'I was totally blown away by the natural beauty'
'Amazing and almost other-worldly, we enjoyed every second'
Read our detailed guide to find out the best time to visit Watkins Glen State Park and enjoy the spectacular views of the Gorge Trail without the massive crowds. Additionally, you'll find a great review and tips by a local as well as 10 Must-Know Tips (scroll down) you should read before your visit. This Watkins Glen State Park guide answers every one of your questions and has received a huge update in 2019/2020. Don't forget to check out our hotel tips below.
Winter 2019/2020 Tip: Thinking winter is a bad time to visit? Wrong! Even when the Gorge Trail is closed, you'll experience mesmerizing views of sometimes frozen waterfalls in an icy and narrow gorge. It's worth it in the colder season even without snow and ice. Tip: Book one night at a nearby hotel (within walking distance!) Staying in a hotel the night before your park visit in winter means you are at the park early and enjoy some time there in solitude. That's awesome for taking the best photos! Book in advance to save money. Check out our winter tips below.
Highlights (Gorge Trail - Flow - Fall Foliage)
Waktins Glen State Park - Autumn by Andy Arthur, CC BY
Gorge Trail: The Gorge Trail offers the most stunning experience and gorgeous views of the waterfalls and all the caves. The trail is open from mid-May until late October. It's usually closed from the beginning of November. Depending on the weather it could be a little earlier or later.
Flow: There are a total of 19 waterfalls in the park. The peak flow is usually in spring. Especially with a strong flow, you can feel the earth tremble even more while standing next to or behind a waterfall. The flow gets worse in summer and often better during the months of fall.
Autumn Foliage: In the fall Watkins Glen State Park offers a beautiful show of fall foliage with vibrant displays of gold, scarlet, and orange. The best time for the fall colors is usually early October until mid-October.
Avoiding the Crowds
Summer (mid-June until August) brings the most tourist crowds. It's ridiculously busy, especially on weekends. The trail itself is packed as well as the entrance area and the parking lot. Regardless of the season, you should go early in the morning and on a weekday. Be there after sunrise right before the gate opens at 8:30 AM: Official Website - Opening Hours. We highly recommend to stay at a nearby hotel (see below), hike the Gorge Trail first thing in the morning and then choose one of the nearby activities. Alternatively, you may dodge crowds when you arrive in the late afternoon between 4 and 5 p.m. However, it's usually still busy later in the day on weekends during the peak months of July and August.
Spring and fall usually bring very pleasant weather conditions. A mild climate and often average temperatures up to 70°F (21°C) can be experienced in May and September. In the summer it doesn't get too hot with average highs of 82°F (28°C). However, the short but strenuous hike uphill can be a challenge for some visitors in the summer. The area also has some slightly muggy months. The least humid month is April and the most humid time is late August and early September. Winter brings the coldest conditions. In January temperatures range between 15°F and 33°F (-9°C and 1°C). The area can receive heavy snowfall, especially in January and February. Detailed Monthly overview: Watkins Glen Weather
Sweet Spot Months
Best months without the massive summer crowds, great views, open Gorge Trail and pleasant weather: mid-May until early-June or September (after Labor Day) until late October. But still, try to avoid weekends or go early. It's worth it!
Winter Months (Special)
The beautiful gorge trail is closed in the winter. However, the Indian Trail (read below for more details) is accessible and cuts across the gorge: From there you can see many of the waterfalls toward the bottom. One bridge, in particular, gives you an incredible view of a large part of the winding gorge down there. Even more stunning when the gorge is covered in snow and ice. Regardless of the closed gorge trail, we say it's definitely worth seeing this amazing landscape in the winter months. Either with everything frozen over and snow-covered cliffs or just be mesmerized by the falls and gorge without anyone else. It's true, sometimes you hardly see any other visitor in winter and have the park all to yourself. Especially when you visit in the morning! That's just perfect for taking unique photos.
Teddy Roosevelt described the falls as the “eighth wonder of the world”. Not high but very beautiful. The state park offers comfortable cabins and nice campgrounds.
The best time to visit Burney Falls? Find the answer right here. Additionally, we included a complete guide with tips you must know! Although the park gets crowded in the pleasant summer months (read our crowd tips below) and cold in the winter, Burney Falls is an amazing year-round destination. The flow at 100 million gallons every day is excellent throughout the year. Other waterfalls have the most impressive flow during certain seasons only. The reason is its source from volcanic underground springs.
Make sure to scroll down to our '9 Top Tips and Facts' at the end of this article.
The climate around Burney Falls is controlled by its predominantly mountainous topography. The highest elevation in the park is almost 3,100 feet (950 m). Please keep in mind that regardless of the season it’s cooler at the base of falls. Due to the mist visitors often say it feels about 10 degrees (about 5°C) colder down there at the pool.
