Hiking to Lighthouse in Palo Duro Canyon

Hiking in any desert region requires preparation, persistence and perseverance. Hiking to the summit of Lighthouse and Castle Peaks in the Palo Duro Canyon State Park also takes a degree of stupidity. Palo Duro Canyon State Park is one of the most picturesque places in the entire state and is visited by thousands and thousands each year. Hikers love the park for its miles and miles of well-groomed trails and spectacular views of the canyon wall.

One of the most popular hikes is to the Lighthouse and Castle Peak formations in the middle of the park. It’s a 3 mile stroll out, through some of the beautiful desert scenery you’ve ever seen but it ends with a 150 foot climb up a shear cliff face with no steps or stairs and few rocks to grip. It’s the second toughest ascent I’ve ever climbed in such brutal conditions with loose soil and gravel all the way up. In fact, if my hiking partner hadn’t brought 50 foot of climbing rope I doubt we could have made it back down without breaking our necks. The image shown below was shot atop the mesa right after we made the 150 foot ascent.

Looking West at Lighthouse

Looking West at Lighthouse – Palo Duro Canyon, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon Powershot G10 set on aperture priority (Av) using a circular polarizer. The exposure was taken at 28mm, f/6.3 for 1/50th of a second at ISO 80. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Looking West at Lighthouse – Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

In the past this trail was well maintained with steps made from old railroad ties supported by rock and concrete. With all that washed away from the strong rains each spring and fall, the hike has become a real danger to anyone, even the most experienced climbers. I usually have nothing but praise for the folks that work for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department but in this case, the climb is so dangerous that I feel TPWD should close it to the public or spend the money to repair it and make it a safe (but strenuous) climb.

A good example of this would be the climb down to Gorman Falls at the Colorado Bend State Park. Many years ago, the folks at TPWD added cables running pole to pole in the most difficult spots of that steep descent, making it possible for almost everyone in good health to make the descent. These type of improvements cost very little in the grand scheme of things (probably less than $1 Million) and make the beauty and grandeur of our state parks accessible to all visitors, not just the crazy few (like me) that risk life and limb for a photograph. I’m sure there’s more to this story, especially with the current budget shortfall but in my view, the state should either fix the problem or make the climb off limits.