1 Day at Watkins Glen State Park in the Finger Lakes of NY

Watkins Glen State Park is nestled among the Finger Lakes in New York state. It’s right on the south side of Seneca Lake, which is right in the middle of the 11 Finger Lakes. The Finger Lakes were formed during the ice age 10,000 years ago where glaciers after melting left behind gravel deposits that dammed up the water under the ice and caused depressions in the earth that became lakes.

The Finger Lakes area is most well known for it’s wineries, breweries, and distilleries. There are more than 100 wineries in the area. It’s also known for it’s waterfalls and beautiful fall foliage that usually occurs late September through mid October. We visited in mid October of 2021 and were treated to beautiful fall colors in the area.

Getting Here

Watkins Glen State Park is about 1.5 hours southeast of Rochester, about 4.5 hours northwest of New York City, and about 4 hours northwest of Philadelphia if you’re driving. If you decide to fly in, the best airports to fly into would be Rochester or Ithaca.

Admission / Hours

The state park is $10 per standard vehicle and you pay when you park. Fees are collected from sunrise to sunset from mid May through mid October but the park is open year round.

If you stay in downtown Watkins Glen and don’t mind walking to the park just a few blocks, you can save money on parking.

What To Do

While you’re in the park, the most popular thing to do would be to hike the Gorge Trail. It’s a 2 mile trail that has about 19 waterfalls and descends down into the gorge. It’s beautiful, especially during the fall foliage season where leaves are changing. There’s a suspension bridge that give an incredible view from the top of the gorge down onto the rushing water as well as the trails of people as well as a few other trails in the area if you don’t want to take the Gorge Trail back to your car or campsite. There is camping in the park which includes a pool, playground, and picnic area and on both ends of the gorge are gift shops.

Tips

  • There are no pets allowed on the Gorge Trail
  • Hike into the gorge on your way in, and use a Rim trail on the way back to your car. This helps avoids crowds on the way back
  • Arrive early if you can as this also helps avoid the crowds
  • Use a Trail Map or download the offline trails through the NY Park app or through All Trails.
  • Although the park is open year round, the Gorge Trail is closed in the winter due to falling rock.
  • There’s a shuttle you can take back to your car for about $6 if you don’t want to hike the Gorge Trail both out and back

Where to Stay

  • Camp in the Park – Camping is $18-$30 as of 2022 and there’s also cabin options.
  • Stay in Watkins Glen – There’s a few hotels near downtown Watkins Glen as well as a variety of Airbnbs.
  • Stay along Lake Seneca – This is what we opted to do. We stayed at the Single Island Shores on the right side of the lake in a little cabin. It was decorated well and we had a great view of the lake.
  • Stay along another Finger Lake – Check out the Plum Point Lodge, the Hampton Inn, Best Western, or an Airbnb or VRBO option.

Where to Eat

  • For a great lunch or dinner after visiting the state park, check out Nickel’s Pit BBQ. We had this for a late lunch one day and split a sampler platter and thought it was incredible. They also have local beers on tap.
  • We had breakfast at Toni’s diner which was also really good. They have the regular diner options you’d expect like diner coffee and omelettes.
  • Grab ice cream at Glen Dairy Ice Cream Bar or the Great Escape Ice Cream Parlor.

Nearby Attractions

  • Check out some of the wineries and breweries like Glenora Winery, Two Goats Brewery, and the Dr Konstan Frank Winery.
  • Visit some other waterfalls in the area like Grimes Glen, Buttermilk Falls, or Taughannock Falls.
  • Drive through some towns like Hammondsport, Geneva, and Ithaca

If you have a week or a weekend, you’re sure to find things to do in the Watkins Glen area. The Watkins Glen State Park is a must see, and then try out a winery, maybe another hike or park, and grab some dinner with a view and some ice cream. If you’re able to visit in the fall, you’re sure to have even better views with the leaves changing along the water. Happy travels!

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