One hundred miles southeast of Amarillo, Texas lies one of the state’s best kept secrets. Opened in 1982, Caprock Canyons State Park boasts over 15,000 acres of rugged, wild West Texas territory. Caprock Canyons is located along the eastern edge of the Llano Estacado. Here the Staked Plains meet the Permian Plains in a dramatic way.
Park visitors can enjoy the natural features of Caprock Canyons through a variety of activities. Hiking, biking, camping, fishing, and horseback riding give patrons the opportunity to soak in the majesty of Caprock Canyons.
Trails in Caprock Canyons range from beginner and intermediate trails along the Caprock Canyons Trailway to more advanced and isolated trails located in the park. In fact, there are nearly ninety miles of trails open for hiking and biking. Easy trails, like Mesa Trail, are short and mostly flat. More challenging trails, like Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail, are longer with cliffs and drop-offs. Please note that only experienced hikers and bikers should attempt the more difficult trails.
When hiking in Caprock Canyons, it is important to observe some general hiking guidelines. Most importantly, hikers should be respectful of the land and other hikers. Hiking involves more than just walking along a trail. Most hikers want to observe the plants and animals that live and grow along the trails. Hiking quietly allows those in other groups to enjoy the sounds of nature without the disruptions of loud voices and ringing cell phones. However, when coming upon other hikers, a friendly hello lets them know others are nearby. For breaks, hikers should move to the edge of the trail so others can pass as they continue their trek. Those hiking downhill should yield to hikers going uphill. When hiking in groups, do not take up the entire trail. Leave room for other hikers and groups to pass. Do not leave behind any trash or evidence of your hike. If you carry it in, carry it out. Even biodegradable items like apple cores are unsightly and potentially bad for area wildlife. Never feed the wildlife. Feeding them interrupts their natural foraging habits. If you bring your pet along, be sure to keep it leashed and under control. Also, pack out their waste. It is important to leave the trails and habitats as you find them. Removing or disturbing the habitat spoils it for future hikers. Leave rocks, vegetation, and artifacts where they lay. Also, do not interact with the wildlife. Keep a safe distance away and remain calm. Move slowly down the trail to continue your hike. In an effort to preserve trails, hikers should always stay on the trails to minimize damage to the habitat. Leaving the trails can damage or kill plants and animals by damaging the ecosystems around the trail area. Finally, hikers should be aware of their surroundings. Keep an eye on the weather, terrain, and wildlife. Being aware is being safe.
Biking in Caprock Canyons is allowed on almost every trail. The trails in the canyons are moderate to difficult for experienced mountain bikers. Bikers with less experience are encouraged to utilize less rugged trails, like the beginning of the Canyon Rim Trail and the Eagle Point Trail. Three trails have several creek crossings that are sandy. These trails are Upper South Prong, Lower South Prong, and Lower North Prong Trails. The sand makes these trails less conducive to biking. One trail, the Haynes Ridge Trail, is not accessible by bike due to its incline and switchbacks.
As with hiking, bikers should observe some common guidelines. General trail rules include: ride only trails that are open, leave no trace of your visit, be in control of your bicycle, and never scare the animals.
Caprock Canyons has miles and miles of trails. If trails or roads are closed, simply find a different trail for your adventure. Remember to get permits or authorization for private land and do not ride in protected state or federal wilderness areas. Do not create new trails. Use the available trails unless they are soft or muddy and riding them will damage the trailbed. While biking is exhilarating, it is important to keep yourself in control at all times. Ride within your limits, follow speed recommendations, and stay alert. When you encounter others on the trails, be courteous. Let them know you are coming with a friendly greeting. Be on the lookout for others as you round corners. Yield to non-bike riders and riders headed uphill.
Whether hiking or biking, it is important to remember to plan ahead for your visit. Research your trip and the trails. It is much easier to be well prepared than to have to scramble at the last minute. Pack the essentials, including plenty of water. Carry supplies for changes in weather and other conditions. If biking, be familiar with trail signs that mark trail difficulty. You should be familiar with your equipment and know your strengths and weaknesses. Wear a helmet and other safety gear.
Hikers and bikers should also prepare for animals that could be encountered on the trail. Frightened animals can be very dangerous. Always stay alert on the trails. Sudden movements and loud noises can startle animals. Be sure to give animals enough time and room to adjust to your presence. When you encounter horseback riders, follow their directions for passing. Do not disturb wildlife, cattle, or other domestic animals. Being prepared and cautious will keep both you and the wildlife you encounter safe.
