Texas’ Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailway Shines in the Rugged Panhandle

The Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailway is located in the Texas panhandle near the own of Quitaque, about 100 miles from Amarillo. The park encompasses more than 15,000 acres of scenic canyons, trails, and a 120-acre lake. The 64-mile Trailway, donated to the state in 1992, brought additional interest for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders as it crosses 46 bridges and passes through a railroad tunnel.

The canyons were the home of several different Native American cultures, including the 10,000-year old Folsom culture and the Plainview culture of about 6500 B.C. The Apaches were living in the area when it was explored by Coronado during the 1500s, but the area became part of Comanche territory by the early part of the eighteenth century. After the 1870s, the area saw an increase in cattle ranches and, to a lesser extent, farms.

The trails offer difficulty factors for all levels of experience. Approximately 25 miles feature steep descents and climbs with drop-offs and cliffs. These trails are recommended for the most experienced bikers and equestrians. Other trails have grades below three percent, making them preferable for novice riders. Six Trailway stretches are about ten miles in length and have parking lots situated at the trailheads. Guests can rent horses during the season, and equestrians can normally find water for the horses on the trail but should carry their own drinking water.

Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailways is home of the Texas State Bison Herd, the largest contained within the state parks. The herd can trace its bloodline to a herd saved by cattleman Charles Goodnight (of the Goodnight-Loving Trail fame) rescued during the 1870s in an attempt to save the American bison from extinction. Wildlife includes aoudad sheet, deer, opossums, raccoons and porcupines. More than 175 types of birds, including the rarely seen golden eagle, make their homes on the park grounds. Predators include bobcats, foxes, and coyotes.

The vegetation within the Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailways is varied. The bottomlands feature areas of tall grasses, thickets of plums and hackberries, and cottonwood trees. The badlands offer less vegetation but has mesquite, juniper, and a variety of cacti.

The scenery visitors to Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailways is among the best offered by the Texas State Park system. The redrock canyons feature sandstone ridges and oddly eroded pinnacles. During the Permian Age, the panhandle region was an inland basin encircled by highland areas. Approximately 250 million years of geologic history can be seen in the landscape.

Campers can choose from several sites, such as the Honea Flat Camping Area, which has 35 sites with electricity and water, or the Wild Horse Camping Area for those exploring the park by horseback. The South Prong Tent Camping Area features 20 sites and is recommended for campers arriving by car. There are several primitive sties that can be reached by backpackers or hikers.

Lake Theo is a no-wake lake with a maximum depth of approximately thirty feet. The lake has a beach for swimming, a fishing pier, and a boat ramp. Campsites are available near the lake.

Visitors to Caprock Canyons State Park can check out an audio driving guide from the park headquarters. There is a $5 refundable deposit required, but use of the guide is free. Several historical markers and interpretive centers provide additional background on the history of the area.

Standard amenities are available, such as a playground, showers, pay telephones, rest rooms, and a park store. There is also an amphitheater that has a capacity of 40 guests and two pavilions for group picnics. The pavilions and amphitheater are available for day use.

The park is open for both day use and overnight camping. The gate hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed from noon until 1 p.m.) from Sunday through Thursday. If the office is not open, visitors can deposit fees in the “honor box” at park headquarters.

Mail should be sent to the Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailways, P. O. Box 204, Quitaque, TX 79255. Park rangers can be reached by telephone at 806-455-1492. More information can be found at the Texas Parks and Wildlife site, http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/parkguide/rgn_pp_002.phtml.