks. It’s interesting to take note of the power of water, even when there is none present. You can see the layers of white and red distinctly in the dry creek beds and in the mountains in front of you. The trail crosses a saddle as you cross over the hill that you see at the beginning fo the trail. This part is devoid of vegetation and gives you the feeling of walking through a mining pit or on Mars.
Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail
Around mile 0.6, the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail splits off to the west, or your left. From here it gets steep…really steep. But this is the only uphill steep portion of the Caprock Canyons hiking loop trail. And it’s only steep for a very short time.
Through a series of switchbacks, you’ll climb about 500 feet to the top of the escarpment. When I hiked it there were some parts where I had to use my hands a little to help steady myself and push myself up, but nothing too bad. And some parts of the trail are stair-stepped.
But once you are the top, the view is well worth the climb. You can see for miles to the north, south, and east. Take note how the escarpment quickly drops off, separating Llano Estacado high plains and the Texas Rolling Plains.
Once on top of the escarpment, there are several overlooks. When I hiked it, the wind was extremely strong, so I didn’t spend too much time at the overlooks.
The Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail follows the ridge for about 2 miles. While hiking this section take note of the different vegetation that grows on the Llano Estacado compared to the terrain below.
This portion of the trail is fairly level and easy to walk on.
Upper South Prong Trail
Around mile 3.2 the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail ends at the intersection with the Upper South Prong Trail. Here, you’ll want to go north, or your right, to the end of the Upper South Prong Trail.
From here the trail steeply descends into the canyon of the North Prong Little Red River. You’ll hike about 0.3 miles and at mile 3.5 the trail intersects with the Upper North Prong Trail.
A spur trail to the west, or your left, will take you to the crotch of the canyon where you can see the Fern Cave, a unique feature and point of interest at Caprock Canyons State Park.
The Fern Cave is home to natural springs seeping out of the rock. It creates the perfect environment for ferns to grow, and they carpet the wall of the cliff like a decorative tapestry. You can view the Fern Cave from above as you hike down into the canyon along the Upper South Prong Trail as well.
Upper North Prong Trail
At the intersection of the Upper South Prong Trail and Upper North Prong Trail, you will want to go east or your right. This portion of the Caprock Canyons hiking loop takes you from the start of this canyon to its mouth.
You begin in a tight narrow canyon surrounded by red walls. In this section, you criss-cross the river. However, I was there shortly after a rain, and it was already dry. It’s also neat to take note of the different vegetation here and compare it to the vegetation of the trail where you started and the vegetation atop the escarpment.
Around mile 4.7 you begin to see “The Last Dance,” a pair of hoodoos that appear to be a couple dancing. The two geological formations stick straight up from the top of the escarpment to the south, or your right. However, I didn’t think it looked like people dancing until I was even with them and got a good side view.
North Prong Spur Trail
At mile 5.75 the Upper North Prong Trail intersects with the North Prong Spur Trail as the canyon opens up. Here you will want to go south, or your right.
Around mile 6.35, there is a spur trail to North Prong Primitive Camping Area and is open to anyone who wishes to backpack. Permits are required, so you’ll want to check with the park first.
At mile 6.55 you come back to the stick of the lollipop loop as the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail heads to the west, this time your right. From here you’ll retrace your steps on the North Prong Spur Trail, back over the saddle, and back to the trailhead.
Caprock Canyons Hiking Loop Trail
This series of trails at Caprock Canyons State Park is not an official trail or loop but connects four trails to make a wonderful loop that showcases all the beauty of Caprock Canyons State Park.
As I was deep in the canyon on the Upper North Prong Trail, I wondered if the bison ever ventured back there. And as soon as I said it, I saw a big pile of bison poop. So that answered my question.
I hiked this loop counterclockwise; however, it can be hiked clockwise as well. The Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail is the most popular in the park. And it’s no wonder. The views from the top are definitely unmatched.
But I also enjoyed the deeply cut canyon along the Upper North Prong Trail and seeing how erosion has shaped this beautiful landscape.