Rugged red buttes and hoodoos sprawl across a stunningly beautiful, labyrinthine landscape. Thick junipers and mesquite line the banks of quiet creeks and streams. Sagebrush and prairie grasses blanket the arid earth with varying hues of green, and a herd of bison - Texas’ largest wild herd - ambles across a valley in search of new forage. You have arrived at Caprock Canyons State Park!
Encompassing over 15,000 acres, Caprock Canyons is a wildly gorgeous park with ample exploration opportunities for visitors. An extensive trail network - which totals 90 miles - weaves its way through canyons and along the lips of scenic ridges. Plus, just to the south of the park is the 64-mile Caprock Canyon Trailway, a multi-use trail repurposed from an old railroad line, which cuts through the heart of north Texas’ most impressive scenery. Hikers, bikers and trail riders should have few problems staying occupied in and around Caprock Canyons.
If relaxation is your aim, then head for the cool, calm waters of Lake Theo, where anglers to cast their lines, swimmers can take a refreshing dip, and birders can spy some of the many waterfowl species drawn to the oasis.
Caprock Canyons State Park has 31 RV suitable sites and an additional 12 equestrian camping sites. Try to reserve your spot at this Panhandle gem well in advance; the beautiful park can become, understandably, busy during peak season.
The park’s main road be accessed via Ranch Road 1065. The road is paved, but does not have any dividing lines, so just be wary of oncoming traffic, especially if you’re in a wider rig. There are no hairpin turns or steep climbs to worry about. The Ranch Road takes off from TX-86 in the town Quitaque, just to the south of town (Quitaque offers basic amenities including a grocery store, restaurants, atms and additional camping sites.) For those needing big-city services, Lubbock and Amarillo are both about an hour and a half drive away.
All the park’s campgrounds, most of its trailheads, Lake Theo and the visitor center can all be accessed off of the park’s main road, which winds a few miles into the park and dead-ends. The eastern end of the park, and a couple other trailheads, can be accessed via Ranch Road 29, though high-clearance vehicles are recommended on this road.
The Honey Flat camping area is just passed the visitor center, on the right if you’re heading in. The Wild Horse camping area is a couple more miles up the park’s main road. Parking at both campsites be a bit tricky for very large rigs, as all spots are back-in. On the whole, though, campsites are spacious and there are no sharp curves on either loop. Site length limits are about 60 ft for both campsites.
The Wild Horse Camping Area lets riders camp right in the thick of things, surrounded by sweeping vistas of badlands and cliff lines. Twelve RV/trailer sites are available and arranged in a simple spur and loop. Site lengths range from 50 ft to 67 ft, so even larger rigs and setups can be accommodated. Water and horse corrals are available, as are vault toilets, fire rings with grills and picnic tables.
Sites are otherwise primitive, having no electric, water or sewage hookups.
The camping area offers easy access to the two and a half-mile Wild Horse Trail, which cuts downward through canyonlands towards the Little Red River and its picturesque valley. Several other riding trails break off from the Wild Horse Trail, so riders can use the camping area as a launching place to explore most of the park, if they wish.
Sites can be reserved up to six months in advance. As this is the park’s only equestrian camp, and as limited spaces are available, reservations are highly recommended, especially for those traveling during peak season.
35 RV-suitable sites are available at the spacious Honey Flat Camping Area. This camping area, close to the park’s entrance, is set among high prairie grasses and short junipers and pines. All sites have water hookups as well as electric (with 25 sites having 30-amp hookups and 10 sites having 50-amp hookups). A sanitary dump station is just outside the entrance to the loop. Restrooms with showers are available (though showers are shut off during the off-season). Fire rings and picnic tables can be found at every site.
Honey Flat allows for easy access to the park’s visitor center, Lake Theo, and the park amphitheater; all are just a very short drive or stroll away. The three-mile Canyon Rim trail, and its half-mile spur trail, both leave off from this campground, meaning campers can hit the trail as soon as they arrive, should they wish.
Reservations can be made up to six months in advance, with 31 of the 35 sites being reservable.
Caprock Canyons presents a harsh but colorful landscape which truly evokes the Wild West. Riders exploring the park’s extensive equestrian trail network can ride to the tops of fantastic vistas or along the thickly vegetated bottoms of canyons and valleys. Park literature warns that riders should always keep their skill level in mind before setting out - some trails are very rocky or have steep drop offs. Summer visitors should also be wary of extreme heat, for both their horses and their own sake (natural water is usually available for horses along trails at the park, but not for riders on the Trailway).
Many visitors to Caprock Canyons will no doubt want to learn about the area’s dramatic geology, as well as its diverse flora and fauna. To that end, the park provides wonderful interpretive programs for visitors of all ages. Programs take place at the visitor center, on trails, or on the park’s open-air shuttle, with subjects ranging from bats to erosion to the history of the park’s bison herd. Kids can also partake in the Texas State Parks’ Junior Ranger Program, where they’ll be rewarded for demonstrating their knowledge about the park’s human and natural history.
The Panhandle can become blazing hot during the summer, and Caprock Canyons takes no exception to this rule. Average high temperatures in July and August hover around 90 degrees fahrenheit, and triple digit readings are by no means unusual. Thankfully, the park offers a respite from the heat in the form of 120-acre Lake Theo, where visitors are welcome to swim. Fishing and no-wake boating are also allowed. The swim beach is on the campground-side of the lake, while the boat launch is on the opposite side. Both are easily accessible.
No matter the season, photographers will revel at the scenic photo opportunities offered by Caprock Canyons. Wildflowers bloom throughout spring and summer, adding vibrant splashes to a sea of grasses and forbes. White winter snows heighten the redness of the canyons’ walls and rocks. Bison add a sense of grandeur to just about any landscape shot, especially when paired with an elusive prairie rainbow, brought out by a summer thunderstorm. With a setting as spectacular as Caprock Canyons’, the artistic possibilities are endless.
Caprock Canyons and its surrounds support a rich array of wildlife. The park is home to a herd of prairie bison, the formation of which dates back to 1878. Nearby Clarity Tunnel, on the Trailway, hosts a massive roost of Mexican free-tailed bats. Lake Theo, a 120-acre oasis set in a very arid landscape, draws birds, especially waterfowl, like a beacon. Reptiles are diverse and plentiful too; if you arrive when it’s warm, you’ll no doubt see lizards, such as vibrant blue and yellow collared lizards, darting over rocks and across trails. If you’re hiking or riding, keep a sharp eye out for prairie rattlesnakes! Coyotes, jackrabbits, foxes, bobcats, prairie dogs and more are commonly seen throughout the park as well.
Hikers and bikers can crunch and ride over miles and miles of Caprock Canyons’ red, crumbly earth. The Fern Cave trail takes travelers to a beautiful canyon overhang covered in spring-fed ferns, while the Last Dance trail leads hikers to a rock hoodoo shaped like a pair of dancers. Other trails lead to natural bridges, follow along canyon rims or carve a path through the hearts of active prairie dog towns. Arduous adventure seekers can go for a long day-hike, or extended backpacking trip, along the Caprock Canyons Trailway.