Watkins Glen State Park
When to go and enjoy the spectacular views of the Gorge Trail without the massive crowds:
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 Tourist 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.
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
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.
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!
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
- 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 (best selection, bookmark the links):
- Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel. Excellent location (11 minutes walk to the Glen) at the lake and an exceptional hotel! Amazing views, perfect rooms, wonderful staff and super clean.
- Budget Tip: The Local. Very clean, rooms are quite new. Very helpful and friendly staff and owners. Only 2 minutes walking distance!
- Explore more hotels and hostels nearby: Watkins Glen State Park Hotels
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