Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Guided tours
No
Backcountry camping
No
Lodging
No
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

At only 778 acres, Watkins Glen State Park is small, but it packs a lot of stunning beauty into its small size. The quaint lake and river filled topography of the Finger Lakes region was formed by glacier ice and water erosion. The park’s incredibly scenic, deep, narrow, glacier and water-carved gorge running through the park has 19 waterfalls, and numerous cascades and “potholes” along its short steep plunge to Seneca Lake and repersents an amazing and exceptionally beautiful example of natures work on the region. 

The gorge is the park’s main attraction. Its formation started in the ice ages when the glaciers carved the steep sided Finger Lakes and cut the many streams. This left the streams hanging after the retreat of the ice with high waterfalls plunging over the steep cliffs. Then the slow process of erosion started cutting, gradually forming the deep narrow canyons with numerous waterfalls and cascades the Finger Lake region is famous for.  

Watkins Glen is an old fashioned, destination-style park with a campground, swimming pool, cross-country skiing, pavilions, playgrounds and picnic grounds. It is open year round, but many of the facilities have seasonal and weather closures, including the stunning gorge and the campground. Check here for the most up-to-date status of the campground, and here for the park status. Many of the facilities are available to support family functions. 

The park started as a private, successful, world-renowned destination resort with the first public visitation beginning in 1868. In 1906 it was purchased by the state and turned into the state park. The trails are short, and with common sense, family friendly. They provide the only access to the stunning scenery deep in the gorge. Even though the trails are short and paved with stones, they are steep with lots of steps. They are often wet from the spray and dripping water. The park provides a nice map showing the location of the upper and lower access to the Gorge Trail as well as the access from the campground and south pavilion. 

The Gorge Trail is spectacular and the park’s most popular trail. Its tread, beautiful stonewalls, tunnels, and bridges were built by the Civilian Conservation Corp after the catastrophic 1935 flood that wiped most of the trails away and did significant damage to the town. Today such a well-made trail could not probably be made due to cost and environmental concerns, but it is the only way to see the beauty of the gorge and the “up-close” power of the roaring creek that formed it. In the summer season, the park runs a shuttle service to help with congestion and to facilitate hiking the steep Gorge Trail. 

This park doesn’t have long backcountry hikes for those looking for solitude. But it makes a great weekend getaway for anyone, including families, by providing short and beautiful hikes. Additionally, there are many other activities in the park and nearby surrounding area, including wine and brew trails, kayaking on Seneca Lake, hiking the other nearby state parks, and the Women’s Rights National Historic Park. There are a few negatives to the park and campground: There is a racetrack about 3 miles away that produces an annoying persistent highway sound when races are on; also, much of the park’s infrastructure needs some maintenance; and finally, the crowds can be bad on weekends. However, it is still worth the trip for the hike through the gorge.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Fall

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

General Day Use Fee

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Stunning small state park with a deep narrow gorge with 19 waterfalls.

Cons

Very crowded in season.

Features

ADA accessible
General store
Historically significant
Waterfalls
Family friendly
Flushing toilets
Rental facilities
Geologically significant
Big vistas
Dump stations
Picnic tables
Near lake or river
Wildflowers
Potable water
Covered picnic areas
Swimming pool
Playground

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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