My first destination when I departed Austin after spending 7 months in the general area was going to be Palo Duro Canyon State Park, then I found out about Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailway. Not sure how I found about it – may have been as simple as I was looking at the Texas State Park Guide that I have floating around – but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I am incredibly grateful I found out about it and spent 4 nights there as the park is incredible!
Located about 100 miles southeast of Amarillo, Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailway is the third largest park in Texas and opened in 1982. As you approach the park you can see the Caprock Escarpment rising up, giving indication that there is something ahead. The trailway portion is 64 mile long biking and hiking path that follows the right-of-way from an abandoned railway (thus is a rails-to-trails project).
I arrived at the park with no reservations and after the park office had closed. I had called ahead and made sure there was availability and was told to find an empty spot, settle in, and come pay up by 9am the next morning. Perfect!
There are a large number of primitive tent camping areas in Caprock Canyons, but just one area that offers hookups for RVs – Honey Flats. There is a total of 35 sites in Honey Flats, with 25 offering 30 amp electric and water and 10 offering 50 amp and water. 30 amp sites are $15 a night and 50 amp sites are $20 a night. This being Texas, you also have to pay a daily entrance fee unless you have (as I do), a Texas State Parks Pass that, for $70 a year, allows you free entrance (covers the daily entrance fee) for you and everyone in your car. So if you are going to stay at a Texas State Park very long, it is worth the price, especially since it gives you discounts on four nights stay as well.
The sites at Honey Flat are level and there is good spacing between sites. There are some trees/shrubs/whatever between sites, so you do have decent privacy. I chose site 18 after driving the entire campground, as it felt right. You know, sometimes you just have to trust your gut. And it worked out well. 🙂
While there are great views to be had throughout much of Caprock Canyons, there are none to be had at the campground, which was a bit disappointing. This would be close to a perfect park if the campground had the views that you get in other places within the park.
Caprock Canyons is the home of the official bison herd for the State of Texas. There are 100+ Southern Plains Bison that have free reign of the entire park, though it appears they mostly stay in the plains area. There is signs that they do roam around freely and I was secretly hoping that I would wake up one morning and see a pair of bison eyeballs looking in my window. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
Immediately upon entering the park you see a sign that says “Entering Bison Range” and they aren’t kidding. The entrance is in the plains area where the bison tend to be, and one evening when I was entering the park I was treated to a bison stampede of sorts as several of the magnificent creatures were running across the road towards the main herd, which were kicking up dust and making very interesting snorting sounds.
With over 10,000 acres for the bison to roam you may or may not see them at any one point in time, but if you stay in the park enough, you are bound to be amazed at the sight of these beautiful animals.
Another interesting wildlife viewing opportunity takes place in the area immediately adjacent to the Honey Flats campground where you will find a black-tailed prairie dog town. The prairie dogs were reintroduced to the park in 2012 and make for an amusing viewing experience.
You skirt the prairie dog town as you go to the restrooms/bath house and it is was interesting to observe how they reacted to your presence by alerting their neighbors. As you approach, they dash to their respective holes and crouch down, tails wagging. Get too close and they dart down to their lair.
You really don’t get a sense of the true beauty of the park upon entry, or even as you settle into the campground. Only once you drive deeper into the park do your eyes get big and your jaw drops. This place is gorgeous!
Pictures don’t do this place justice. The red just doesn’t come through. But trust me, the colors of the hills and trails of this place are beyond spectacular! It exceeded my expectation and was a brilliant first stop as I departed Austin.
There is an pretty good selection of trails (PDF map of trails) within the park, many of which are mountain bike accessible, which I took advantage of.
My first adventure on the trails was a 10 mile bike ride, 8 of which were on the trails, some easy, some incredibly sandy where I exercised my right to walk. Spectacular views as I rode through the lower canyon and around a mesa, and I didn’t see another human until I neared the very end – my kind of outing! The last 2 miles was on the park road coming back to the campground, but this wasn’t exactly an easy ride as it was fairly hilly. As in one section was 16% grade hilly. As in I am really out of shape hilly.
The next day I hiked a little over 8 miles thru the spectacular lower canyon and then up, up, up I climbed to the highest point in the park, which offered spectacular views of the entire area.
On departure morning I did a quick 5 mile hike on a trail that I had been wanting to explore. This was a great way to spend the last morning in a beautiful location.
The trailway portion of Caprock Canyons State Park is actually outside the main park area and covers a 64 mile stretch of abandoned railway from the Fort Worth and Denver Railroad. There are several trailheads that you can drive to, depending on what section of the trailway you want to do. The nearest is just outside of the main park in the (very small) town of Quitaque.
The trailway is for hiking or mountain biking and is broken up into different sections with each section given a name and is accessible via the aforementioned trailheads. (PDF map of trailway) I chose to ride my foldable mountain bike (stores easily in the back of my Jeep) on part of the 17 mile long Quitaque Canyon Trail.
I started at the Monk’s Crossing trailhead and rode 4.5 miles on very nice pea gravel trailway (best section of the entire 64 miles, or so I was told) up to the Clarity Tunnel. Built in the 1920’s and named after a vice president of the railway, it is the summer home of a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats. They start arriving in April and leave around October. I didn’t see any bats (but sure smelled their presence!) so I am assuming I was a bit early in the season. Logical assumption, if I do say so myself! 🙂
Caprock Canyons State Park was a great find and I was extremely pleased that I made the stop on the way to Palo Duro Canyon State Park. It is a highly recommended stop should you find yourself in the area…