Hiking the Glen: Watkins Glen State Park (NY)

Updated on December 8, 2017

Overview

The Watkins Glen State Park is located right in the middle of the town of Watkins Glen. The town itself is located at the southern end of Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in New York. Set right in wine country, the town is a staging point for those looking to do a wine tour of the Finger Lakes Wineries.

When not sampling the wines, the State Park offers visitors the chance to get out on a short scenic hike on paths carved down the middle of a gorge that runs through the middle of town. Within the two miles of trails, the glen's stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls along its course.

This safe and family-friendly hike is a great way to stretch out the legs and see some nice views between dining at a few nice restaurants in town or picking up a bottle of wine from the local vintner.

The Entry to the Trail
The Entry to the Trail

The Trail

The parking lot for the trail is right off of route 14 in the heart of town. The cost to park is $8, but savvy visitors can find a side street and make a short walk to the foot of the gorge. The gift shop is small, and has all the standard fare of a typical shop such as shot glasses, postcards, t-shirts, and the like.

Just past the shop is the entrance to the trail, which begins with a short walk up some steep stairs that start through a stone archway. From there, it's across a stone bridge that overlooks the stream that flows down through the gorge.

The Trail Map
The Trail Map

Cavern Cascade

After crossing the bridge, the flat rock-covered trail has two options. To the left after you cross the bridge is a very large stone staircase that leads up to a dirt trail that runs along the south side of the gorge. This trail will lead to a bridge that brings you back towards the gorge or gives you an option to turn left and head up to a public swimming pool where the children can swim with other kids their age.

If you stay right and bypass the stone staircase, the main trail leads up to the Cavern Cascade. This is where the trail goes under a waterfall and then twists up through the rocks to a point above that waterfall so you can look out and over it. It's one of the coolest parts of the hike, so be sure to get some photos here.

The Walk Up to the Cavern Cascade

The Waterfall Over the Trail

The Tunnel Through the Rocks

Through the Gorge

After the Cavern, there are two options for hikers. There is a trail that u-turns back to the right and leads up to an Indian Trail that runs above the north side of the gorge and will intersect the bridge that leads to the trail towards the public pool. It does continue on and runs along the cliff of the gorge until it descends to a point a mile up the hike and past most of the really nice waterfalls. This is not the best route for a scenic hike, but is good for avoiding heavy crowds on the way back.

The second option is to take the low trail along the north wall of the gorge and get some great views of the stream and waterfalls that have been created throughout the years. The trail can be damp at times and tight as people are walking up and down it, but this is definitely the way to take.

One of Many Waterfalls and Pool Formations Through the Gorge

The Trail, Cont.

The trail will continue up along the north wall for another half mile or so until you climb a set of stairs and come to a bridge. As you cross the bridge, you can look down over the stream again and see how it carves through the rock. As you make your way across the bridge, there are some really nice looking pools of water off to the right now since you'll be on the south side of the gorge.

As you make your way up, there is a water flow that comes down off the cliff and makes this the wettest part of the hike as the water must be navigated as you climb up a set of stairs. Once past the water, you'll come to another bridge that crosses the trail back to the north side.

The Trail Along the North Gorge

One Mile Point Bridge

The Mile Point

This is where the Indian Trail comes back down and meets back up to the main trail. The second bridge allows some great views down the gorge and after it, the trail flattens out for another half of a mile or so.

There is one last staircase to navigate at the end of the hike and that leads up to a little park where people sometimes go to camp and spend the day. This last part of the hike is not as exciting as the first mile, and the payoff at the end of the last staircase is sort of a letdown because there aren't any views. Just know that you've been warned.

The Trail Turns Flat

The Walk Back

I do recommend hiking back down the same way you came up as the scenery will look at lot different on the way down than the way up. When I lived in town and hiked the gorge daily, I would often times hop up on the break-wall and walk with a different view of the gorges.

All-in-all, this is a really nice hike to take with the family and there will be some excellent photo opportunities of great scenery. The stream, water pools, and waterfalls are all nice to spend some time around. Hopefully, you enjoy it as much as I have in my time on trail!

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 3 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Looks like a lovely way to spend one's time.

    • juneaukid profile image

      Richard Francis Fleck 4 weeks ago from Denver, Colorado

      A delightfully written hub--somehow we missed going there during our year's stay in Cortland, but will try to get back there soon.

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