The best of canyons in Texas

The Top 5 Best Canyons in Texas You Have to See in Person

What’s not to love about canyons?  The mystique and raw, rugged beauty.  The mesmerizing way the elements are capable of carving homes such as these out of rock.  And no state does raw, rugged canyons better than Texas!  Texas canyons not only deliver on the trademark red rock we’ve come to know, but they also have a few other surprises in store, from unique ecosystems and terrain, unforgettable views, historically rich roots, and resident wildlife.  These are the 5 best canyons in Texas that you just have to see in person!


The best canyons in Texas


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The Top 5 Best Canyons in Texas



Get ready to take a canyon rich tour across the immense state of Texas, to discover some cherished and iconic canyons, some lesser known gems, some National Park canyons, some state park canyons, and even the 2nd largest canyon in the entire country!




The best of canyons in Texas



Location of the Top 5 Best Canyons in Texas



The big 5 can all be found in the western and southwestern regions of Texas.  That does not mean they all look or feel the same.  Surprisingly, there are many different environments that exist between these 5 canyons and their resident surroundings, despite being relatively close together.  It is quite possible to make a road trip out of these 5 Texas canyons, for the truly ambitious!



#1: Santa Elena Canyon



This canyon is literally an iconic landmark in one of Texas’s two National Parks, Big Bend National Park.  It has come to symbolize the rawness of this region.  But luckily, it is not only one of the best canyons in Texas to see in person, it offers a handful of adventurous, hands on opportunities for exploration, including both hiking and boating!



The entrance to Santa Elena Canyon
Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park



Santa Elena Canyon is accessible after a somewhat lengthy drive on the Ross Maxwell scenic park road, but once arriving at the canyon, it’s relatively accessible to most guests, and you can choose to experience it by foot or water, or both!  It is a brief jaunt from the parking and facilities to the shoreline of the Rio Grande River, and another brief jaunt to climb the Santa Elena Canyon Trail even further up into the cliffsides overlooking the massive gorge this river has carved.



From the parking lot, the Santa Elena Canyon Trail is only 1.7 miles roundtrip in length, point to point.  It contains gravely path, but it is relatively flat and easy hiking to the river’s shore.  Once at the shore, you can choose to end your hike there, launch any kayaks or such you may have brought along from this spot, or continue to the right on the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, which passes a gentle creek, then climbs up the cliff wall overlooking the Rio Grande River.



The Santa Elena Canyon Trail
The trailhead for the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, at the parking lot



Kayaking Santa Elena Canyon on the Rio Grande River
Kayaking on the Rio Grande River in Santa Elena Canyon



Depending on how much of this trail you complete, it would rank as either easy, or slightly moderate.  But you are guaranteed the awe-inspiring views, however you choose to experience Santa Elena Canyon.



***Click here to get more info on how to kayak Santa Elena Canyon



Overlooking kayakers from the top of Santa Elena Canyon Trail
Overlooking kayakers from the top of Santa Elena Canyon Trail




#2: McKittrick Canyon



Speaking of Texas National Parks, this unique canyon hails from a National Park most people are not even aware of, including many native Texans!  Guadalupe Mountains National Park may be the lesser known sibling to Texas’s other National Park, Big Bend, but it has some of its own stunning outdoor offerings, including the state high point hike to Guadalupe Peak, a handful of historical buildings, an awesome slot canyon hike at Devil’s Hall, and of course, one of the best, and possibly most surprising, canyon in Texas, McKittrick Canyon.



McKittrick Canyon is an excellent full day hike option, though it can be shortened to accommodate any time frame, or if completed in its entirety in the backcountry, is a superb overnight backpacking option.  Most visitors hike McKittrick canyon as a day hike.



McKittrick Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
McKittrick Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park



McKittrick Canyon in fall
McKittrick Canyon in fall



What makes this canyon really stand out is its surprisingly lush vegetation, which is on full display in autumn, landing this canyon a solid spot on best fall hikes in Texas year after year.  In this high desert region, hiking McKittrick Canyon will expose you to numerous stream crossings, rare and vibrant flora and fauna, such as Texas mandroves, hidden alcoves and caves, frontier cabins, and a surprising amount of dappled shade spots along the way.  It really is a secret desert oasis!



***Click here for more details on day hiking McKittrick Canyon



The historic Pratt Cabin
The historic Pratt Cabin along the McKittrick Canyon Trail




#3: Palo Duro Canyon



Palo Duro Canyon makes this list because it quite literally reigns king of canyons in Texas.  And that is because there is only one canyon in the United States bigger than it – Arizona’s Grand Canyon!  Compared to the vibrant fauna of Guadalupe Mountain’s McKittrick Canyon, Palo Duro Canyon takes on that classic and striking red rock scenery, which makes for some highly sought after hiking, camping, and exploring opportunities in West Texas!



Palo Duro Canyon can be found within the borders of its namesake Palo Duro Canyon State Park.  This striking landscape is home to a multitude of hikes, stellar camping, and native wildlife.  Though you could easily spend days tackling all this park’s hiking trails, perhaps the jewel of Palo Duro Canyon is the iconic Lighthouse Trail, a 5.7 mile long roundtrip day hike that climbs to a very telling, red rock formation, with some equally impressive panoramic views!  Don’t forget to keep an eye out for native reptiles and deer along the way!



