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The Caprock Canyons State Park Trailway runs 64 miles through some of the most scenic areas in northern Texas. As it travels from South Plains east to Estelline, you’ll see varied views, including...
My brother and I rode the stretch of this trail between Turkey and Parnell junction over Thanksgiving. While I do recommend it, be advised about trail conditions and well equipped if you try it.
We stayed in the Hotel Turkey, which is a few blocks from the trail. (No complaints about that - it’s a fine place to stay.). The plan was to ride from Turkey to Estelline and back. But we got a late start and the going was slower than planned, so we turned around at Parnell Junction.
The biggest challenge was goat-heads. My brother’s tubeless tires held up fine, but one of the tubes on my rental bike eventually gave out - even with sealant. We had tools and a spare, but lost our Presta to Schrader adapter on the trail and walked about the last 6 miles back to Turkey. Be sure to have redundancy in your gear!
The second biggest challenge was probably the grass and general overgrowth on the trail. Some sort of lower leg protection would be well advised. We did not see snakes, but be aware of the possibility.
A third issue is the bridges. Some are concrete, but some have wood planks, and these are showing their age. Caution is advised on approach to the bridges. There are broken planks here and there, but the joists were all intact - I think. :) So, as of this writing, all bridges between Turkey and Parnell Junction were passable and safe for cycling. (Pedestrians should exercise caution. While there is no gaps to fall thru, one could twist an ankle or break a leg.)
Also, be mindful of a barbed wire cow gate between Tampico Siding and Parnell junction. It’s easy to open if you see it, but I wouldn’t want to ride into it closed!
Apparently, other trail users have been told that this section of trail is officially in a non-maintained state. We did not see any signs to this effect or hear it from anyone, but the condition of the trail makes this very plausible. I encourage any other users with relevant or updated information in this regard to post it.
In any case, the trail is remote and has very low traffic. We did not see any other trail users during our trip. Take everything you need with you! There’s no QT along this route! We thought we were conservative, but barely had enough water with us.
That brings me to sum it up like this: We covered about 45 miles that day. Maybe five or so were a warm up. About 10 to 15 were pure riding bliss: the thrill of pumping the pedals, the rhythmic navigation of obstacles - around, over, or through, and feeling the euphoria of the wide open Texas landscape and the rush of the wind on your helmet. Maybe another 15 miles were the steady grind of making the next marker point or water break. The last 10 or 15 miles? Well, sometimes the velo gods send you a bill for miles of the joyous type. All told - I’d do it again.
If you understand those sentiments, then you will probably love this trail and I can recommend it. If not, caution is advised - maybe try the section east of Clarity tunnel first.
A ride partner is strongly advised. There were two of us, but a four-person group (two adventure couples or two sets of best buds) would probably be safer and faciliate being sufficiently equipped.
One shortcut tip: The best view we found was an overlook a few miles east of Tampico Siding. If you aren’t sure about trying this trail, an option would be to park at Tampico siding (about 10 miles from Turkey - near junction of Texas 86 and county road 657) and ride east for a few miles. This section of the trail is not too bad, and the worst of the goat-heads was to the east of the overlook and closer to Parnell junction.
As a whole, I’d give this trail a thumbs up - just be sure you are prepared and know what to expect.
Backpacked the entire trail, 64.5 miles, from Estelline to South Plains last week. This is an awesome trail for hiking with an easy grade. Even the sections that are minimally maintained were easy walking. The trail winds through canyon breaks and up the Caprock Escarpment. Along the way the trail passed through range land, as wild today as it was when the bison roamed here, with long, deep gashes of red sandstone contrasting with the dark green of juniper trees. It ambled past fields of white fluffy cotton ready for stripping, bright green fields of newly emerged winter wheat, and red fields of tilled dirt resting until next spring's planting. There was always something new to see and discover.
There is no reliable water along the route but there are plenty of places to cache water along the way with the exception of the stretch from Monk's Crossing to South Plains. This is a 17.5 mile stretch with no public access, which means you need to carry extra water along this stretch.
I applied lessons I learned on the Appalachian Trail and took advantage of the amenities available in Turkey and Quitaque (contact the Caprock Hardware store for shuttle services). I spent one night at the Hotel Turkey B&B and had a great meal at Galvan's in Turkey. The next day I ate lunch and resupplied at the Allsup's in Quitaque (This saved me from having to carry all my food for five days).
