Earlier this summer I was scheduled for a thirty-hour layover in Amarillo, Texas, which I turned into an excellent day trip with my crew. If you are lucky enough to have a day trip from Amarillo, you’ll find a lot to see and do. This is the story of my perfect day in Amarillo.
Day Trip From Amarillo, Texas
I research each city I visit before I rent a car and start driving around. Amarillo was no different. Days before my arrival, I got some great advice from other travel blogger friends that led my day through the city. While Amarillo is set in a fairly flat place, there are some interesting features around if you know where to go. Palo Duro Canyon State Park is just south of town in America’s second largest canyon after the Grand Canyon. Route 66 also runs right through the middle of the city and is a great way to get a taste of some classic Americana. We’re also out to test the old saying “Everything is bigger in Texas” by tracking down one of the most Texan things there is; a gigantic steak.
Palo Duro Canyon
The Palo Duro Canyon is gorgeous. But, I have a little bit of advice for a newbie to Texas: Texas summer + Canyon = HOT. I’m talking frying eggs on rocks outside hot. I couldn’t believe how fast we got caught by the texas heat. Make sure to plan this part of your day trip from Amarillo for the first thing in the morning.
Bested only by the Grand Canyon, the Palo Duro is the next largest canyon in the country. Hike the canyon by descending 800 feet below the rim while you descend through 250 million years of geologic history. Biking and equestrian trails are also available. Day trippers can stop at the visitors center on the rim of the canyon or the Trading Post on the canyon floor. We drove the loop around the park and stopped at a few different points of interest.
Getting to the Palo Duro Canyon is an easy 23-mile drive southeast of Amarillo. The morning we went was stormy which made the beautiful landscape even more gorgeous. We loved the beautiful drive and the random longhorns that would sit and watch the cars drive by.
As you near the park, the canyon will suddenly appear on your right side. There, you will find a company that does zip line adventures as well as other outdoor recreation for those of you who would like a little more adventure.
Park Road 5
If you don’t need that kind of advenure during your day trip from Amarillo, the short 23-mile drive to the canyon can simply continue past the zip line adventures. After paying a small fee to enter the park, the road will wind down into the bottom of the canyon where you can drive in your air conditioned comfort of your car, but not before taking in some fantastic views on the way down.
Your drive will continue through the winding valley by many campsites and trails. Toward the far end of the park, we saw a cave and decided to get out and explore.
The rain made the clay floor of the canyon very slippery and messy but we still got to see some beautiful parts of the park. It is hard to explain how vibrant the canyon is. The colors of the brush and the various layers of rock and clay are unexpectedly bright.
The drive itself is a very easy paved two-lane road. We looped back toward the entrance and about halfway, decided to hike the Lighthouse Trail.
Palo Duro Lighthouse Trail
Recommended by one of my favorite bloggers, Ireland Family Vacations, this hike brings you around one of the most photographed parts of the park. The hike itself is 5 and three-quarters of a mile long. and hikes up to and back from the Palo Duro Lighthouse rock formation. Remember how I said Texas summer plus canyon would equal hot? I kind of laughed at this sign when arrived. It was only around 80- degrees when we started. But after the first mile and a half the sun came out and I learned a new respect for posted signs.
The hike is not hard in itself, but the insane heat and humidity were enough to blow my mind. We got here after the storms blew through and the fresh rain and hot blazing sun nearly cooked me. The hike starts in a low area with a lot of shrubs. We saw plenty of pretty plants and even a few lizards.
The trail gradually rose and we were walking across the brightly colored orange clay of the park toward Capitol Peak, shown below.
The trail follows this hill around the right-hand side and then continues up to the lighthouse rock formation.
The hike just got too hot for us to continue and we wanted to make sure not to miss any of the other parts of Amarillo, so we headed back soon after passing capitol hill but the colors of the canyon were amazing!
We left the park but not after enjoying some more of the plants that somehow survive this place.
After leaving the park hot and parched, we were very glad to be in our air-conditioned car as we drove toward Route 66. This is one of America’s most famous highways originally spanning between Chicago, Illinois and Santa Monica, California. Interested in experiencing some of the histories of this famous road? You can get your kicks in Amarillo by visiting the Cadillac Ranch, Bills Backyard Classics, and the Route 66 Historic District. Don’t miss the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum while you’re at it! I drove Route 66 through the Historic District and, rumor has it, when they expanded the Amarillo airport, they actually built it over the original Route 66 which means I got to drive a jet on part of it too!
Historic 6th Street
You can’t have a day trip from Amarillo without visiting Route 66. This historic district is a few blocks of history, shopping, and dining. We found Smokey Joe’s, a great biker bar with some classics parked outside to stop for lunch. How much more American can a biker bar be on Route 66, right?! Of course this was our choice for lunch…
I love motorcycle communities. We were met at the door of the patio by a guy with his chihuahua who insisyed we pet it before coming in. This was the kind of place you can ride to and just hang out all day. We drank a few glasses of water after our hike and split a plate of nacho’s. It was exactly what we needed.
The historic center had a few other restaurants worth checking out as well, but make sure you add this part of Route 66 to your day trip from Amarillo.
Just west of Amarillo is one of the weirdest things I’ve seen; the Cadillac Ranch. It seems almost a sin against road tripping not to stop here on your road trip. In 1974, as part of an art installation project, several Cadillac’s were half buried in the ground off of the original Route 66. Since then, they were moved, but the tradition of spray painting the now-buried cars has lasted to this day. It is worth a visit, but get ready to smell the fresh paint and about 100 other tourists jostling for position around you.
Route 66 is inspiring and unique. It represents the freedom of the American road tripper. It even lured this guy below who had run out of gas and was begging for donations so he could make it to the Grand Canyon. I asked him if he had a paypal account I could link to to help him with his journey, but he declined to give it to me. Good luck man! If you ever come across this post, let us know how the rest of your trip went!
It’s true. Everything is bigger in Texas. The Big Texan is the home of the 76oz steak. If you eat it, you get it free. I was tempted to try so I could tell the story of how I horribly lost that bet, but my better senses got the best of me and I decided to just take a picture of the other guys who did try.
See how much fun they’re having? Right. That’s why I didn’t do it. Oh, and by the way, did I tell you it’s timed? You have to put down 4 and three-quarters pounds of steak plus sides in an hour?! nah…. Sure, it may not look that bad here:
… but I promise you this thing is huge. Anyway, the Big Texan is an intersting place. It reminded me of Wall Drug with all of it’s kitsch decor. This restaurant is an experience and something you need to add to your day trip from Amarillo. Even if you don’t eat here, it is worth a stop.
Besides the main dining room, adventure out and see the other patios too. The food was decent but the atmosphere was great.
Leave us a comment about your day trip from Amarillo. We’d love to hear what you thought!
You can also read about some of our other favorite day trips here:
- Greenville, South Carolina
- Portland, Maine
- Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- Allentown, Pennsylvania
- Great Falls, Montana
- Vancouver, British Columbia
- Gunnison, Colorado
- Charleston, West Virginia