At Watkins Glen State Park you can walk over, under, behind and through waterfalls. This New York state park is one of the most popular in the state, and for good reason. The glen’s stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls along its course.
They designed the Gorge Trail to carry hikers along the walls of the gorge. You can enjoy the rocky cliffs and cascading waterfalls from all angles. Following it gives you up close views of all the falls — and sometimes even taking you through them. That’s why this hike is simply magical.
You can’t help but appreciate how the water has carved the canyon walls. The gorge is simply stunning. Sorry. My photos don’t do it justice. (Also made worse because my camera malfunctioned.) Its picturesque stone bridges, paths and stairs make this a photographer’s dream. Cool names like Frowning Cliff, Lovers Lane, Rainbow Falls, Glen Cathedral and Sentry Bridge add to the delight of exploring this wonderful place.
The Waterfalls at Watkins Glen State Park
The park first opened to the public in 1863 and was privately run as a tourist resort until 1906. It was so popular that in 1866, more than 23 thousand sightseers visited the resort. The resort offered lodging and dining, and gradually expanded the trail and the bridgework throughout the gorge.
Then, New York State purchased it, creating Watkins Glen State Park. The centerpiece of the 778-acre park is a 400-foot-deep narrow gorge cut through rock by Glen Creek.
Along the hike, information boards share the geology of the stream and point out interesting features. If you need a place to escape for a little bit, this place will make you happy.
In the early 1800s, the Glen Creek and its rushing waterfalls powered Watkins Mill, a grist mill that because of the force of the water could mill a thousand pounds of flour a day.
Watkins Glen State Park features three trails, open from mid-May to early November, that climb or descend the gorge. The Southern Rim and Indian Trails run along the gorge’s wooded rim, while the Gorge Trail is closest to the stream and runs over, under and along the park’s 19 waterfalls by way of stone bridges and more than 800 stone steps.
Most visitors head to the Gorge Trail, which snakes along Glen Creek through a 400 ft deep canyon. The trail leads you up 800 or so steps (I didn’t count) along the almost 2-mile trek through the gorge. That’s like going up 38 floors. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. The initial ascent is probably the hardest, but if you take it slow and take whatever rests you need by stepping to the side, you can make it. After that initial ascent, the hike is fairly easy because you stop so frequently to enjoy the 19 waterfalls along the way.
We made it into a loop by means of the Indian Trail, which begins at the park’s upper entrance. It follows the north rim of the gorge, connecting with the lower section of the Gorge Trail below the suspension bridge. The trail offers three impressive gorge overlooks.
Know Before You Go
It gets wet and muddy in some spots so be sure to wear shoes or boots with good grips and clothing you don’t mind getting a little wet or dirty. There are A LOT of steps, so that is something to consider in advance, especially on hotter days or if you are going with people who may be less able to manage a steep incline.
During the tourist season, Watkins Glen State Park can become quite crowded. Go early to avoid the crowds — because of our other sight-seeing plans, we arrived around lunchtime, and even on a weekday in October, it was so very crowded!
Finally, pets are not allowed on the Gorge Trail.
Getting there: 1009 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY
Hours: Although the park is open year round, the Gorge trail is only open between May and October. Check the website to ensure the trail is open.
Website: Watkins Glen SP
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