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Watkins Glen State Park

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Watkins Glen State Park

When Is the Best Time 

To enjoy the spectacular views of the Gorge Trail without the massive crowds, read our detailed guide: 

Highlight

Only the Gorge Trail offers the best views of the waterfalls and all the caves. The trail is open from mid-May until late October. It's closed from the beginning of November. Depending on the weather it could be a little earlier or later. The peak waterfall flow is in spring. The flow gets worse in summer and often better in fall again. Autumn brings beautiful foliage as well.

Avoiding the Crowds

Summer (mid-June until August) brings the most tourist crowds. It's ridiculously busy, especially on weekends. 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 We 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.

Weather

Spring and fall bring the most pleasant weather conditions. A mild climate and often average temperatures up to 70°F (21°C) in May or September. Hot and high humidity in summer with average highs of 28°F (82°C). 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. 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!

Visiting in Winter: The beautiful gorge trail is closed. However, the Indian Trail cuts across the gorge and you can see many of the waterfalls toward the bottom. It's also significantly less busy.

 

Discover 
Waterfall
US
Where  
United States, Watkins Glen, NY, USA
Review and Tips 

The Watkins Glen State Park is featured on many travel lists these days, and it attracts visitors from literally all over the world. But if you plan it right, you can still have the place almost all to yourself, which I definitely, wholeheartedly recommend.

I was lucky enough to grow up in the village of Watkins Glen so "the glen" as we call it, was somewhere I loved to explore from a very early age. It's like something out of 'Lord of the Rings,' with equal parts Elvish (graceful waterfalls and sloping green walls covered in plant life) and Dwarvish (dark caves cut right into the rock walls themselves!) It will definitely stoke your imagination.

The Gorge Trail - the main trail and the place to see all of the caves and the best views of the waterfalls - is only open from late spring to autumn (weather permitting, usually from May to October/November). If you go in the summer, try to go on a weekday, and THE EARLIER THE BETTER. If you go right at sunrise when the gates first open, you may be lucky enough to have the entire place to yourself! I've done that, and trust me - it is well, well worth it. Weekends in the summer are VERY crowded with several buses full of tourists and vacationers at a time, and the narrow walkways can get very crowded. But if you go at sunrise, the hike up to the top is magical--light and shadow, waterfalls and caves, and the sun peeking in to illuminate everything. Autumn is also beautiful...September and October are a great time to go as well, because the summer holiday/vacation crowds have returned home. But still, try to go on a weekday and first thing in the morning.

You can start at either the bottom, or the top of the gorge, and there are shuttles to take you back to where you began, but the most impressive way to see the Glen is to start at the Main Entrance on Franklin Street in Watkins Glen. You will be greeted by your first cave right away, with stone steps leading up into the darkness (lit by lighting inside, don't worry :) from there you will pass several spectacular waterfalls on your hike up into the gorge. There are more than 19 waterfalls and over 800 stone steps to the top, and many things to explore along the way. It is definitely an experience you will never forget.

Reviewed by Jesse Miller-Riley


Detailed Maps

Links

Trails
  • GORGE TRAIL: Must see trail. 1.5 miles one way. Open from mid-May until late October.
  • INDIAN TRAIL 1.5 miles one way. Accessible year round. Not as magnificent as the gorge trail. However, it cuts across the gorge and has access to overlooks where you can see many waterfalls.
  • SOUTH RIM TRAIL: 4.5 miles one way. Accessible year round. Nice hike, but you won't see the gorge

Activities Nearby (walking distance)
  • Seneca Lake Wine Trail: Excellent wine trail. The scenery is stunning: Allegheny Mountains, beautiful valleys, verdant tree covered forest lands and the Finger Lakes.
  • Schooner Excursions: Beautiful sailing tours in the Finger Lakes. Highly recommended. Day sails (2 hours) are from 35 - 55 USD. 

Where to Stay (bookmark the links)

 

UPDATE 2017 (construction):

Due to construction work at the main entrance until spring 2018 there is slightly limited access. But still, you'll have access to the Gorge Trail, restrooms and gift shop. Official information and tips for visitors regarding the construction: Watkins Glen State Park - Construction


Video (below the photo gallery): By Mark Richardson

Photos 
Video 
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Comments

Feb 26, 2016

Beautiful rock formations from the water flow. Pictures do not do it justice. Leave at least half a day to explore this park and you'll leave with a ton of pictures.

Feb 27, 2016

Great! It really looks like a place straight out of Lord of the Rings ;) Thanks for the detailed information!

Mar 04, 2016

I love this place!

Mar 07, 2016

Beautiful! It does indeed look as if you are in Rivendell.

Mar 08, 2016

It certainly did remind me of Rivendell! Especially if one reaches there around 7:00 in the morning... and in spring or just after some rains...

Aug 06, 2016

this place is really a piece of beauty. You gotta watch this for once. Give this place enough time. I was there for 2-2.5 hrs. there are a lot of trails which you would like to cover. And be till the sun comes down. Magical place...

One piece of advice, get some water. You would not find it always. Even the shops runs out of water.

P.S. couple of weeks back my friends went there and this time there was not much water it seems. So I would encourage to go early June. Plus if there is rain on the day when you are travelling then, BINGO!!! every where it will be green, and awesome.

Aug 08, 2016

Added to my "Best vacation spots" Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks, with a reputation for leaving visitors spellbound.

Within two miles, the glen's stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls along its course. The gorge path winds over and under waterfalls and through the spray of Cavern Cascade. Rim trails overlook the gorge.

Campers and day-visitors can enjoy the Olympic-size pool, scheduled summer tours through the gorge, tent and trailer campsites, picnic facilities and excellent fishing in nearby Seneca Lake or Catherine Creek, which is renowned for its annual spring run of rainbow trout.

This park supports the federally-threatened Leedy's roseroot wildflower.

In 2015, the park was chosen from more than 6,000 state parks across the nation as a nominee in the USA TODAY Readers' Choice Poll for Best State Park in the United States, and won third place!

Aug 09, 2016

Here are a couple of photos I took at Watkins Glen State Park you can see more on my site at: http://dniesenfoto.smugmug.com/

Sep 25, 2016

All the photos I have posted were taken on a trip to Watkins Glen in early June the 7th-10th of 2016. There were no crowds to speak of during the week days as the schools had not closed for the summer. The weather was very nice and there was a good amount of water still flowing over the falls.