If you are looking for an easy 3 - 5 day backpacking trip through beautiful country this trail wont disappoint.
Finally got back to the trail after an earlier "shakedown" hike on the trailway with my son this summer. This time me, my wife and 12 pound dog thru-hiked the entire 64.2 mile trailway in 5 days during mid-October. We started in South Plains and finished in Estelline. We camped at Clarity Tunnel, next to the trail in Quitaque, in Turkey (the local Church of Christ preacher had rooms for rent in downtown, and the last night halfway between Turkey and Estelline. John Ferris station was out of water, but Clarity Tunnel water station had water. Water is the biggest challenge along this trail. Being October there weren't many creeks that had ANY water in them this time of year. We got lucky and found a small pound of water that we filtered from between John Ferris Station and Clarity Tunnel. We cached water between Turkey and Estelline. There are several farmers metal watering tanks between 100 and 500 feet from the trail, but you had better have a filter. We didn't use them and it's probably best not to unless you have to. You see houses in this section as well within a few hundred yards of the trail, but again... only approach these houses if you HAVE to for water. Hikers really need to cache water along the way between Turkey and Estelline. It's hard to tell which section was the prettiest. Each had it's high points. Cell phone reception is decent to good on most of the trail. Do not count on the watering stations having water unless you call and check with the Rangers ahead of time. We carried at least 3 liters of water each and from Turkey to Estelline we carried about 5-7 liters each for periods of time after we got to each of our water caches. The 46 trestles were awesome to stop and take breaks on because the breeze was better, there was no dirt and the insects didn't seem to be there. Carry lots of mosquito spray. They were horrible on some of these sections. Animals... we saw a hog, a badger, several mule deer, several white tail deer, hawks, a turkey vulgar, rabbits, NO snakes, etc. This is not a trail for beginners to thru-hike. The rail road ballast will wear you out in after a days hike. It's like stepping on rocks half the size of your fist in certain sections. Overall it was an awesome experience. I plan on thru-hiking it again next spring or early summer. Happy trails and see you down the road.
We started at the western terminus, South Plains, and did about 18 miles in two days. We saw deer, snakes, hawks, lizards, frogs, and other wildlife along the way. It was my sons first overnight backpacking trip and he had a blast. We camped on the east side of Clarity Tunnell at the water station. The bats at the Tunnell were pretty cool to see. Hopefully I will be back in September to do the entire 64 mile trail with my wife. This trail is nice and flat. There are more views of the canyon than you'd expect. Happy trails and see you down the road.
Camping at Caprock Canyon State Park and we were looking for something beginner friendly as most of the trails at the State Park are more technical. We drove over to Monks Crossing and rode out mountain bikes down to Clarity Tunnel. Trail was well maintained with nice crushed granite or gypsum or something similar. The ride down to see the bats at the tunnel was definitely beginner friend,y and well worth the trip.
We had such a good time, we looked at continuing from Monks Crossing up to Quitaque Depot. Trail was not maintained and it was like riding thru someone's pasture. Take heed to precious reviews about thorns and trail conditions, we found them all to be true.
