How To See Breathtaking Views When Hiking Watkins Glen State Park

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Last Updated on September 15, 2022 by Lori

Watkins Glen State Park is one of the most beautiful state parks in New York. Located in the Finger Lakes Region, the Watkins Glen State Park Gorge Trail follows Glen Creek, where you will see 200 ft. cliffs and 19 waterfalls. With several hiking trails to experience, you’ll want to add hiking Watkins Glen State Park to your bucket list of adventures!

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Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Watkins Glen State Park is located in Watkins Glen, NY. This amazing state park is open year-round, from dawn to dusk, with some trails closed during the winter.

We visited both Taughannock State Park and Robert H. Treman State Park on the previous day. If you haven’t seen Robert H. Treman State Park – you are in for a treat! It quickly became one of our favorites!)

This area of New York state is absolutely beautiful and all three of these state parks are just a short driving distance from Ithaca, NY.

Gorge Trail Watkins Glen State Park
Gorge Trail in Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by L. Andrews

We set out early to drive to Watkins Glen because it was such a hot day and we wanted to be finished hiking the trails by noon. When we arrived in the town of Watkins Glen and our GPS told us to turn into the parking lot, I was a bit surprised and confused.

I expected the entrance to the park to be by itself along the highway leading through trees into the park. Imagine my surprise that the Main Entrance to the park is right in the middle of the town!

As we turned into the parking lot, which, by the way, was full at 9:30 a.m., mid-week during the summer, I just happened to see the Welcome Sign.

I quickly snapped this photo.

Main Entrance Watkins Glen State Park
Main Entrance at Watkins Glen State Park, New York. Photo by L. Andrews

Parking And Entrance Fees

There are actually three entrances to Watkins Glen State Park:

Main Entrance: 1009 N. Franklin St., Watkins Glen, NY 14891

South Entrance: 3530 Route 419, Watkins Glen, NY 14891 (this trail also leads to the campground)

Upper Entrance: 3310 Route 409, Watkins Glen, NY 14891

The Main Entrance has restrooms, a gift shop, and a Visitors center. Parking for the main entrance is on Franklin Street or across the street (where we parked) and is where the shuttle bus stop meets.

Watkins Glen State Park Visitors Center
Visitors Center in Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by L. Andrews

The South Entrance has restrooms, parking, shuttle bus service, food service, swimming pool, playground, rentable shelter, and picnic area. This entrance also leads to Watkins Glen State Park Campground.

The Upper Entrance has a playground, gift shop, food service, picnic area, restrooms, parking, and shuttle bus service.

You can park at any of these parking areas to gain access to Watkins Glen State Park.

The Watkins Glen State Park shuttle costs $6 per person each way and operates daily from July 5 – Labor Day and on weekends from late May – July 4 and from Labor Day until mid-October.

The shuttle will take you to and from all three entrances. You can park at the main entrance and take the Gorge Trail to the Upper Entrance, then ride the shuttle back down to the main entrance (or south entrance) so you don’t have to walk the two miles back!

We found ample parking across the street from the Main Entrance and quickly found a parking spot.

There is a $10 fee per vehicle for parking and entrance to the park. There are parking machines located throughout the parking lot that accept credit cards and the Empire Pass.

I used my Empire Pass to get our ticket, and we were soon on our way!

Pro-Tip: If you’re visiting the Finger Lakes Region, I highly recommend purchasing the Empire Pass! We used it not only for entering Watkins Glen State Park but also for Robert H. Treman State Park and Taughannock Falls State Park.

Are Dogs Allowed In Watkins Glen State Park?

Hiking with dog at Watkins Glen State Park
Hiking with Buddy our Golden Retriever at Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by L. Andrews

Dogs are not allowed on the Gorge Trail; however, dogs are allowed on the Upper Rim Trail and the South Rim Trail.

We travel with our Golden Retriever, Buddy, and knew the park rules before we arrived. I checked in with the Visitor’s Center to get a trail map and to make sure we knew which trails we were allowed on.

