A Guide to Caprock Canyons State Park, TX: Hiking, Camping & Tips
March 27, 2021
Caprock Canyons State Park is an expansive and beautiful park located in the Texas panhandle. The park totals 15,313 acres, has 90 miles of trails and is home to the Official Bison Herd of Texas. It is about two hours from Amarillo, one hour and 45 minutes from Lubbock and five hours from Dallas. It’s an hour and a half away from the larger Palo Duro State Park, but I personally prefer Caprock to it’s more popular neighbor. The remote location, wildlife, trails and views make this an incredible place to stop if you’re anywhere near the area.
The canyon was formed by streams flowing through the Caprock Escarpment millions of years ago. You can see the layers of red, orange and white in the rocks; each color represents a different geologic age. The landscape of the park mainly consists of prairie grasses surrounded by towering canyon walls.
Day use entry to Caprock Canyons costs $5 per person or is free to enter with a Texas State Park Pass. The campsites range from $10 - $22 a night. I recommend purchasing a Texas State Park Pass if you are going to visit multiple parks in a year!
This post includes information on multiple hikes. If you are new to hiking, prepare by reading these beginner hiker tips. If you are looking for new hiking gear, read my recommendations in this ultimate day hike packing list.
Please make it a priority to Leave No Trace when exploring the outdoors. This includes leaving nothing behind, respecting wildlife, minimizing campfire impacts, respecting those around you, planning ahead and traveling on durable surfaces. For more details, read about the seven principles at lnt.org.
The Official Texas bison herd roams freely throughout almost the entire park. They seem to mostly stay in the large prairie areas, but you’ll also see them at the campsites, the playground and on the trails. The bison herd was donated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1997 with 32 bison. Today, the herd has grown to be about 150. The Texas bison herd is the last remaining example of the Southern Plains variety of the animal so the state protects and continues to grow the herd.
It’s important to be vigilant around these gigantic animals. Leave at least 50 feet of space between you and them at all times. If you see a bison change its behavior, raise their tail up in a question mark, paw the ground and lower their head, or gaze at you head-on, leave the area immediately.
Unfortunately, I came across two hikers on the Upper North Prong Trail that had been injured from a bison encounter. If you see a bison on a trail, go the opposite direction immediately and get off the trail if they come towards you. Use common sense and be extra cautious.
There is also a prairie dog town in the park! It is located on both sides of the road next to the Honey Flat Camping Area. It’s always fun to see them popping in and out of their holes and alerting each other of your presence. I also saw a coyote in the park (and heard coyotes howling all night long) plus multiple roadrunners. Snakes are commonly seen in the park as well. Caprock is full of so much incredible wildlife, which to me made it feel more like a national park than most other Texas state parks.
There are two parts of Caprock; the park itself and the trailway. The trailway spans 64 miles along a former railroad line. On the trail, you can hike, bike, horseback and camp along the way. There are eight parking lots along the trail and most of them are located several miles apart from each other.
In my opinion, the most fascinating point of interest on the trail is the Clarity Tunnel. The tunnel is home to a large colony of Mexican free-tailed bats, half a million of them live there in the summer months. The tunnel is 4.5 miles from the nearest parking lot (Monk’s Crossing) and the trail has no shade. I recommend bringing a bike to best enjoy the journey. I searched for places to rent bikes but unfortunately the nearest rentals are hours away in Amarillo and Lubbock.
Caprock Canyons has several camping options throughout the park. There are 35 campsites with electricity at the Honey Flat Camping Area; these sites are right next to the prairie dog town and have trail access to the Canyon Rim Trail and Canyon Rim Spur Trail. There is also a nice bathroom facility here.
The Lake Theo campsites have water but no electricity. These sites do not have trail access but are very close to Lake Theo, where you can swim or fish.
The Wild Horse Camping Area is where you’ll need to stay if you bring a horse; there are horse corrals, water for the horses and space to sleep in a RV, tent or van.
For walk-in campsites that aren’t far from the parking lot, you can camp in the Little Red Tent area or the South Prong tent camping area. These areas have an organic toilet nearby and are not far from some of the best trails in the park. Both are next to some incredible canyons and have amazing views.
Finally, there are two incredible hike out primitive camping areas where you can truly be immersed in nature. The North Prong and the South Prong campsites are a mile hike from the parking lot and have organic toilets onsite. I camped at the North Prong hike out site and it was perfect. There was plenty of space to spread out from the other tents and the campsite has quick access to the beautiful Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail. It was amazing to wake up with the canyon rising up above us.
If you are new to hiking, get started with my beginner hiking tips!
Caprock Canyons has incredible hiking trails of all difficulties. Here are the top three hikes I recommend.
The Eagle Point Trail is 2 miles one way and spans across the middle of the canyon. There are parking areas at both ends of the trail but I began at the north end where there are about six parking spots. About an 1/8th of a mile from the north part of the trail, you’ll find the Natural Bridge. The Natural Bridge is essentially a cave that goes underneath the trail, you can almost miss it if you aren’t paying attention. You can climb down a few feet off the main trail and climb through the cave underneath the trail to the opposite side. This was an unexpected and unique rock formation, definitely make sure you check it out!
