Watkins Glen State Park: Little Known Facts You Wish You Knew
When we were planning our family vacation to the east of our nation this year, we were including major cities . . . Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York and Niagara Falls. There would be long, boring drives between the cities and I knew we would need a respite from skyscapers and museums at some point.
Whilst perusing maps of routes we would be driving I scoured for state parks and discovered Watkins Glen State Park. Right in between New York and Niagara and right along our driving route. This was a last minute add-in and I changed our schedule around a bit, taking a day away from New York City and Philadelphia, but it was totally worth it.
The children definitely need the respite from sight seeing and getting back to trees and nature was what we all needed. Plus, staying in the Watkins Glen gave me the opportunity to do some laundry.
We left New York City close to noon our last day there and headed out to Watkins Glen, NY driving via Interstate 80 through Pennsylvania. Getting out of NYC is not easy and took a bit more time than we thought. But the drive through Pennsylvania was simply stunning. We are from the midwest and all we see is plains whilst driving through states. But Pennsylvania is gorgeous. The drive took approximately 5-6 hours, but was beautiful.
The village of Watkins Glen is a quaint little town and reminded us of small villages in Iowa. We had reservations at the Watkins Glen Villager because it was the most economical for us and it had an indoor pool. Our criteria for hotel selections on our vacation are simple - free wifi, a pool(preferably indoor), free parking and free breakfast. This hotel meet all our needs. We checked in, settled a bit, went for dinner, found a laundry mat and the kiddos swam themselves out while I did loads and loads of laundry.
The next morning, after our free breakfast, we headed over to Watkins Glen State Park, which was within walking distance of the hotel, but we did drive and pay the $8.00 parking fee. The weather forecast for the day was rain, so we were set with hoodies and umbrellas as this was our only full day in Watkins Glen and we didn't want to miss any aspect of the state park.
Watkins Glen State Park
Giant glaciers once traveled through this area carving out the beautiful landscape leaving streams and valleys for everyone to enjoy. New York is left with the Finger Lakes, 11 of them to be exact. Water flows down these hillsides and erodes away at soft rocks to form the amazing and unique gorges at Watkins Glen State Park.
The Gorge Trail
We entered Watkins Glen State Park through the main entrance and headed into the entrance tunnel. In the early 1900's, tunnels in the gorge were hand-cut into the rocks. Simply follow the walking trail to the Cavern Cascade. This is one of two waterfalls in Watkins Glen State Park you can walk behind. This waterfall has eroded this narrow section of gorge and the deep pools below and deep into the hillside.
Next up along the trail is the Spiral Tunnel and Suspension Bridge. After emerging from Spiral Tunnel, you will pass Cliff Path on your right. This leads to Point Lookout on Lover’s Lane, then on to the Suspension Bridge. There, you can access the Lily Pond, South Pavilion and swimming pool, or you can pick up the Indian Trail. We continued on the Gorge Trail, and walked under the Suspension Bridge, which is 85 feet above the creek. It is really just one long trial and you either turn right or left or continue straight.
You are standing on an ancient sea bottom!
As we walked along the Gorge Trail we then passed The Narrows section. The section here is very shady and cool. There were lots of wild flowers and moss here. My girls were loving this area and exploring all the shapes of leaves.
Visit Rainbow Falls to see rainbows reflected off the falls on a sunny day.
As we continued on the Gorge Trail we passed through the Glen Cathedral section and headed towards the Central Cascade, Glen of Pools, Rainbow Falls and Spiral Gorge. This section was so beautiful. My daughter figured out how to panoramic images with her ipad and filled up her memory in no time! I loved to see all the images she took when we arrived back home. She has a different perspective that I do and sometimes sees things that I didn't even notice.
There are 180 steps of Jacob’s Ladder to the Upper Entrance.
The next area on the Gorge Trail you will pass is the Mile Point Bridge. At this area you can choose to take the Indian Trail or the South Rim Trail because they all intersect here the Gorge Trail. We continued on the Gorge Trail for ½ mile along a quiet section of the stream and up the 180 steps of Jacob’s Ladder to the Upper Entrance. I should have taken a picture of the steps because they just about did me in!
There are on restrooms along the trails or water stations. There are restrooms at the main entrance and the upper entrance. There is also a picnic area at the upper entrance as well as a gift shop. My girls had some fun at the park in the picnic area before we headed back down on the Indian Trail.
We walked along the Indian Trail path on the descent. This is a winding path down along the rims of the gorge that are forested. My girls loved this area to explore leaves, wild flowers and animals.
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The trail in the gorge has over 800 stone steps!
After walking the trails and over 800 steps through the two miles of stretch that the stream flows we were able to see 200-foot cliffs and 19 waterfalls. The Gorge Trail winds over and under waterfalls and through the sprays of waterfalls. My kids loved it and we spent a few hours there exploring, taking photos, looking at leaves and flowers, and taking it all.
I am so happy I added a visit to Watkins Glen State Park at the last minute. When I ask my kids what their favorite place we visited, they all say Watkins Glen State Park. We had dinner at a lovely restaurant in town and called it an early night. We were heading to Niagara Falls the next morning and wanted to get an early start.