A classic view of Rainbow Falls and Central Cascade in Watkins Glen gorge.
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Location / Directions / Maps

Location: South of Seneca Lake; In the village of Watkins Glen; in the town of Dix; Schuyler County; Finger Lakes Region of New York.

Address: Route 14, Watkins Glen, NY 14891

Maps: Google MapBing MapTopographicCampground MapPark MapTrail MapInteractive map.

GPS Coordinates:

  • Cave entrance: (N 42.37514 / W 76.87386)
  • Jacob’s Ladder: (N 42.37155 / W 76.89098)
  • Rainbow Falls: (N 42.37264 / W 76.88239)
  • Upper Park Entrance: (N 42.37038 / W 76.87483)
  • Glen Creek Pond dam: (N 42.37028 / W 76.89696)

Directions: From the Thruway, take exit 42 (Geneva/Lyons) and follow Rt 14 south, through Geneva, and continue south along Seneca Lake for 33 miles to the village of Watkins Glen. The park entrance is in the middle of the village, to your right. Parking on the left.

Or use Google Directions.

Parking: There are three main parking areas in the park, but the main entrance is the best place if you will be walking the Gorge Trail.

  • Main Entrance: Parking for roughly 100 cars across from the main (east) entrance to the park off of N Franklin St. Another, smaller lot is on the same side of the park just north of the entrance.
  • South Entrance: Parking for about 100 cars in two adjacent lots near the main pavilion and swimming pool.
  • North Entrance: Parking for about 25 cars at the south end of the loop near the playground.

YouTube video

Weather

WATKINS GLEN WEATHER

Information / Accessibility / Accommodations

Number of falls: 19 (give or take).

Size/Types: A variety of waterfalls, including small staircase, cascades, dripping curtains, punchbowls, plunges and chutes; ranging from a few feet to 60 feet high.

Best time to visit: Spring and fall mornings, during the week. Spring has low visitor traffic, high flow, and bright yellow colors in the surrounding foliage. Summer brings more tourists, low flow, and hot weather, when combined with the humidity, can make the hike slightly unpleasant. Fall brings back mild weather, sometimes more flow, and beautiful orange and yellow leaves that dust the dull gray rock of the glen. The Gorge Trail is closed in winter and the upper reaches of the park are frequently used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. You may also want to check the NASCAR schedule to make sure there are no events happening when you plan to visit.

Flow: Moderate to low. Spring often has the best flow.

Waterway: Glen Creek is the accumulation of several tributaries (Including Van Zandt Hollow and Hollow Creek) that begin in the hills less than a mile to the west, and then descends nearly 400 feet within the 1.8 mile stretch of the park. After it exits the park, Glen Creek continues east through the village for about a mile and empties into the Barge Canal/Seneca Lake Inlet and then into Seneca Lake.

Watkins Glen's Cavern Cascade near the entrance to the gorge

Time: Plan for at least an hour to hike, 3 or more to photograph / picnic / swim.

Seasons/Hours: The park is open year-round, but the Gorge Trail is closed in winter and opens later in spring depending on the damage caused by the winter weather. It often opens in stages. When? You’ll have to call them to find out (contact information below).

  • Main Entrance (off of N Franklins Street): daily, mid-May through late-June: 9:00 am – 5:30 pm;
    daily, late-June through early-September: 8:00 am – 8:00 pm;
    daily, early-September though October: 9:00 am – 5:30 pm.
  • South Entrance (off of NY-319/Walnut St): daily, mid-May through late June: 10:00 am – 6:30 pm;
    daily, late-June through early-September: 9:00am – 5:30pm;
    weekends and holidays only from early-September though October: 9:00 am – 5:30 pm.
  • North Entrance (off of NY-409/Station St): weekends and holidays only from mid-May through late-June: 9:00 am – 5:30 pm;
    daily, late-June through early-September: 9:00am – 5:30pm;
    weekends and holidays only early-September though October: 9:00 am – 5:30 pm.

Admission: $10 vehicle fee. This includes pool access.

Handicap accessibility: Some: the gift shop, restrooms, swimming area, most pavilions, and to view Sentry Falls from the main parking lot.  The gorge and rim trails are certainly not.

Pets: Not allowed on the Gorge Trail or within the swimming area. Trails are very narrow, stones are slippery, and people that bring their pets on the trail, despite the signs, are putting people and their pets at risk. Pets are allowed elsewhere within the park if on a leash. For your pet’s safety, and the safety of other hikers, keep your pet on the leash. Please clean up after.

