Watkins Glen State Park can close trails, and closes for a long period during the winter. Always check with the park website for more information about which trails are open before venturing out.
Watkins Glen State Park contains an absolutely amazing gorge trail through the main section of the park. Watkins Glen is located in southern upstate New York, at the southern tip of Lake Seneca in the Finger Lakes. Therefore, it’s fairly close to Pennsylvania and even reachable from New Jersey.
We did one overnight stay when we visited, but we also explored the town of Ithaca during the same trip. The areas around Watkins Glen and Ithaca have numerous waterfalls to visit. There is so much natural beauty! Find a list of beautiful waterfalls in Ithaca here.
Watkins Glen Directions
Before heading to Watkins Glen, I knew the entrance to the State Park was in the middle of town. This is a unique feature for this park, as not many (or any?!) State Parks in the mid-Atlantic area have entrances that are along a main road in a town. Normally we’re driving back roads for several miles before even coming to a State Park entrance.
Watkins Glen Main Entrance
I set the GPS to go to the correct address for the entrance on North Franklin Street. However, at some point during the drive, the GPS updated and tried to take us to a different (and very wrong) “entrance” to the park. My best guess is that it got confused as we were driving close to the park to get to the correct entrance, and it just thought we had arrived!
We eventually found the main entrance. However, I think this redirection may happen frequently, as when we “arrived” according to the GPS, there was a small sign along the road indicating that we were in the wrong place. It explained how to get to the main entrance.
You’ll know you arrived in the correct place if you see this sign (photo below)! Find more maps to help you find the entrance and gorge trail here.
Watkins Glen State Park Cost
Once you’ve found the correct entrance, you can park in the narrow parking lot on the same side of the street as the park. However, if this parking lot is full, there is another bigger parking lot across the street. It costs $10 per car to park (subject to change), and that can be paid by credit card at an unmanned kiosk.
Watkins Glen State Park Gorge Trail
We arrived at 8:30 AM on a weekday in the summer. The closest parking lot was almost full, and there were some people already parking across the street. This should give you an idea of the popularity of this State Park. However, it is also large, so people spread out. The gorge trail can be quite narrow, so it’s best to arrive early to enjoy some space on the trail.
For 2021, they’ve made the gorge trail a one way trail. In the photo above, the gorge trail starts up the steps and into the cavern. It then crosses the bridge. We hiked up the gorge trail, and then returned to the parking lot on the Indian trail. With many stops for photos, and two young children, we hiked the gorge trail, to Mile Point Bridge, and then turned back toward the parking lot on the Indian trail. The hike took about two to two and a half hours.
The kids (ages 4 and 8) did not have many issues with the trail length, steepness, or stairs. Really, the most taxing part of the hike was the incredibly long set of steps at the end of the hike. It’s odd that going down was more exhausting. I think it was the repetitiveness of the steps that was tiring.
Note: If you’ve hiked the waterfall loop at Rickett’s Glen, the Watkins Glen hike is easier and shorter by comparison, at least if you follow the route we took.
Watkins Glen Swimming
While swimming is not allowed in the beautiful gorges, you can reach out and touch a couple of the waterfalls. There’s even a place that you’ll most likely get a bit wet if you stand under the waterfall for more than just the time to walk by.
If you’re looking to do some swimming, there is a pool in Watkins Glen State Park. To access the pool, you can use the south entrance. Check the park’s website for the pool hours. It appears that the pool is opening later in summer for 2021.
More Beautiful State Parks
If you are visiting Watkins Glen, do not miss the beautiful town of Ithaca. It’s only a half hour drive from Watkins Glen.
In the mid-Atlantic region, here are some awesome State Parks to visit: Swatara State Park, Ohiopyle State Park, Ricketts Glen State Park, Trough Creek State Park, Gifford Pinchot State Park and Rocks State Park