Aug
20

A Magical Weekend at the Watkins Glen State Park

Are you contemplating a perfect weekend getaway or a long laid-back vacation? Are you yearning for greenery and scenic vistas?? Then think no further, Finger Lakes, NY has it all. As the name indicates it is a region of about 11 fingers like long lakes in the New York state of USA. The two most famous and longest are the Seneca and Cayuga lakes. We chose to have a relaxing weekend trip to the famous Watkins Glen State Park, New York and Taughannock Falls State Park.

After a 4 hour drive from Philadelphia, PA our first stop was at mighty Taughannock Falls.

Watkins Glen State Park

TAUGHANNOCK FALLS STATE PARK

After entering the Finger Lakes region, the brief drive overlooking Cayuga lake brought us to the falls taller than the Niagara Falls.

There are multiple ways to enthrall the charm of Taughannock falls – by viewing its beauty from the Overlook point, hiking the trails up to the gorge or by experiencing its might by hiking the easy Gorge trail to the bottom of the falls. We chose the latter.

The cloudy weather also favored us. Gorge trail is an easy ¾ mile-long trail along the Taughannock creek with tall rocky cliffs standing tall. Most parts of the path were shaded by tall trees. This is an easy trail that can be enjoyed with the entire family.

Note: Families with young kids can take strollers on Gorge trail.

The true magic begins as you reach the bottom of the falls. The thunderous water raging down, mist flowing and you get drenched in that aura.

Watkins Glen State Park Taughannock Falls
The base of Taughannock Falls

As if we didn’t have enough water, the kids while walking back got down into the shallow part of the stream. Some splishing-splashing, wading on the rocky bed, just enjoying every bit of water. But be cautious, the water-bed is slippery at most places and rocky at others, so keep holding onto hands of kids.

Highly recommend: Wear water shoes while walking in the creek. Always remain towards the shallow edge.

Watkins Glen State Park
Wading the Taughannock Creek

Looking for some more adventure, then try hiking trails South Rim and North Rim Trails that make the way to the top of the gorge. These 1.5 mile long trails take you around with many scenic overlook points.

There are interesting stories behind the name of these falls. One says that it is derived from a combination of words meaning “great fall in the woods”.  The second indicates that the name is after a Delaware chief Taughannock who tried to invade and hence thrown off the cliff into the falls.

For the kids

This history wasn’t going to fascinate the kids, but the big playground near the trail was sure inviting. While the kids burnt off up and down the swings and slides, we embraced the tranquility of the Cayuga Lake in the vicinity.

Choosing to hike one of the many trails is a thrilling experience for the kids.

We could just sit there whole day watching the flying seagulls, people fishing, kids swimming, boats sailing and still not get jaded.

Watkins Glen State Park Cayuga lake
Serene Cayuga lake

After an exciting day, it was time to head off to our campsite for good night sleep. The campsite was at Watkins Glen State Park about 30 minutes drive.

WATKINS GLEN STATE PARK

It is the most visited state park in the Finger Lakes region at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. Adjudged as Best State Park in US by Reader’s choice poll, this state park will leave you spellbound.

Glen Creek flows through the rugged gorge terrain making way for 19 gorgeous big and small waterfalls.

Watkins Glen Gorge trail
Mesmerizing Gorge trail

The best way to explore this nature’s marvel is to hike the 2-mile-long Gorge trail. This trail is the perfect companion to the creek all along its path. The majestic downfalls of the stream, carving its path between the narrow gorge making its way for cascading waterfalls is a feast for your eyes.

The trail mainly made of paved stone has about 800 steps along the path. But the trail winds through a varied landscape – with bridges, caves, walking under the waterfall, water spattering all in that 2 miles. What more adventure can one desire.

Watkin Glen State Park Gorge
Watkin Glen Gorge

The way tends to get wet and damp, which requires comfy footwear and caution. There are no restrooms or water on the trail and it can get a bit hot during summer, so be prepared.

Exploring the park

  • There are 3 entrances to the park – Main, South and Upper.
  • If you just need a sneak peek at Glen’s beauty, you can just enter from the main entrance and exit from the south entrance.
  • To save on some time drive/ take a shuttle bus to the Upper entrance and hike down.
  • We started our hike on a gorge trail at the South entrance, but could not climb the complete stretch as our kids got tired. But our kids got an insight into exploring and appreciating nature’s beauty.
  • If you are ready for 1-2 hours of this moderate hike, then we would recommend hiking till the end for some breathtaking views.
  • The 2 other trails to hike to explore greenery are – Indian Trail and South Rim trail.
Watkins Glen State Park Waterfall
Watkins Glen Waterfall

For hiking enthusiasts seeking more adventure, the trails join to a 1000 mile long Finger Lakes trail. In turn, the trail interconnects many state parks of NY state.