My son and daughter-in-law accompanied my husband and me (both in our 60s) in April for what we thought was going to be a really fun experience. We planned to ride from South Plains to Turkey the first day (32 miles), spend the night at the Turkey Hotel, and on from Turkey to Estelline the next day for the last 32 miles of the trail. As they say - "best laid plans" and all that! We did start out on our mountain bikes at South Plains, and after 2 miles of constant pounding over clumps of grass & weeds, large rocks and what seemed like riding through a freshly plowed field, I couldn't take any more. The others said they could handle it, but either my bike didn't fit my "contours" or I have been totally spoiled by riding my recumbent bike! I turned back and pushed my bike back to the truck, which was not exactly easy over that terrain and against the 10-15 mph wind! Later, they told me that after another 1/2 mile or so, the trail DID get a little better, and there was actually a fairly flat surface to ride on. That's okay - I don't think I could have taken that 1/2 mile further and then continued to ride! I drove the truck to Monk's Crossing and met them there. Unfortunately, I missed going thru the tunnel, but they got video of it, so I feel like I was there. The trail from Monk's Crossing to the Clarity Tunnel is great, with what looked like a caliche base with a very fine gravel surface. Even a road bike could handle that without a problem. However, that is the only section of the trail that is maintained like that - the rest is the red cinder bed with some areas with larger rocks, and that first 2 miles is a killer! My husband joined me in the truck at Monk's Crossing, but the two "youngsters" in our group rode on 5 more miles to the Quitaque Depot. When they arrived there, we were waiting for them, wondering if they had run into many goathead stickers, as we could see quite a few of them at the trailhead. When they pulled in, they had 4 or 5 in each tire, but since we had put heavy duty slime tubes in, they sealed off when we pulled them out. Our son decided to take a "test run" on the next section, which would have been another 9 miles on into Turkey. He went about 1/4 mile, turned around and came back shaking his head. His tires were absolutely COVERED in goatheads! Even those slime tubes couldn't hold up to that many. Thus ended our trail ride, and it was a good thing I had turned around at the beginning and we had the truck available. Otherwise, we would have been calling Albert at the Turkey Hotel to come and get us!! While we had a lot of fun on our trip, and staying at the Turkey Hotel was a very unique and enjoyable experience, it is really a shame that the drastic budget cuts to the Parks & Wildlife budget have resulted in little or no maintenance to this trail. If the entire trail could be more like the 4.5 miles from Monk's Crossing to the Tunnel, a lot more people would come back to ride the trail again and again. The rangers at the State Park told us that the trail from Turkey to Estelline was not maintained at all, and they would recommend that NO ONE attempt it, but we felt sure we could at least make it to Turkey. Even with our heavy duty slime tubes, when that many goatheads are embedded in a tire, they don't stand a chance! Hopefully, other trails have not been affected as badly as this one has, as we would love to experience some of them. But we will definitely be checking them out closely before we commit to another disappointing ride.
The trailhead at South Plains is easily spotted and well marked from HWY 207. The drainage ditches are steep, so angle a long trailer to avoid catching when turning in the parking area. The house to the north has noisy, yet friendly dogs that kept their distance and did not bother the horses. If you ride with a dog, you might need to keep it up until time to hit the trail.
The initial section of the trail is rocky, so unshod or tender footed horses may need a bit of guidance to find a path along the trail. The first couple of miles are along cotton fields and near some buildings, with gates and a single file walkway to cross two caliche roads. The trail bed is raised and steep in some areas with wooden bridges that have high railings.
Our group of five riders enjoyed the calling of the migrating cranes as we walked along the trailway. Signs of wild hogs were present all along the trail, and the herd of 12 plus scampered up the hills as we progressed towards John Farris. We did not find any water on the trail and had come prepared with water for both horses and riders.
The vistas were well worth the trip - with cedar clumps and a variety of grasses on the dry hills. One bridge crosses a very high gorge - neat view in all directions!
Animal trails criss cross the hills, and the footing improves along the trail after about 1.5 miles. All of the bridges were easily crossed single file, some have broken boards, but the bad areas are small and are easily avoided.
We did not find the John Farris marker or any out buildings, but may not have gone far enough before breaking for lunch and then returning back to the trail head.
Our group plans to try more of the trails - and we would go back to this one!
Excellent day ride starting at Monk's Crossing through the Clarity Tunnel for lunch and then back. The parking at Monk's Crossing was in great shape, easy for unloading and tacking up. The rest room at the trail head was clean. The trail itself was easy on barefoot horses. The bridges had nice high rails and even the inexperienced horses crossed them with ease. Some of the bridges had some rough spots, worn boards and/or low spots on the transition from trail to bridge, but there was always a single file way to safely cross. The scenery varied from high walled rail beds to sweeping vistas. The tunnel curves with filtered light half-way through. We enjoyed watching what we think was a great horned owl hunting on the tunnel entrance. Water was not in any of the tanks along the trail. We had come prepared with our own for the horses, along with a portable bucket.
There are benches and another restroom after the tunnel that made a nice spot to rest and have lunch. The trail footing changed after the tunnel to what appears to be lava rocks - a bit rough on the barefoot horses, but doable.
All in all, would highly recommend the trail for a day ride - we are pretty pokey on pace and enjoyed the views, company, and easy level going.
