Known for its world famous motor racetrack, award winning wineries and a state park full of waterfalls Watkins Glen is a great place for a road trip with Instagram worthy scenery for the whole family. I travelled to Niagara Falls with my friends and on our way to Niagara Falls, New York we decided to take a day trip to the beautiful and popular Watkins Glen State Park in Finger Lakes. Located on the southern tip of Seneca Lake in the Finger lakes, Watkins Glen State Park is a gorgeous place for hiking, camping and outdoor recreation.
As we were only doing a day trip to Watkins Glen on our way to the majestic Niagara Falls, we decided to visit Watkins Glen State Park, famous for its stream -carved gorge now preserved as a State Park.
Fun Facts about Watkins Glen State Park
- The gorge derived its name from Dr. Samuel Watkins and his brother John who acquired land in the area in the 1850’s.
- To increase tourist appeal, in the mid 1920’s the word “Glen” was added to the town name – Watkins.
- Within two miles, the glen’s stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs generating 19 waterfalls.
- The gorge emerged more than 2.5 million years ago during the Pleistocene Ice Age when the polar ice sheet advanced and receded and making it wider and deeper each time the ice sheet advanced southward.
When to Visit?
Watkins Glen is open all year however the best time to visit the park is anytime other than the winter months. Personally, we visited the state park in May and thought it was the perfect time to enjoy and explore the State Park without it being too hot or too cold. We combined it with our trip to the Niagara Falls.
Where to enter the park ?
There are three entrances to enter the park – Upper, South and Main. We entered the park through the South Entrance as we also made a quick stop at the Hector Falls along the way which are the third tallest falls in the state. Since the South entrance sits between the main and upper entrances its a great place to start as you will be in the middle of the park and you can retrace your steps as you like. There is no fee to visit the park although there is a parking fee of $8 per vehicle. The upper entrance is not as busy as the other entrances and on long holidays or weekends it may be easier to find parking here in case the main and south entrance are full.
The scenic gorge trail is family friendly however not the most accessible for those with mobility issues. It is an easy and incredible hike with gorgeous views but just be careful as the wet leaves and waterfalls make the path a little slippery sometimes.
We explored walking along the spectacular gorge soaking in the lush greens, waterfalls and fresh air. Walking through a spiral staircase we found ourselves at the Suspension bridge crossing over Watkins Glen Gorge. It made me get lost in nature while also connecting with myself on a deeper level and feeling absolutely rejuvenated.
While all the falls are beautiful my absolute favorite was the Rainbow Falls. We spent most of our time at the striking, delicate, dramatic and beautiful Rainbow Falls. The view from here is absolutely marvelous. The water falling from above, the bridge in the background, the lovely stone stairs is something that looks like from a fairytale. Did you know – The falls get its name from the rainbows that appear in the mist of the falls on sunny days.
As we explored the gorge, we were pleasantly surprised by the powerful Cavern Cascade. The spiral tunnel seemed like a dead end but as we walked down, it led us underneath the Cavern Cascade. Try to put your hand underneath the falls and you will be surprised to find out how strong the current is.
Tips for visiting Watkins Glen State Park
- Carry water as there is no water fountain along the trail.
- Wear waterproof and comfortable shoes.
- During the summer months there is a bus shuttle between the three entrances which helps navigates around the park.
- Carry a map, it will come in handy to know where you are and what you would like to explore.
If you are looking for the ultimate travel guide to Niagara Falls which is only a 2.5 hours drive check out my blog post here
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