So you’re planning what I can only assume is a Route 66 trip and want to know what in the world is there to do in the Texas Panhandle?! You’re in luck! That’s the only part of Texas we’ve been to so far, but it’s absolutely wonderful, if you take the time to make a stop. Here’s what we suggest to break up the monotony of a road trip through the Texas Panhandle.
Amarillo Really is a City
It’s got all sorts of things – botanical gardens, museums (both TripAdvisor and Yelp have lists), cute Airbnbs, nice restaurants, etc. I know, when looking at a map of Texas, it’s barely a blip compared to the big cities. I promise, there are things to do in Amarillo and you should definitely make a stop. Besides, it’s the only major town you’re going to pass through in Texas – it’s a good place to eat, rest, and refuel. We got brunch at a cafe there – it was fantastic. The Husband will write a review of it, soon, so be sure to check back before your trip!
The Big Texan Steak Ranch
We didn’t actually stop here, but we were told by locals (and former locals) that we should. Ultimately, we didn’t want to spend the money and it isn’t really our kind of place. That said, when in Texas… The Big Texan Steak Ranch, just off Route 66 on the East side of Amarillo, is the epitome of well-loved tourist stops. There’s a motel, gift shop, and a REALLY big steak. It’s 72oz, which you get for free if you can eat the entire meal. You have to pay in advance, but given the size of the steak and the amount of food you’re actually getting, it’s a very reasonable price.
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
Need some time at a lake (well, reservoir – I’m weird about that distinction)? Head to Lake Meredith, about an hour North of Amarillo. There’s camping, fishing, hiking, and all sorts of Ranger-led activities. There’s no entry fees. In spring, usually around April, we hear it’s a great place to look for wildflowers. Supposedly, Amarillo is named for the bright yellow flowers that appear in the spring, and this is the place to find them. This is another place that was on our list to go, but we didn’t ultimately make it there.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
So the real reason we didn’t go to Lake Meredith is because we spent too much time here! Palo Duro Canyon is about half an hour South of Amarillo. It’s the second largest canyon in the US, and you could easily spend a week hiking or biking the trails and exploring the area. It’s $8 per person over the age of 13 – a price well worth it. There’s gift shops, a small museum, and a cafe, plus regular educational activities. They have both campsites and cabins. In summer, there’s a musical to watch – Texas – and you can ride horses. The weather was perfect in January though, sunny and in the 60’s.
While this is really just a “stop and get a picture” kind of place, Cadillac Ranch was definitely interesting. It’s a quick drive West of Amarillo on Route 66 – 15 minutes from The Big Texan, which is on the other side of town. So the story goes, someone once buried a bunch of cars in a field, front down. Why? Because they could. Over time, people started taking anything valuable off the cars and vandalizing them. Now it’s a constantly changing color scheme and place to run around. You’ve been warned though – it’s in the middle of a cattle pasture, and I don’t mean a idealistic one.
At the halfway point between Chicago and LA sits Midpoint Cafe – an innocuous diner that serves breakfast. It’s 45 minutes from Amarillo, located on historic Route 66. I wanted to stop here, and we drove to it specifically. It seems fantastic, in a touristy sort of way. As it turns out, it’s only open seasonally, between April and November, despite Google telling us otherwise. Don’t worry, we’ll go back eventually.
Weather and Miscellaneous Advice
Here’s the thing about the southern US. It gets HOT. Even though the popular tourist times are in the summer, we opted to go in the winter and get some mild sunshine while the weather in Colorado was frigid. A lot of things were closed, but it was worth it because it wasn’t busy. Most of the other people at our stops were locals hanging out for the weekend and, like us, enjoying some sunshine. But remember, northern Texas is prairie, which means it is WINDY. Hats flew off, tripods fell down, and everything smelled faintly like cows. I’m sure that’s even more exaggerated with the summer heat.
Overall, it was a great trip, even though we didn’t actually spend very much time there. I’d love to go back, maybe in the spring, when more is open and the wildflowers are blooming. I think if you plan a trip right for the beginning of April, it’ll be before there’s a ton of tourists and it gets too hot.