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Watkins Glen: Ideal CNY Hiking And Camping Destination

Watkins Glen: Ideal CNY Hiking And Camping Destination

Watkins Glen State Park is the hiking and camping destination of upstate New York. Of the major New York attractions, Watkins Glen is perhaps a natural wonder. While few waterfalls in the world rival Niagara Falls, in terms of immersing yourself in nature and getting up-close to rock and water features, Watkins Glen’s Gorge Trail and Indian Trail are superior. Whether you want to book a hotel or experience Watkins Glen in a day trip, the state park (and not to mention the numerous wineries nearby) will not disappoint.


Photo by Jared Bomba

When to Go

Resting at the southern tip of Seneca Lake, Watkins Glen is a highlight of the Finger Lakes region. Visiting in spring or summer works well, but go in October to get the full effect of upstate New York’s beauty. If you can, try to go when there has been significant rain and the pools within the gorge are full.

Photo by Lindsey McClafferty

What You’ll See

The state park’s website breaks down the natural features of the park. Over a stretch of two miles, the stream through the glen travels downward 400 feet. The 200-foot cliffs create 19 waterfalls and the most famous is the Cavern Cascade. Take the Gorge Trail, which takes approximately 90 minutes to hike, to walk through, under, over, and around the falls. To view from above, walk one of the rim trails. For a sneak peak, check out this Watkins Glen virtual tour. 


A Look Back in Time

Walking through the gorge of Watkins Glen State Park and seeing the staircase of waterfalls, the natural pools and the rock layers raise the question: How did this beautiful landscape come about? To answer this, we need to head back in time when the Finger Lakes region was covered by giant glaciers. The movement of ice sheets and flowing streams carved the area. When the ice melted, glacial debris was left behind, and deep cuts started to form lakes in the valleys. The ice, however, did not cause erosion to the surrounding uplands, except for some tributaries. That is how Seneca Lake (the lake directly north of Watkins Glen) and Watkins Glen were formed. The steep drop between the lake and gorge caused a strong torrent that cut into the underlying rock. The different rock types present– shale, limestone, and sandstone– erode at different rates. The effects of such erosion is what you see when you walk through the gorge at the state park.


To see this natural wonder, start planning! Click here  to make camping reservations. You can call the Watkins Glen State Park at (607) 535-4511 for more information.


Looking for more fall recommendations? Check out Letchworth State Park.  

About The Author


This site celebrates the people places, and culture that make Central New York one of the most vibrant and livable regions in the country. From Auburn to Utica, from Syracuse, to Ithaca, this is LivableCNY.

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