What to do in Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway

Caprock Canyons State Park, 100 miles southeast of Amarillo in Briscoe County, was opened in 1982. It consists of 15,313.6 acres (including the Trailway, a 64.25 mile Rail-to-Trail conversion, acquired by donation in 1992 from a Railroad entrepreneur). This acquisition added recreational adventure, stretching from the western terminus at South Plains up on top of the caprock escarpment to the eastern terminus of Estelline in the Red River Valley. This multi-use trail (hike, bike, and equestrian), opened in 1993, stretches the park through Floyd, Briscoe, and Hall counties crossing 46 bridges and running through Clarity tunnel, one of the last active railroad tunnel in Texas. The 64.25 miles of the Trailway are open to the public from Estillene to South Plains.

The escarpment's scenic canyons were home for Indians of several cultures, including the Folsom culture of more than 10,000 years ago. A decrease or disappearance of some species, from Folsom times to present, indicates a gradual drying and perhaps warming of the climate. Later Paleolithic hunters, associated with the Plainview culture, also occupied the area from 8000-9,000 years ago. Only slight traces of these people have been found at Caprock Canyons. As the climate became increasingly drier, the period of hunting and gathering cultures began. Smaller animals, as well as plant materials, made up the diet of the people. The Archaic period lasted from 8,000 to 2,000 years ago. Artifacts from this period include boiling pebbles for heating food, grinding stones for processing seeds, oval knives, and corner-notched or indented dart points. The Neo-Indian state was characterized by the appearance of arrow points and pottery. During the latter part of this period, 800 years ago until the Spanish exploration, permanent settlements were established, and agriculture was being practiced to some extent. These people traded Alibates flint for pottery, turquoise, and obsidian from the Puebloan groups to the west.

The region's historic era began when Spanish explorer Coronado traveled across the plains in 1541. After Spanish colonies were established in New Mexico around 1600, two-way trade between Plains Indians and New Mexicans began and gradually increased. The Plains Apache, present when Coronado arrived, acquired horses and became proficient buffalo hunters. They were displaced by the Comanche, who arrived in the early 1700s and dominated northwestern Texas, until they were finally subdued in the 1870s. During the Comanche reign, trade prospered and New Mexican buffalo hunters, known as ciboleros, and traders, known as Comancheros, were frequent visitors to this area. Las Lenguas Creek, a few miles south of the park, was a major trade area, and a site excavated on Quitaque Creek has produced artifacts indicating that it may have been a cibolero camp.

After 1874, Anglo settlement began, counties were organized, and ranches were established. Famed cattleman Charles Goodnight moved cattle into Palo Duro Canyon in 1876. In 1882, he bought vast areas of land for John G. Adair, who became owner of the noted J. A. Ranch. The land on which the park is located was included in the purchase. A railroad was built into this area in 1887, and by 1890, the town of Quitaque, with a population of 30, was a regular stage stop. The use of suitable lands for farming increased as more settlers arrived in the early 1900s, but most of the broken country is still ranch land. After passing through the hands of several owners, most of the land that now lies within park boundaries was acquired in 1936 by Theo Geisler, who died on August 15, 1969. The state purchased the land in 1975, and the park's Lake Theo was named after Geisler.

A diverse variety of recreational opportunities are the main attractions to the scenic Caprock Canyon State Park. Visitors have the opportunity to explore the site as a day use area or spend a longer time there in one of the camping facilities.

An interesting feature of the park is a 120 surface acre lake which offers virtually no wake boating, swimming and fishing. Additionally visitors have a choice of 13 trails (totaling almost 90 miles). Hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding are the optional modes of transport for the trails. The difficulty ranges from strenuous rugged terrain to easy with trails of less than 3% grade. Features of the trail can include cliffs and drop-offs.

Vegetational communities vary from the sparse badlands, with their juniper, mesquite, and cacti, to the abounding bottomlands with tall grasses, cottonwoods, plum thickets, and hackberries. The park harbors numerous species of wildlife such as African Aoudad Sheep, mule and whitetail deer, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, opossums, porcupines, foxes, and over 175 species of birds. The pride of Caprock Canyons is its herd of Pronghorn Antelope, the largest herd of buffalo in the state park system, and the not-often-seen Golden Eagles. There is good fishing in Lake Theo for bass and catfish.

Recreational opportunities offered by the Caprock Canyons State Park include: day-use and camping facilities; hiking; horseback riding; mountain bike riding; boating on a no-wake lake (120-surface-acres, 30' when full); fishing; lake swimming; a scenic drive; guided tours; and seasonal concessions offering horse rentals. Almost 90 miles of multi-use trails;

Caprock State Park is situated within the Panhandle Plains area of Texas. The park is 3.5 miles north of State Highway 86 in Quitaque on FM 1065.

Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway is located at an elevation of 680 feet. Current weather conditions can vary from day to day. For more details, call the park or Park Information at 1-800-792-1112.

P O Box 204
Quitaque, TX 79255

Phone: 806/455-1492

  • Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway Travel Q&A