The rest of the Eagle Point Trail has many instances of white gypsum layers in the rocks and views of the surrounding canyon. There is no shade cover so make sure you bring sunscreen and plenty of water.
This loop trail is the most iconic trail in the park because of the incredible views from the Haynes Ridge Overlook. We did the trail counterclockwise so that we’d be going down the steepest part instead of up. This also meant that we saved the best view for the end instead of the beginning. Either counterclockwise or clockwise will be enjoyable, it just comes down to your personal preference.
The North Prong Spur and Upper North Prong Trail are mostly flat and wide with some rolling hills throughout. You will see layers of different rocks throughout and will cross multiple creek beds along the way. Be sure to look for the hoodoos while on the Upper North Prong Trail, they are two rocks that stick up into the air like a pair of legs.
Beware that bison frequently roam along these trails and can be aggressive. We saw a bison on the Upper North Prong Trail walking towards us and had to quickly jump off the trail as it passed us. Just a bit further down the path, a pair of hikers had been trampled by the same bison. They were physically okay, but pretty jared from the experience and needed help getting out. Cell service is very spotty here, but we were able to get connected to emergency services for them to drive out and for the rescue.. All this to say, be cautious and prepared. Bring first aid and be sure to let someone know where you’ll be. Luckily the trail was heavily trafficked so there were many people willing to help. If you encounter a bison, move in the opposite direction and create as much space as you can between you and the animal.
Right before the ascent up onto the Haynes Ridge trail, you’ll find Fern Cave. A sign indicates a slight descent off the main trail to step inside. The cave is more of a cove with some hanging ferns and dripping water. The ferns were brown when I visited in February, I believe they are more green in the spring and summer. The cave wasn’t extremely impressive but it feels uniquely different from the rest of the park and is a quick stop on the trail.
The Haynes Ridge Overlook trail is where you’ll find the best views of the canyon. It is a steep and rocky climb to get up onto the ridge. However, when you reach the top it is mostly flat until you descend again. I found both climbs on the Haynes Ridge Overlooks to be very doable if you’re a hiker. Just make sure you have sturdy shoes and bring plenty of water.
The Canyon Rim Trail is located right next to the Honey Flat Camping Area and is 3 miles one way. As the name suggests, it goes along the rim of a canyon and has beautiful views of orange rock formations. You’ll be walking among prairie grasses where the bison roam with great canyon views. The trail is mostly flat. A lot of bison frequent this area, so be sure to be on the lookout. I only did the first mile or so and the views were great for that section.
You’ll need to stop at the visitor center upon entering the park to obtain your park permit. There is a great overlook behind the visitor center with canyons views and bison in the distance. There is also information on the wildlife and nature in the park plus gifts to purchase.
Lake Theo is an unexpected place in the vast canyon. The lake normally offers swimming, fishing and no wake boating but the water was extremely low when I visited. There is a historic site near the lake with a marker. The plague explains that this area was the former site of an archaeological feature built by the Folsom people 10,000 years ago. There isn’t much to see here but I did spot a roadrunner!
If you are short on time or don’t want to hike, a scenic drive through the park offers beautiful views. The road through the park is 5.5 miles and offers several overlook stops along the way. The overlooks at the amphitheater and in between the Honey Flat Camping Area and Wild Horse Camping Area were the best. You can gaze out at the vast canyon and enjoy the beautiful red and orange rock layers in the distance.
Not only are there beautiful views at the Amphitheater, but there are often ranger talks that take place in the park. The amphitheater has a projector where they show slideshows about the park wildlife. Caprock also hosts informative guided hikes throughout the park. There are even live music performances at the visitor center pavilion. These events are perfect for kids and adults alike who are camping in the park. Check the Caprock Canyons events page or their Facebook page to see upcoming events.
Quitaque is the town right outside of Caprock Canyons. Here you can get essentials like ice and gas or visit the restaurants and shops in town. The Bison Cafe is a cute restaurant with outdoor patio space that serves a large menu of Southwestern food. Items include salads, fried cheese curds and a wide selection of sandwiches.
Turkey, Texas is even smaller than Quituque but is also very close to the park.You can stay in the historic Hotel Turkey and learn about the town's musical history. Bob Wills, a famous western swing musician, was born in Turkey and you’ll see statues, signs and museums dedicated to him throughout the town.
Amarillo is 2 hours from Caprock and has a lot to offer; you can visit the famous Cadillac Ranch and other Route 66 attractions, visit one Amarillo’s several museums and eat Texas-sized steak at the Big Texan Ranch and Steakhouse. Check out my guide to spending one day in Amarillo.
Palo Duro has a similar landscape to Caprock but is larger and more visited. It is much closer to Amarillo and an hour and a half away from Caprock Canyons. If you visit, be sure to hike to Lighthouse Rock, an incredible lighthouse-shaped rock formation. You can also see the Texas Outdoor Musical, explore caves and hike up to the canyon rim. Find out more recommendations in my post on Palo Duro and Amarillo! These two parks are perfect to combine into one trip.
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