Spring (March, April, May)
- Weather: Mild, rainy in March
- Crowds: Light in March, busier in April/May
Temperatures starting to rise, getting more pleasant. However, in March it’s often still chilly and drizzly (average high 57°F / 13°C). March is the month with the most rainfall in spring (early March snowfall is still possible). In April it’s getting a little warmer (average high 62°F / 17°C) and there is considerably less rain. But still, check the weather forecast and always bring a rain jacket and dress in layers as weather can change quickly. Although half of the trees at Burney Falls are coniferous and provide an evergreen forest year round, the other half (mostly California black oak) blooms in spring. Depending on the year and the varying temperatures, the trees begin to bud as the weather in April warms, leaves begin to shoot out and grow as we progress into and through May and by June the foliage is pretty full. There is also a period of nice flowering along the creek in mid-spring. Crowds: In April it starts to get busy, especially on weekends and public holidays, even more in May, when temperatures rise even more.
Summer (June, July, August, September)
- Weather: Warm and mostly dry
- Crowds: Very crowded
Warm and lots of sunshine. The highest temperatures at Burney Falls can be experienced during the summer month with an average maximum of 89°F (30°C) in July and August. Even in September temperatures are still very pleasant. Rain is rare in the summer. When it gets hot in the summer months the waterfall and the mist at the pool provide some nice cooling effect. However, it can get chilly down at the falls at times, even in the summer months. Better bring an extra top. Highlight: In the morning with enough sunlight you can spot rainbow reflections in the mist above the pool. However, the waterfall itself is always in the shadow, even on the sunniest day. Unlike other waterfalls, Burney Falls has an impressive flow even during the dry summer months. It’s high season and heavily crowded, with a peak from mid-June until the end of August.
Fall (October, November)
- Weather: Still pleasant, colder in November
- Crowds: Lighter but still busy in September, less crowds in October
It gets colder but October is usually still pleasant (average high 69°F/21°C) while it’s getting chilly in November. There is also a possibility of snow later in November. The leaves start turning in October and you can experience the beautiful fall foliage with vibrant displays of gold, scarlet, and orange. Especially when you are down at the falls, you’ll spot beautiful reflections in the pool from the rich hues of autumn leaves. Although crowds start to dissipate slightly after Labor Day weekend, it’s still busy in September. In October crowds thin out even more, although it can still be busier on weekends. However, October is significantly less busy compared to summer and spring of course.
Winter (December, January, February)
- Climate: Cold, snow, and ice
- Crowds: Virtually none
It’s getting cold (average high 43°F / 6°C). However, even in the winter, it's a stunning experience when sometimes the whole park is covered with snow while the waterfall is still flowing.The mist from the falls is freezing in the trees, covering everything. It looks like you’re in a fairy tale. Also, tiny icicles decorate the cliff and make it even more gorgeous. A downside in the winter: Due to ice and snow it's sometimes impossible to get to the bottom to see the falls. This happens quite often from December to January and a few times in February. Even without snow, the path to the falls can be quite icy which makes it dangerous to walk down. Although there are some rails where you can hang on to, there is a danger of slipping. Especially kids or seniors should be very careful. Keep in mind that when you are down at the falls, it gets a lot colder because of the mist.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
Theresa at McArthur–Burney Falls (Summer) by m01229, CC BY-SA, cropped
It can get very busy between April and October, especially on weekends and public holidays (California Public Holidays). The peak months with the highest visitation are from June to August. How to avoid the crowds and enjoy a much more pleasant stay at the falls:
Early / Weekday:
Try to go mid-week and be there around 8:30 or at least by 9 AM. Arrive even earlier if you visit on weekends. It usually gets crowded between 10 and 12 AM, with a constant stream of visitors on the trail into the afternoon. Particularly parking becomes quite difficult during peak season and on weekends. The parking lot is packed and tour buses come and go. Please note that if you park along Highway 89 outside of the park, your car can get towed! When you go on a weekday and combine it with getting there early, you’ll experience a much quieter park even in high season. Also, the light is perfect in the mornings until noon. If you visit in the winter months, it's possible to have this beautiful place all to yourself.
Sweet Spot Months:
In September after Labor Day (first Monday of Sept), the whole park gets a little quieter while it's usually still busy on weekends. The temperatures are still great and the light is wonderful. But still, try to visit mid-week in September if possible or be there early (see above). October is even better in terms of crowds. If you'd like to visit before the busy season starts, try late March or early April.
Entrance fee: $8 - $10 (more info at the bottom of the article). Open From sunrise to sunset. In the summer from 6 AM - 6 PM. However, rangers at Burney Falls usually don't close at 6 PM sharp.
Clothing (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter)
Depending on the season and climate you need different clothes at Burney Falls. In general, it's best to pack lightweight clothing items that work for every kind weather at the falls. It's also recommended to dress in layers if you visit in late autumn, winter or early spring, as it gets a lot colder when you are down at the falls. Dressing in layers allows you to make quick adjustments. We love to check Amazon Outdoor Clothes regularly. From our experience, they offer the best variety of high-quality clothes and other outdoor gear: Outdoor Recreation