Palo Duro Canyon State Park
GPS Tracks: GPX format (courtesy of Brian Granger)
For those who think that state park trails are easy, Palo Duro Canyon will soon prove you wrong. Palo Duro has more than 15 miles of singletrack with something for everyone. The Lighthouse Peak Trailhead, which is located right next to river crossing 2 on the main park road, is where most people start riding. The Lighthouse Trail itself is mostly moderate but has enough ledge climbs/drops, washouts, and creek crossings to keep intermediate riders interested. At the Capitol Peak interpretive area, more advanced riders will want to take a left onto the Capitol Peak Mountain Bike Trail, a 3-mile intermediate-to-advanced singletrack loop. This trail has a bunch of technical creek crossings, some with deep sand, a few very difficult, steep, ledgy climbs, tight corners, rock slots, and other obstacles. At the junctions, go left, right, then left to do the most difficult loop or right then right to do the easier loop. Ideally, you should end up back at the Capitol Peak interpretive area where you started. Continuing down the Lighthouse Trail toward Lighthouse Peak, you will pass the junction with the Cottonwood Flats Trail. Bear left and continue on the Lighthouse Peak Trail until you reach a point where the trail becomes very steep and unrideable. Put your bike in the bike rack and scramble up the hill to check out Lighthouse Peak, the crown jewel of the park. The more daring may opt to climb the adjacent Castle Peak to get the best view in the park.
After you're finished with Lighthouse Peak, ride back down the Lighthouse Trail and bear left onto Cottonwood Flats. This trail is, as the name implies, very flat and non-technical, but the Red Star Ridge Trail that it connects to is where the fun begins. You will pass a junction with the Little Fox Canyon Trail. This is a 2-mile completely non-technical lollypop loop that you can ride if you want to put in some additional miles. Past this junction with Little Fox Canyon, the Cottonwood Flats Trail becomes the Red Star Ridge Trail and turns into a difficult singletrack, boasting some tough ledgy climbs, tight turns, some sections in which the trail runs along the side of "Hully Gully" with some mild exposure, and some big rock gardens. The Red Star Ridge Trail dumps you out onto the park road near the Lone Star Interpretive Theater. Take a right on the road and ride it back to your car.
Alternate access points: You can opt to start at the trailhead across from the Lone Star Interpretive Theater if you want to ride just the Red Star Ridge/Hully Gully section out and back or if you want to ride the whole loop in reverse. You can also access the Capitol Peak Mountain Bike Trail from a trailhead on the right on Alternate Park Road 5 just after it splits off from the main park road. The second most difficult climb in the whole park is within 100 yards of this trailhead.
In general, the trails are hard pack dirt or sandstone bedrock. Those who ride regularly in the Hill Country will be delighted at the almost Moab-esque traction in many places.