Guide to Watkins Glen State Park Guide at the Finger Lakes Region in Upstate New York
Watkins Glen is one of the most scenic and idyllic places to visit during fall and summer in upstate New York. What captures the heart about the majestic gorges of Watkins Glen is the brilliant play of water, light and the elements surrounding the 19 cascades cutting through rock and stone to create a live cavern before your very eyes.
Watkins Glen – Nature’s paradise
The picturesque bridges and tunnels of Watkins Glen nested among beds of emerald moss and amber leaves have captivated visitors from everywhere. Of the 19 waterfalls that line the 2.5-mile trail, the most famous are the Glen Cathedral and the Rainbow Falls.
The rush of water coursing down the Cathedral and the dancing rivulets that trickle down the hallows of Rainbow Falls have made many visitors stop and stand mesmerized for more than just a little while. You also get a chance to walk under a torrential waterfall at the Cavern Cascade.
Hiking the glen
So I’d say the glen is an easy hike with the only elevation felt by a set of 832 steps spanning across the entire trail. With plenty of flat areas in between to catch your breath – and the beautiful views, chances are these steps would not be a hassle for those of any age group. Most of the walls hugging the waters are tall enough to prevent accidental falls in case of minors, except in the areas towards the end of the trail (after the Mile Point Bridge).
Gorge Trail – If this is your first time at Watkins Glen, choose this 2-mile loop as it offers the best scenic views of the glen along with its natural ecosystems. The 832 steps are found along this trail. The Gorge trail starts at the main parking lot and is only accessible between April to October. So check with the park authorities before you hike out on this one. Also, dogs are not allowed on this trail.
Indian Trail – A walk in the lap of nature is what summarizes the Indian trail. This trail gives you glimpses of the waterfalls from a couple of carefully crafted overlooks. Distance totals at 1.5 miles one way. This trail is considered an easy hike as well. This trail is dog-friendly.
For a real feel of the place, check out our video on visiting Watkins Glen right here:
How old is Watkins Glen?
Can you believe that the rocks at Watkins Glen are over 380 million years old? The river has steadily cut through the sandstone, exposing the rocks and gorge below as it gushes towards its finale at the Seneca Lake.
The place was open for tourists for over a century and if you want to be on a slice of tangible history, walk over the 147-year old suspension bridge (accessed via the Indian Trail) at the Narrows.
Why the name ‘Rainbow Falls’?
This dazzling trickle of water was named after the optical illusion of a rainbow glimmering through it during the afternoon sun in certain sunny conditions. The rainbows have been captured in paintings and photographs displayed at the Watkins Glen visitor center.
Best places to visit during fall – weekend getaways from Washington DC – Read here!
Ecosystems of Watkins Glen
The Watkins Glen area has developed its very own ecosystem due to the limited amount of sunlight trickling through the trees above its stream. The constant exposure to water and moisture has helped create a kind of microclimate where a variety of greens and insects thrive. There are many information boards prepped up along the trail that elaborates on this further.
Where is Watkins Glen located?
Watkins Glen is located at the base of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The glen forms a part of the Finger Lakes wine trail and has a small quaint town nearby with a good mix of thriving restaurants. I particularly enjoyed the Thai restaurant called Thai Elephants with their servers dressed in traditional Thailand attire.
Where to park near the Watkins Glen State Park?
Exact location of the main parking lot – 917 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY 14891.
There are two other parking lots as well with shuttle services to the main lot (just in case you get tired after climbing all those steps!) at S Pavilion Rd and 3312 NY-409, Watkins Glen, NY 14891. Parking charges are $8 per vehicle at the main entrance and it’s valid for 2 consecutive days.
Quick tips when visiting Watkins Glen:
- Wear waterproof shoes – Keep those feet high and dry with a pair of waterproof shoes as you are sure to step into hundreds of puddles and murky pools of collected water along the way.
- Time of visit – the earlier in the day, the better – for both parking and finding solitude at the depths of the glen.
- Use the shuttle – If you’d prefer to not hike the entire distance of the gorge, take the shuttle from the upper entrance area near the Mile Point Bridge. It runs every 15-20 minutes, costs $3 per person and will get you to the south or main entrance.
- Duration of hike – 2-3 hours if you want a relaxed hike, really imbibing the place.
Things to do around Watkins Glen:
- Explore the Finger Lakes Wine Trail – Try the ice wines available from the region – they’re the best!
- Take a lake cruise of the Seneca.
- Drive northwards towards Seneca Lake State Park – a scenic drive enjoyed most during the late afternoons.
- Check out the Taughannock Falls nearby – a single fall massive cascade, taller than the Niagara.
- Indulge in rainbow trout fishing at Ithaca Falls.
- Take an aerial tour of the Finger Lakes region onboard a water plane!
- Learn the skill of glassmaking at the world-famous Corning Glass museum.
- Ride your own race car at the Watkins Glen International, the speedway which has come to be known as the Mecca of North American road racing after it hosted the Formula One United States Grand Prix for 20 years.
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