The person at the Visitor’s Center was very helpful and told us that many people with dogs split up with one person hiking the Gorge Trail while the other person hikes with the dog on the Upper Rim Trail. At the Mile Point Bridge, they switch. This way each person can enjoy the Gorge Trail.

He then marked a Watkins Glen State Park hiking map with the trails we could hike with the dog. He also mentioned that we wouldn’t be able to see any of the waterfalls from the Upper Rim Trail, but there were scenic overlooks looking down into the gorge.

Watkins Glen State Park Hiking Trails Map

Watkins Glen State Park Trails Map
Watkins Glen State Park Trails Map. Photo by L. Andrews

Splitting up sounded like a great plan – except that our Buddy is 90 lbs. and so strong that I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle him!

We decided we would stay together to hike the Upper Rim Trail. We found the entrance to the trail he had marked (which is behind the Visitor’s Center) and – wow. There were A Lot of stairs!

Stairs leading to Upper Rim Trail
Stairs leading to Upper Rim Trail at Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by L. Andrews

While we didn’t know it at the time, there are over 800+ stairs in Watkins Glen State Park.

Just be aware – whether you’re hiking the Gorge Trail, South Rim Trail, or the Indian Trail, you will be hiking up and down stairs.

Buddy took right off up the stairs with my husband.

I, on the other hand, was a little bit slower. They were steep!

After tackling the first set of steps, I turned the corner and saw this!

More Stairs to North Rim Trail
More Steps Leading To The North Rim Trail Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by L. Andrews

The Upper Rim Trail (also known as the North Rim Trail) is a 1.5-mile hike one way.

Note that at the time of our visit, the Watkins Glen State Park Trail Map shows the trail marked as the North Rim Trail, but along the trail, signs are marked as the Indian Trail.

Dog friendly Upper Rim Trail Watkins Glen
Dog-Friendly Upper Rim Trail Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by L. Andrews

This trail is mostly a dirt path with some overlooks where you can look down into the gorge. We took our time since it was a hot day.

Hiking Watkins Glen State Park with golden retriever
Hiking Watkins Glen State Park with Golden Retriever. Photo by L. Andrews

When we reached the Mile Point Bridge, my husband told me that since we didn’t get to see much of the gorge or waterfalls I should hike back on the Gorge Trail. He would take the North Rim Trail back with Buddy and meet me at the Main Entrance.

Mile High Bridge Watkins Glen
Stone Bridge On Gorge Trail Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by L Andrews

Looking back, I am so thankful that my husband let me experience the Gorge Trail. It was incredible! If you want to see spectacular views and walk on a trail that goes around and under waterfalls, this is the trail you want to hike!

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail is not an easy trail for those who may have problems walking up and down stairs (remember there are over 800 stairs), and with 19 waterfalls, the steps and paths can be wet and slippery.

Be sure to wear proper footwear when you visit. We always wear our hiking boots which make us feel secure when walking along rocky or wet paths.

The views, however, are worth every step!

Hiking the Gorge Trail
Hiking Watkins Glen State Park Gorge Trail. Photo by L. Andrews

What You Will See Along The Gorge Trail

  • Entrance Tunnel
  • Sentry Bridge
  • Couch’s Staircase
  • Cavern Cascade
  • Spiral Tunnel
  • Suspension Bridge
  • Lover’s Lane Lookout
  • Glen Cathedral
  • Central Cascade and Glen of Pools
  • Rainbow Falls
  • Frowning Cliff
  • Mile Point Bridge
  • Jacob’s Ladder

Entrance Tunnel

Looking back at Entrance Tunnel
Looking back at Entrance Tunnel to Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by L. Andrews

Tunnels in the gorge were hand-cut into the rock in the early 1900s.

Sentry Bridge

As you emerge from the tunnel you will see a hole cut in the rock on your right. This is where water behind a dam passed through this tunnel, down a wooden trough, and over the waterwheel of a mill at the Main Entrance.