Having bicycled many rails to trails over the years I would rate this one as not good for bicycling. It is fine for hiking and horse back riding but for bicycling I would pass. I drove up from central Texas to ride the trail and found it overgrown with prickly plants causing one to have flat tires within the first mile. In my opinion it should not be labeled a trail for biking. I was very disappointed in this trail, especially after reading so many positive reviews of it. I ended up riding back roads in the area instead. If you do decide to ride this trail, have your bike tires replaced with puncture proof tires and take along a tire repair kit. You will need it.
My daughter and I just attempted the Caprock Canyons Trailway. The 5-mile segment from Monk's Crossing to the Clarity Tunnel has been resurfaced and is very nice. South of the tunnel looks decent, at least as far as we explored. Unfortunately, we attempted to start from Quitake and were completely flatted by Goathead thorns within a few hundred feet. This section of the trail has not been maintained and was full of thorns. Maybe there are steel-belted mountain bike tires that can survive Goatheads! Lacking those, we ended up backpacking from Monk's Crossing instead of riding the mountain bikes. The area is beautiful and it was a wonderful hike; we camped by the tunnel and watched the bats fly off in the evening. Very scenic and quiet. Also be aware that there is no longer water on the trail. The pumps at Clarity Tunnel and John Farris Station are no longer maintained, so you must carry what you need. All in all a beautiful place, but I think state budget cuts have taken a heavy toll.
3 of my 60-year-old buddies and I have completed the full 64 miles of the trail. The segment from South Plains to Monks Crossing is very scenic as it drops off the caprock and into the rolling plains, canyon breaks, and creek crossings. We have camped overnight at the Clarity Tunnel after an hour of 3 tornadoes, wind, rain, hail and intense close-in lightning; a typical West Texas weather sampler. The segment from Monks Crossing to Quitaque is slightly uphill and feels deceptively long. The segments from Quitaque to Estelline are varied, but mostly cut through red dirt farmland. We encountered very difficult red mud in places after the storm up at Clarity. The segment from Tampico Siding to Parnell station is fairly pretty, but Parks and Wildlife needs to mow it as of May 5, 2012; the dead sunflower stalks were too hard to pedal thru. Cactus and mesquite are growing up on the trail, so mowing is badly needed for that too. It was very special to see a large 4-5 pound bass in a creek pool under one of the crossing bridges on the Tampico-Parnell segment; also a very large mud turtle. The Parnell to Estelline segment was prettier than expected, with Grundy Canyon making a beautiful view down to the Red River. Also several tree "tunnels" over the trail were welcome shade and wind brakes. A baby rattlesnake along this segment made it known that the trail was his, not ours : )
All in all, this trail is a workout on the crushed rock rail bed. Once you git the hang of "surfing" the ruts it's not too bad. We figger we burn 4x calories over riding on a concrete path, so that's good.
The state park people are great, and even sent out a rescue ranger to git us after the tornado storm, just in case we were in trouble ... but he got stuck in the mud and had to be rescued himself. We were fine; just hunkered down with our bike helmets protecting us from flying rocks and small hail. A true West Texas experience !!!
I hiked the Trailway from South Plains to the Clarity Tunnel and back on Thursday, October 6, 2010. As noted in another review, the first few miles are pretty rough. In fact, the first 2.5 to three miles is like walking across a pasture with rocks. After those first three miles, however, it becomes pretty much a dirt road (still with quite a bit of rock) that appears to be used fairly frequently. Here, it also begins to parallel the canyon, providing regular views from right along the side of the canyon. From South Plains, it is about 12.8 miles to Clarity Tunnel, and mostly all down-hill, a fact I didn't truly realize until I turned around to go back to the truck.
About 6.8 miles from South Plains is the first official rest stop, the John Farris Station. Here you find a toilet and water supply. Although the printed literature for the trailway says not to count on finding water here, it was available when I went through. There is an additional toilet at Clarity Tunnel. On this hike, I did not encounter any other person. My total distance was 25.4 miles and it took me 10.5 hours.
Do not expect to find any trash containers on the trail. I picked up some trash others had left, but found no place to dispose of it.
On October 13, my 10-year old son and I hiked from Monk's Crossing to Clarity Tunnel, a distance of about 4.5 miles. The path here is very well maintained, with a crushed rock type surface. The bridges have recently been redone as well, though I'd be careful on a bike since some of the screws used are not completely flush with the surface of the boards. Although we saw a water container at this end of Clarity Tunnel, it did not have water in it.
I intend to continue hiking the Trailway to Estelline if possible, and will update my findings in later posts.
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