About this Itinerary
Located in a remote section of the Texas panhandle, Caprock Canyons State Park is an arid plateau with distinctive cliffs and a startling natural beauty. This land was once home to mammoth, giant bison, camel, and more recently, black bears and grey wolves. While these animals are long gone, today visitors can see mule deer, white-tailed deer, coyote, bobcat, and pronghorn antelope. The park is also home to the official bison herd of the state of Texas. In 2011, 80 bison were released in the park as one of five foundation herds credited with saving the animal from extinction. Caprock Canyons offers numerous opportunities for outdoor exploration including a 64-mile trail that travels from the town of South Plains to Estelline, passing through only a couple of very small towns. For those with an adventurous spirit and experience biking in remote areas in rough conditions, the Caprock Canyons State Park Trailway provides the ideal setting to immerse oneself in the landscape and experience backcountry Texas.
The Caprock Canyons State Park Trailway (CCSPT) is a difficult trail and only experienced and prepared riders should attempt it. There is slight grade, but the bigger issue is the trail’s surface. Conditions along most of the route are extremely tough and many riders report a proliferation of goatheads, which can lead to multiple tire punctures. A mountain bike is a must for this trail, as are the appropriate repair tools and extra tubes. Riders should also consider using tube liners and sealant. Also note that water is an extremely scarce commodity along the route. Your only reliable source of water will be in the towns of Turkey and Quitaque, and Estelline at the eastern terminus. Water tanks are located along the trail, but do not rely on these to be full when needed. Consider it a bonus if you do find water enroute.
Our base for this itinerary is the small town of Turkey, Texas. The only lodging along the CCSPT is here at the Hotel Turkey. This historic hotel first opened in 1927 when the Fort Worth and Denver South Plains Railway extended in to the town and quickly became a hub for the community. The hotel offers 14 basic rooms with western and movie themes, and, while not the most luxurious of accommodations, the property offers a convenient base for exploring the trail, friendly owners who will tell you all you ever wanted to know about Turkey, and a complimentary breakfast. Beyond that, the hotel offers few amenities. Be prepared to bring your own soap and, with the exception of the Bob Wills room, no others have in-room showers.
If you prefer more comforts than the Hotel Turkey offers, the town of Plainview is located about 25 miles from the westernmost trailhead of the CCSPT in South Plains. Here you will find a number of chain hotels, including a Holiday Inn Express, which features an indoor pool, WiFi, and complimentary breakfast. As dining options are limited in the area, you may want to head to Plainview for a tasty meal anyway. There you will find Leal’s Mexican Restaurant
serving favorites such as nachos, brisket tacos, queso con carne and other dishes.
Bike rentals are not available in Turkey or anywhere along the trail. Sun Adventure Sports is the closest bike shop, and offers mountain bike rentals at both their Lubbock and Amarillo locations. Both stores also offer full repair services, should that be necessary. If renting a bike from either location, call ahead and be sure to tell them the route you plan on biking to ensure that the appropriate bike for the trail conditions is available.
Before setting out on your first day of riding, stop by the Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway headquarters, located 3 miles north of Quitaque on State Road 1065. All users of the CCSPT are required to obtain a day-use permit for a small fee. If you plan on riding the entire trail, be sure to tell the ranger as you may qualify for a special promotional fee. It is also useful to speak to a ranger about your intended itinerary to learn of any closures or changes to the trail conditions due to harsh weather. This is real backcountry biking, so in the event of severe weather, it is also a good precaution for rangers to know that you will be out on the trail.
Given the rough nature of the route’s surface and the 64-mile length, our itinerary divides the CCSPT in to three days of riding. The town of Turkey is almost exactly halfway along the CCSPT and this itinerary departs from town on one day and includes drives to trailheads the other two days, with roughly 40 miles round-trip each day. If you have the time, you may opt to break this in to four days. There are also sections that you may opt to skip altogether, including the last few miles near South Plains, as well as the eastern end of the trail in Estelline, which can be particularly challenging. Previous riders have described these sections as akin to biking over a poorly mowed field. For those who are prepared and flexible, the CCSPT can be an exciting adventure, but do not take lightly the demands of the trail. Again, park rangers are your best source of up-to-date information about trail conditions and should be consulted before setting out.
After obtaining your day-use permit, stop by Allsup’s, a 24-hour convenience store, for snacks and cold drinks to take on the trail. Pack up plenty of water, bike supplies, and food before heading west on the trail from downtown Turkey. Today’s itinerary travels 10 miles west to Quitaque Depot (just past the town of Quitaque), a return to Turkey, and 10 miles east to Tampico Siding before returning back to Turkey for the day. This route does include some rough sections and will give you a good idea of what to expect on the trail before heading in to the more remote sections on other days.