The striking red rock of Palo Duro Canyon
The striking red rock of Palo Duro Canyon



The Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park
The Lighthouse in Palo Duro Canyon State Park

#4: Caprock Canyon



Caprock Canyon is a nearby neighbor to Palo Duro Canyon, and though it is not as large in size, or as well known as Palo Duro Canyon, it easily holds its own.  And if you ask locals, many will tell you this is their favorite canyon in Texas, though they always follow that statement with a request to keep it a secret!  Caprock Canyon also claims its own state park as home, Caprock Canyon State Park.  And its hiking trails and campgrounds equally take full advantage of the red rock terrain.



Caprock Canyon State Park in West Texas
Hiking in Caprock Canyon State Park



Views from one of the best canyons in Texas




Caprock Canyon State Park offers a way to appreciate this contender among top Texas canyons from multiple “perspectives”, with hiking trails that trace along the rim of Caprock Canyon, to those that delve into the depths of its heart.  There’s multiple different ways to see and experience Caprock!



There are other endearing qualities to Caprock Canyon, such as its local bison herd, which can often be found gracing the outlying borders of campsites and trails, keeping a watchful eye over proceedings, or the quirky prairie dog town located near the entrance to the park.



#5: Seminole Canyon



Seminole Canyon is perhaps the least known canyon on this list, but it is no less deserving!  Perhaps it is lesser known, only due to its remoteness, small size, and commitment to travel that is required to get here!  But it’s worth it!



Found in the far southwest region of the state, on the largely barren border with Mexico, this canyon shares a similarity with sister canyon Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend – the highlight of Seminole Canyon is the monolithic Rio Grande River!  Whereas Santa Elena Canyon is impressive, but slightly limited in views from above, Seminole Canyon offers those in plenty!  And it’s a total surprise!



Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site
A cloudy winter day on the Rio Grande River in Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site



Hiking trails in Seminole Canyon and its Seminole Canyon State Park start off in what appears to be largely shrub-laden Chihuahuan desert, and its not until you venture into the park that you suddenly come upon sweeping overlooks of the Rio Grande River, from above!  Those that have witnessed what this river is capable of from the ground level, peering into its gaping mouth at Santa Elena Canyon’s entrance, will equally appreciate what it looks like looking down on it, weaving for miles through rough hewn canyon walls!



Seminole Canyon also houses another unique surprise, cave art!  It is home to a handful of sights, and there are guided tours offered to get up close views!



***For more details on visiting Seminole Canyon State Park, check out this sister article



The Canyon Rim's epic vistas
Vista views from Seminole Canyon’s hiking trails




Gear Recommendations for the Best Texas Canyons




So what gear might you need for exploring these top 5 Texas canyons?



  • water has to be first on the list!  After all, it’s west Texas.  Don’t go hiking without a reliable water transportation system that can hold at least 3 liters of water.  I personally hike Texas canyons with at least 3 liters myself, which I carry in this convenient Platypus hydration bladder.  I have come to rely on this particular model due to its on the go hydrating functionality, as well as the wide mouth which makes filling, cleaning, and drying much, much more simple than older designed models.  And assuming you are bringing an adequate amount of water, you’ll need something to carry it in, like this Camelbak Helena 20 day pack I use for all my day hikes.  While you’re at it, don’t forget to carry your necessary day hike essentials, because, Texas is remote.

***Download your own Day Hiking Essentials Checklist HERE!


  • secondly, invest in a good pair of hiking shoes.  All of these canyons are capable of being traversed with a low ankle hiking shoe, or, what I tend to prefer, a good trail running shoe.  McKittrick Canyon, completed in its entirety, has the roughest terrain and most elevation gain, but even that is able to be hiked in a hiking shoe or trail runner.  In general, steep grades are relatively minimal on all 5 of these canyons, though there are a handful of steeper trails.  What is important is reliable cushioning, grip, and traction, on many of the loose rock and uneven terrains that call these Texas canyons home.  My favorite trail runners are my HOKA Speedgoats.  Nothing compares as far as cushion, which is great for some of these trails.  Second best goes to my BROOKS Calderas.  Less cushion I feel, but superbly trustworthy trail runners, for those trails or individuals that may require less cushion.  While I prefer HOKAS for the extra cushion on rougher terrain, both are undisputed reputable brands among hikers and runners alike.  In fact, when I’m not hiking or trail running, BROOKS are the brand I’ve chosen for all of my road running half marathons and marathons, as well as all the training that leads up to those!



  • wear the right layers!  Especially in the brutal summer heat, but realistically, this is something that will up your comfort and performance level regardless of season!  AVOID COTTON at all costs!  Opt for breathable, moisture wicking, and quick drying materials, of which I personally attest to wool being the best choice!  I hike, run, and bike in nothing but wool, because it has an impeccable performance reputation!  This is my wool tank I live in during the summer, as well as these wool hiking socks, wool base layer, and wool Buff!



  • aside from these basic canyon exploring necessities, be sure to safeguard against the sun, which in Texas can be extra intense!  Chapstick, head coverings, sunscreen, be sure to bring it along with you!




So next time you are in the mood to explore some canyons, venture into west Texas and discover these 5 hidden gems!


And if you want to keep venturing in Texas….



The best of Texas canyons




***Texas is home to canyons, plus so, so much more!  Here’s where you can check out all of my favorite active travel destination in the Lone Star State!





Best canyons in Texas


The best canyons in Texas

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