Watkins Glen State Park
Watkins Glen State Park

The rustic grey cliffs, bright green plantations, and the water give the perfect contrast of colors that cannot be missed.

Address

1009 N Franklin St
Watkins Glen, NY 14891

There are 3 entrances to the state park –

  • Main Entrance
  • South Entrance – mainly for access to campground
  • Upper Entrance – entry at the top of the gorge.

There is shuttle service available between Main and Upper entrance at a fees of $5 per person.

Fees

Vehicle Entry Fees (May- October)- $8 (includes access to pool)

Timings

During summer, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. -5:30 p.m. during the rest of the year.

The Gorge trail is closed during winter, so better to check before visiting.
Please note there are different timings for swimming pool, shuttle service and campground.

WATKINS GLEN TRAVEL TIPS

  1. The gorge trail gets wet and slippery, hence wear proper footwear.
  2. To avoid the crowds at Watkins Glen during summertime, try visiting at early or late hours and on weekdays.
  3. Do carry water and snacks.
  4. There are no restrooms and drinking water on the trails.
  5. Paid shuttle bus service runs between the main and the upper entrance during summertime. Check the timings.
  6. The South entrance has a big playground for kids, picnic area and swimming pool. The park has a minimal entrance fee of $8 per vehicle which also includes access to the pool. But since we were camping at the state park, we did not have to pay this.
  7. There is parking, snack bar and restrooms at all the 3 entrances.
  8. If you have more time to explore around, visit Clute park to savor the beauty of Seneca Lake.
Clute Park at Seneca Lake in Finger Lakes.
Serene Clute Park

WHERE TO STAY

Depending upon your interests and budget, there are multiple types of options from camping to luxury hotels to vintage B&B.

Camping

  1. Watkins Glen Campground: If being close to the nature and adventure rings a bell, then camping at the Watkins Glen state park would never disappoint you.
    Book cabins or campsites at the park.
  2. Taughannock falls state park campground – By the banks of scenic Cayuga Lake, there are options of rustic cabins and campsites to choose from. There is no dearth of activities to choose from – boating, swimming, fishing, hiking, beach, picnicking. And if you think this is only a summer place, then think again. The Gorge trail is open year round and activities like skiing, ice skating, sledding and snowshoeing are popular in winters.
    Book cabins or campsites at the park.

Note: Book campsites well in advance as they tend to get occupied especially in summer.

Read about our camping experience at Watkins Glen State Park.

Hotels

Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel
Located on the harbor with views of Seneca Lake, this is closest to the Watkins Glen Park and many wineries.

Read reviews on Tripadvisor.
Check availability and prices at booking.com

Ithaca is the nearest and most popular place to stay with options abound. It is also easier to visit other state parks of Finger lakes from this city. Ithaca is about 30 minute drive from Watkins Glen.

The city has many stay options to choose from for all kinds of budget needs as Ithaca is home to colleges and University. Depending on the needs, some great options are:

Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Ithaca
Perfect while staying with family, serves as a comfortable stay with amenities like fridge and microwave in the room and hot breakfast included.
It is very near to the famous Buttermilk Falls State Park.

Read reviews on Tripadvisor.
Check availability and rates on booking.com

Courtyard by Marriott Ithaca Airport/University

Country Inn & Suites by Radisson
With proximity to college and many restaurants, this is a great option for stay. The rooms are comfortable with full kitchenette.

Read reviews on Tripadvisor.
Check availability and prices here.

Hilton Garden Inn Ithaca

Right in the downtown, this is a perfect stay with restaurants and other attractions walk able.

Read reviews on Tripadvisor.
Check availability and rates on booking.com

Bed & Breakfast

With over 150 waterfalls, lakes and wineries in the vicinity, how would it be to sit by these magnificent vistas and relax. So head over to some of the famous B&B to savor.

Longhouse Manor Bed & Breakfast
With spectacular views of Seneca Lake, this huge B&B has it all. With comfy rooms, great food, recreation activities and proximity to Watkins Glen, this is a nice bet.

Read reviews on Tripadvisor.
Check availability on Booking.com.

You can choose from many cheap yet lovely options to stay on Airbnb. Click here to get a discount on your first Airbnb booking.

Have you tried Airbnb? Sign up with my link and you will get up to $43 off your first trip.

Have you explored the Watkins Glen and Finger Lakes area? Were you mesmerized?? We were for sure. Do share your experiences.

watkins glen state park, NY
weekend in finger lakes pin

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12 thoughts on “A Magical Weekend at the Watkins Glen State Park”

  1. The waterfall at Watkins Glen State Park is amazing! It seems so calm and peaceful over there. I can’t imagine how relaxing walking along the trail must have been. I would love to visit one day!

    • Wow!! that’s great. Sure do take out some time to explore the wonderful falls and lakes. For more adventure, you can camp out at these state parks.. Happy travelling!!

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