North and South Prong Canyons, located in Caprock Canyons State Park, may be the best slice of Texas’ Caprock Canyonlands. When approaching from either the east or the west, one is unlikely to suspect the rugged, twisted landscape lying amidst the Caprock escarpment that separates the southern portion of the Great Plains in western Texas from the High Plains atop the Llano Estacado. Once entered, one is struck by the similarity between the canyons and regions found on the Colorado Plateau. Twisting slot canyons, balanced rocks and monoliths are the order of the day in these red wonderlands.
While not nearly as well known or as large as the Palo Duro Canyon to the north, the North and South Prong Canyons offer equally fantastic vistas as their bigger brother to the north. They also offer greater solitude and less development than the touristy Palo Duro. Where the Palo Duro is wide and long, the Prong Canyons are significantly narrower and much more intimate. Consequently one does not have to travel as far to climb the cliffs and explore the slots and drainages.
North and South Prong Canyons run parallel to each other with an east – west orientation. They are separated by Haynes Ridge. The cliffs average between 600 and 700 feet high. A 7.5 mile trail loops through both canyons and climbs Haynes ridge. At the ridge summit a spur trail leads 2 miles to the east to the Haynes Ridge Overlook, with impressive vistas of both canyon mouths and the plains stretching out to the east.
There are numerous points of interest in the canyons. At the extreme western end of the North Prong Canyon is the Fern Cave, a lush grotto with a small seeping spring and numerous ferns. The north canyon also has numerous stone spires. The South Prong Canyon has some small balanced rocks more reminiscent of southern Utah than west Texas. In the South Prong also stands the very cool Mitten. Although smaller than the tremendous Lighthouse in the Palo Duro, the South Prong Mitten is nonetheless an incredible and interesting formation.
From Interstate 27, travel east on Highway 86 at the town of Tulia. The state park is on the left side of the highway once past the town of Silverton.
From Texas State Highway 287 go east on Highway 86 at the town of Estelline. The state park is on the right side of the highway once past the town of Quitaque.
From the entrance gate, follow the park road to its end at the parking lot for the South Prong Tent campground.
Red TapeAn entrance fee is required to enter the park. Other than that, there are not to many restrictions. The park emphasizes that climbing on the cliffs and bluffs is at your own risk.
Caprock Canyons State Park
P O Box 204
Quitaque TX 79255
Numerous options for camping exist. There is a very large campground to accommodate numerous RV’s near the park entrance and a campground for people with horses nearby. There are also two tent campgrounds. One is functional, but not situated near the entrances to the canyons and inconvenient. The other seems to be the most popular, which is justifiable since it is at the mouth of the South Prong Canyon. Of course, out here, popular is sort of relative, since few people come out this way.
There are also two primitive “backpacker” campgrounds located inside the canyons. The north prong primitive campground is located 1 mile north of the South Prong trailhead. The South Prong primitive campground is 1.25 miles west of the trailhead. Neither of these looks particularly attractive, since they are too close to the trailhead.
For those intent on a wilderness trip it is possible to load up your backpack and set up camp at the Fern Cave in North Prong Canyon. This is the best location for camping in the park. Another option is to set up camp on Haynes Ridge, however, if you do not want an extremely windy night, stay clear of this option and head down to the Fern Cave.