In addition to day trips for hiking or biking, Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway allows camping. For overnight stays, campers can utilize park campsites or primitive sites along the Trailway. For access to water and electricity, visitors can camp at the Honey Flat. Wildhorse offers water in addition to two corrals for horses. The Little Red area has a picnic shelter but no water or electricity. The South Prong site is a primitive site with no water or electricity. For more adventurous campers, there are two hike-in sites, the North Prong and South Prong Hike Ins. For these sites, you must backpack over a mile down the trail. These sites do not offer water or electricity. When camping along the Trailway, be sure to remain within park boundaries. Many of the campsites at Caprock Canyon State Park fill up quickly, so be sure to go online and reserve your camping spot ahead of time so you won't be disappointed.
The Caprock Canyon State Park offers approximately 20 miles of equestrian trails. The trails are primarily packed or soft sandy footing with short sections of hard base and rock. Dry washes are plentiful. Trails range from easy to difficult. Steep climbs give way to stunning vistas and spectacular scenery. Be prepared for steep descents and climbs on some trails. In the canyon floor trails follow mostly dry to occasionally spring fed creek beds. The variety of soil types and geology is visually stunning.
The park has a free roaming Bison herd. Riders may encounter Bison on trails. The Bison favor the grassy meadows in the park. They are less numerous in the dry red canyons where grass is not as plentiful. Bison are not aggressive toward horses given they have ample space and are not encroached upon. Yield to them and give them a wide berth.
The Wild Horse Equestrian Campground has 12 sites. The campground is beautiful with a windmill and stock watering tank. Large mesquite and juniper trees surround the camp and offer some separation between sites. Each site has a table, fire pit and corrals. The corrals are pipe with a nice sandy bottom. Water is available at each site. No electricity. There is a dump station near the campground. There are no restrooms in the campground however there are some nearby.
This campground will fill up on holiday weekends. Call ahead!!
In addition to the main park is the Caprock Canyons Trailway. The trailway footing varies from packed fine gravel to natural red clay to the original railroad bed of hard rock. There are no steep grades. There are many bridges and trestles on the trailway. All the bridges have tall rails on the sides. The nearest point of interest on the trailway from the main park is the Clarity Tunnel. The tunnel is a beautiful sight! It is the summer home of a large colony of Mexican free-tailed bats. Up to half a million bats use the tunnel. The ceiling of the tunnel is quite tall. Quiet riders can pass through easily without disturbing the bats. The tunnel has a slight bend. Depending on the time of day you may or may not see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ as you enter. After just a short distance you reach the bend and the opposite opening can be seen. Beyond the tunnel are a stunning series of bridges and canyon overlooks.
The tunnel is located 4.5 miles west of Monk’s Crossing parking lot. You may park in this lot and pay the day fee at the pay box. Monk’s Crossing is located about 12 miles south of the main park.
Caprock Canyon State Park offers topography and scenery that cannot be compared to any other in the state of Texas! It is grand and expansive. The staff is friendly and helpful. A couple of good restaurants are a short 10-minute drive into the town of Quitaque.
- Written by: Melanie Martin
Melanie Martin promotes and participates in Endurance Horse Competitions as well.
Lake Theo is located within the Caprock Canyon State Park boundaries. This 120-surface-acre lake offers visitors another layer of outdoor activity.
Although Lake Theo does not require a license for fishing, there are some limitations. For trout, fishermen can only catch five per day, and each person is limited to two poles. Trout are generally stocked in the winter months. Several species of fish can be found in Lake Theo. Channel catfish, crappie, and large and small-mouth bass can be caught. In addition, you might find sunfish and a cross between walleye and sauger called a saugeye. No matter what you are looking for, a fishing adventure is almost guaranteed.
When fishing for trout, the best bait is either yellow powerbait or salmon eggs. The catfish really like worms or stinkbait. Bass also go for worms. Of course you can also fish with weenies or artificial lures.
Lake Theo does allow no-wake boating and swimming. Swimming is allowed in any area of the park. For hook-free swimming, there is a swimming area that does not allow fishing. Unfortunately, due to the climate of West Texas, this area is often rather dry. If that is the case, swimming north of the dam is recommended. This area has less of a drop off.
Texas Parks and Wildlife allows limited hunting within Caprock Canyons State Park. The goal of the department is to restore and maintain a balanced habitat of native plants and animals. When the wildlife exceeds this balance, public hunting permits are granted. Hunters with permits must adhere to park regulations. Vehicles are limited to established roadways, meaning that hunters must be prepared to move their harvested animals to the nearest roadway over rugged terrain. Even very large animals will need to be relocated to the nearest road. Hunters are warned that the extremely rugged landscapes and large animals make for a challenging hunt. Bison live and roam freely throughout the park. Hunters should stay at least fifty yards from the protected animals to ensure safety. Permits are granted for a variety of wildlife in the park. Auodad and feral hogs are among the most common permits. Mule deer, white-tailed deer, rabbits, and hares are also commonly permitted.