Couch’s Staircase

Here are 120 stairs leading up from the trail to the South Entrance.

Cavern Cascade

Cavern Cascade Watkins Glen State Park
Cavern Cascade Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by L. Andrews

Cavern Cascade is the first of two waterfalls you can walk behind. Waterfalls actually created Watkins Glen by eroding the rocks into the hillside. Notice the deep pools below the waterfall.

Spiral Tunnel/Suspension Bridge

After walking behind the waterfall, you’ll walk through the Spiral Tunnel which was hand-cut in 1927 and will lead you to Pont Lookout on Lover’s Lane. The Suspension Bridge stands 85 feet above the creek and connects the Rim Trails.

As you continue on the Gorge Trail, you will walk under the Suspension Bridge. During the 1800s, the dining room of the Glen Mountain House peered over the gorge next to the Suspension Bridge and Lily Pond.

Lover’s Lane Lookout

A poured concrete lookout stands where an old trail used to be that was destroyed by the flood of 1935.

Glen Cathedral

Glen Cathedral Watkins Glen State Park
Glen Cathedral Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by L. Andrews

Glen Cathedral is where Lover’s Lane meets the Gorge Trail. This is a beautiful area where you can see horizontal layers of sandstone and shale that were formed some 380 million years ago. Looking down, you can see the ripples in the rock which was once the bottom of the seafloor that turned to stone.

Central Cascade and Glen of Pools

Highest Waterfall Watkins Glen SP Central Cascade
Central Cascade Highest Waterfall in the Gorge. Photo by L. Andrews

Central Cascade is the highest waterfall in Watkins Glen Gorge, plunging more than 60 feet. Above the waterfall, the trail crosses the creek on a scenic bridge overlooking the Glen of Pools.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls Watkins Glen State Park
Rainbow Falls Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by L. Andrews

Rainbow Falls is the second waterfall that you can walk under. It gets its name because on a sunny day, in the late afternoon, you can see rainbows reflected off the falls.

Frowning Cliff

Frowning Cliff
Frowning Cliff in Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by L. Andrews

After Rainbows Falls, you will walk through a dark and narrow passage with dripping water and sculptured pools below.

Mile Point Bridge

Mile Point Bridge Watkins Glen
Mile Point Bridge Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by L. Andrews

The Indian Trail (North Rim Trail) and South Rim Trail intersect near Mile Point Bridge. You can either hike the Indian Trail to the Upper Entrance and take the shuttle back to the main entrance, or you can hike the North Rim Trail back to the Main Entrance.

If you continue on the Gorge Trail for 1/2 mile, you will find the 180 steps of Jacob’s Ladder which leads to the Upper Entrance.

You can also cross the bridge, access the South Rim Trail, and hike it back to the South Entrance.

Tips For Hiking Watkins Glen State Park

After returning to the Main Entrance, my husband and our Golden Retriever, Buddy were waiting for me. All of us were tired after walking all those stairs!

Here are a few of my tips for you:

  • I cannot stress enough to take your time through the trails.

  • Wear good sturdy shoes. Hiking boots or hiking shoes are best.

  • Take a day pack with trail mix or other snacks (but remember what you bring in – you need to take it out too!) This is the day pack I carry and works well!

  • Wear a hat

  • Take along plenty of water

  • There are no restrooms on the trails, but there are restrooms at each of the entrances to Watkins Glen.

Go early in the day (especially during the summer).

Enjoy!

Glen Gorge at Watkins Glen State Park
Views of Gorge from Upper Rim Trail Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by L Andrews

New York State is known for its beautiful parks. We have enjoyed visiting and hiking in Letchworth State Park (the Grand Canyon of the East), Minnewaska State Park, and many others!

Hiking Watkins Glen State Park was one of the highlights of our trip to the Finger Lakes, and we highly recommend it be on your list as one of the parks you’ve just got to see!

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