Visitors to Watkins Glen State Park can stand on an ancient sea bottom, watch water rushing down from waterfalls which have flowed for centuries and marvel at gorges carved by Glen Creek thousands of years ago.
Located about 100 miles west of Syracuse in Upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region, the park is popular with hikers, campers and picnickers. Visitors can walk up and down more than 800 stone steps along the park’s trails, admire 19 waterfalls, and gaze up at rocky canyon walls, according to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
The most scenic and popular trail is the Gorge Trail, which winds its way past waterfalls, trees and rocks for approximately a mile and a half. Some parts of the trail take visitors high up into the air while other parts of the trail let visitors get close enough to see tiny tadpoles and fish swimming through the glen.
Gaze up at the stone canyons which Glen Creek began to carve approximately 12,000 years ago. Carving continues today, especially in the winter when water freezes and fractures the rocks. Those rocks will eventually tumble down and flow into nearby Seneca Lake, leaving behind a wider gorge.
Notice the steep, barren rock along some parts of the trail. Look for lush green ferns and mosses which grow on the rocks in shady, cool spots along the trail.
Watkins Glen Waterfalls
Visitors can walk directly behind two waterfalls at the park without leaving the trail: Rainbow Falls and Central Cascade. Water pours down off the rocks continuously, splashing everyone nearby. The roar of the falls is so loud that it can be hard to carry on a conversation near the falls. The trail is always wet and slippery behind the falls so watch your step.
Water rushes and swirls through 17 other waterfalls throughout the park. In other spots, the water flows slowly and gently. The water is muddy and cloudy in some places but clear enough to see rocks, fish and tadpoles in other places.
Watkins Glen Bridges, Tunnels and Sea Bottom
Visitors can stand on an ancient sea bottom located just past where Lover’s Lane adjoins the Gorge Trail. Thousands of years ago, this rock was sand on the floor of a sea. The sea eventually turned to stone.
Hikers can also navigate three tunnels and cross several stone bridges. Many people stop at the bridges to pose for pictures. Take your time. The view is spectacular from the bridges. No wonder so many people consider this park the crown jewel of the Finger Lakes.
Jacob’s Ladder is the last stop of the Gorge Trail. Get ready to huff and puff your way up 180 stone steps. There are a few places to stop along the way where you can take a break and catch your breath.
A snack bar, rest rooms and a picnic area are located at the top. A shuttle bus runs between the top and bottom areas of the park during the peak summer months. This is a great alternative for people with small children or those who have disabilities and can’t make the climb.
Tips For Visiting Watkins Glen
Camping is available for overnight visitors. Visitors for just the day must pay an $8 per vehicle fee. Depending on weather conditions, the park usually opens in May and closes for the winter season.
Dogs are allowed in the park but not on the Gorge Trail. This trail is too steep for dogs to navigate safely.
Wear hiking boots, walking shoes or a sturdy pair of sneakers. Do not wear flip flops or any type of sandal. The trail is slippery in spots and steep.
There are no bathrooms or water fountains along the trails. Bring your own water and wear sunscreen.
Enjoy your hike and admire the scenic views. Take your time and soak it all in. Just don’t forget your camera.
My own experiences of visiting Watkins Glen State Park numerous times
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Places
This article was based on a similar one I wrote for Wikinut.