Soon after seeing some beautiful pictures of Watkins Glen State Park in New York, I started planning a trip. I chose to go this past weekend when the fall foliage was forecast to be at peak color there. Watkins Glen is the most popular destination in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. It’s best known for its Gorge Trail, with views of nineteen waterfalls within a 1.5 mile hike.
I had driven through the Finger Lakes Area of New York State a few times on the way to Niagara Falls and Canada, but had never done any exploring. Upon a closer look, I found that the area has a lot to offer; camping, hiking, lots of waterfalls, boating and fishing on the finger lakes, and wine tours to name a few. Since I made the trip with my sixteen-year-old daughter and her friend, the wine tours would have to wait until another time.
Watkins Glen State Park was our first destination of the weekend. The weather forecast was calling for highs in the mid 40’s, cold for this time of year, with some clouds and wind. Although I would have liked it to be a little warmer, I thought the lower temps might mean we’d have the glen to ourselves. When we arrived, there was a short line of cars waiting to pay the eight dollar entrance fee and an almost full parking lot. I can’t imagine how crowded the trail must get on a nice, sunny, fall day or during the summer.
We started out walking along the Gorge Trail, the the main attraction in the park. It’s paved with stone and winds along a creek, over bridges, through tunnels, and past nineteen waterfalls. The picturesque path includes over 800 steps and gains 400 feet of elevation as it cuts about two miles through the glen. In some places, two-hundred foot cliffs rise on either side of the trail.
At the end of the Gorge Trail is a set of steep stairs, known as Jacob’s Ladder, that leads to Watkins Glen’s Upper Entrance and parking lot. In summer, there’s a shuttle that will take you back to the Main Parking Area if you don’t want to walk the 1.5 miles back. I’m not sure if the shuttle runs the opposite direction, but that would be the thing to do if you want to walk down instead of up. When we were there, the shuttle wasn’t running and the snack bar at the upper entrance was closed, but the bathrooms were open.
There are trails on either side of the glen, on top of the gorge. The South Rim Trail is on the southern side and the Indian Trail runs along the the north side. We returned to the main parking area using the Indian Trail. Signs at the upper parking area and at the top of Jacob’s Ladder mark the trail. The Indian Trail is flat and wide and makes for an easy return hike. It runs through the woods and past a cemetery while it descends back towards the parking area. There are a couple overlooks along the way and access to the suspension bridge that connects to the South Rim Trail, South Entrance, and camping area.
Watkins Glen State Park offers tent, RV, and a few cabin sites for those who want to camp. Since the cabins were full and the night’s forecast was calling for wind and lows in the twenties, we wimped out and opted to stay in a cheap hotel for the night. The next morning we headed to our next destination, a cabin at the nearby Taughannock Falls State Park.
Whether you stay for a weekend or just stop in for a couple hours to hike the Gorge Trail, I definitely recommend visiting the Watkins Glen State Park. It made a nice fall hike for us, but I imagine it would be a nice, cool summer destination too.