As you bike along, marvel at the stunning natural landscape of mesquite, cacti, junipers, and cottonwoods. Keep your eyes open for wildlife such as deer, fox, porcupine, golden eagles, and roadrunners, amongst the diverse animal species that thrive in this harsh climate.
In the town of Quitaque, stop at Caprock Cafe on Main Street for a burger or steak fingers; or for a quick snack or cold drink, find Merrell Food, a full-service grocery store also located on Main Street. Back in Turkey, if you are still looking for lunch, the only restaurant in town is Galvan’s. Stop by here for quality Tex-Mex food or grab a sandwich and cold drinks at Allsup’s before heading east and riding 10 miles out to the Tampico Siding trailhead.
Drive to Quitaque Depot, located about 10 miles away. To reach, follow TX-86 W, turn south on Route 1065 in Quitaque and look for signs for the trailhead shortly after passing town. From here, bike southwest on the trail towards South Plains, which is about 22 miles away. One of the highlights of the entire CCSPT, Clarity Tunnel, is located along this section. Situated about 5 miles west of the Monk’s Crossing trailhead, this tunnel is inhabited by a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats (the largest populations can be found April through October.) These animals are very sensitive to noise and light and the park department asks that visitors be careful not to make loud sounds or shine light at the bats. Walk bikes thought the tunnel and do not linger inside. It is also advised that you wear long sleeved clothing and hats, and under no circumstances should anyone touch the bats (dead or alive). Use common sense and this will be an enjoyable and unique experience.
Note that the first five miles to Monk’s Crossing can be a bit rough, but between here to the tunnel conditions are considered to be the best along the entire 64-mile route. Past the tunnel the trail conditions tend to get a little rougher again, with the final several miles before South Plains being especially hard going. Turn around if the trail becomes more than you feel you can comfortably handle.
Drive to Tampico Siding, located about 10 miles away. To reach it, head east on TX-86, turn left on Route 657 and look for the trailhead on your left. Park at the trailhead and bike the final 22 miles to the eastern terminus of the CCSPT in Estelline. Many riders feel that this is the least maintained section of the route. Ride until you feel comfortable and turn around when you no longer are. The trail suffers from lack of funds to maintain the route, and some of the most remote sections are the most affected. If you ride as far as Estelline, stop by Lynae’s Diner at 602 Wright Street for a hot meal before heading back to Turkey.
If you extend your stay, visit the small museum in Turkey dedicated to local legend Bob Wills. Wills was a known as the ‘King of Western Swing,’found fame as the member of the Texas Playboys in 1934, and had two Top 10 hits. He was inducted in to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1968 and, posthumously, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Wills was raised around Turkey, and the museum chronicles his life and career with a series of photographs, artifacts, and memorabilia.
You can also spend time exploring the rest of Caprock Canyons State Park. The park offers day-use and camping facilities, miles of hiking trails, wildlife viewing, horseback riding (rentals available seasonally), boating on a no-wake lake, swimming, and fishing. In addition to the 64-mile trailway, there are an additional 13 trails available for mountain biking, including six which depart from trailheads along the CCSPT. These are fairly technical trails, so be sure to discuss with a park ranger before heading out. Information about the park’s offerings and extensive trail system can be obtained at the ranger headquarters just north of Quitaque.
In nearby Plainview, visit the Museum of Llano Estacado located on the campus of Wayland Baptist University. This museum, housed in a striking contemporary building, is dedicated to presenting the history and culture of this region of Texas. Learn about the area’s geology, which gives the surrounding desert such a distinctive color; see a mammoth skull that was discovered nearby; learn about local flora and fauna; see artifacts from ancient tribes native to the area; and delve into frontier life with displays featuring scenes from the early 19th-century.
If you are near Amarillo, be sure to stop by Palo Duro State Park. A highlight is the park’s canyon, which is more than 120 miles long, 20 miles wide, and up to 800 feet deep. The walls of the canyon are about 250 million years old and visitors will see dramatically beautiful colors representing four geologic layers. In the park, enjoy more than 30 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails, and, during summer months, visit the Pioneer Amphitheater for a performance of the musical ‘Texas.’ Keep your eyes open for two threatened species that live in the park: the Palo Duro mouse and the Texas horned lizard. Also see a wide variety of bird species, deer, coyotes, bobcats, and several members of the State Longhorn Herd.