Swimming: No swimming in the gorge. The park has an Olympic-size swimming pool, which is open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Pool admission is included with the vehicle entry fee and it’s typically open until 7pm.

Camping: The park has massive fully-equipped campground in the upper reaches of the park. There are 283 sites and 10 cabins. Camping season is from late-May through Mid-October. Book a campsite at this park.

Accommodations: Restrooms; camping; fishing; snack bars; gift shops; vending machines; drinking fountains; picnic tables; grills; hiking; pavilions; swimming pool; playgrounds; informational signage; playing fields; cross-country skiing.

There are many nearby shops, hotels, and restaurants in the village. I recommend the Colonial Inn & Creamery for awesome homemade ice cream, which is just a short walk up N Franklin St.

Sentry Falls and Bridge, the first majestic sight in Watkins Glen State Park
A view looking back at Watkins Glen Gorge on a peaceful morning.

Description

Dark and damp, with cavernous pathways, alien-like stone formations, rare plants, and eerie isolation, Watkins Glen is the type of setting you would expect to find in a fantasy film rather than Upstate New York. Carved into the escarpment at the southern end of Seneca Lake (the deepest of the Finger Lakes), this hanging valley is the oldest and most renowned State Park in the Finger Lakes region. The park is easily divided into two sections, the deep shale and limestone glen that the park is most known for, and the upper park, which is filled with picnic, camping, and recreation facilities.

Visitors to Watkins Glen start their journey in the lower parking lot, which is actually within the massive mouth of the glen. Here the limestone cliffs tower 200 feet above Glen Creek and the parked cars. Visible from the lot is Sentry Bridge, a CCC-era stone overpass that towers above Entrance Cascade. The first of many waterfalls and bridges within the glen, this scene is eerie; embedded between two sheer cliff-faces, half hidden, almost as if a hint about the wonders to come.

Fittingly, the 1.5 mile-long Gorge Trail starts from a dark spiraling tunnel cut into the cliff-side. It is this tunnel that effectively removes the technology, traffic, and noise of the bustling village and envelops you in a world of natural stone, calming flowing water and gentle breezes. From the first gaze upward at the surreal Glen Alpha, the (recently-raised) gate admission fee is immediately forgotten and a sense of wonder and amazement takes over. Despite walking on a manufactured pathway, through chiseled tunnels, and over mortared bridges, the Gorge Trail puts you within the glen itself, as close as one can safely get, where you will feel changes in temperature as you progress, get splashed by the refreshing waterfalls, hear the birds singing above the rim canopy, and tread carefully so as not to step on caterpillars and salamanders.

Looking through a tunnel towards cavern cascade at Watkins Glen State Park

Winding up the glen, the trail leads visitors through an assortment of cliffs and abutments that can best be described as natural sculptures. Each breathtaking scene after another is unique in sight and sound, and seemingly isolated from the rest of the gorge. The trail presents each scene perfectly, as if displaying landscape paintings lined up in a row. The aptly-named Glen Cathedral widens like a gothic church, with a natural pool, dubbed the Baptismal Font, facing the “cathedral’s” pulpit: a beautiful stone arch bridge and 60 ft Central Cascade. There’s no surprise that over the last hundred years or so, each segment of the glen, vista, rock feature, and waterfall has been nicknamed. Continue on to the Glen of Pools, and what many consider to be the “main attraction”, Rainbow Falls and Triple Cascade. Such a generic name does little justice to this majestic dreamscape. It has to be seen to be appreciated.

View of the Gorge and Rainbow Falls at Watkins Glen State Park

The Gorge Trail is what defines the park. It is why people come here year after year, and why I consider this to be one of the most photogenic spots in New York State.  It inspires artists; amazes young and old; invigorates the soul; and brings out the inner conservationist in even the most urban of us. Although small and tucked away in the heart of Upstate New York, away from busy cities and major airports, Watkins Glen is a national treasure and certainly a world-class attraction.

Outside of the glen, the park has trails along the gorge rim that offer more casual hiking experiences with more typical wooded terrain and an abundance of historical and educational markers that help to guide you through the natural and unnatural history. Abundant picnicking grounds and an Olympic-size swimming pool give families a reason stay a while longer, and for those who can’t get enough, the west end of the park has a beautiful campground with restrooms, playgrounds, ball fields, and over 300 modern campsites.

The village of Watkins Glen should not be overlooked. Steeped in racing history, this Grand Prix town hosted its first road race in 1948 on a course that wrapped around the park and actually crossed Glen Creek. Racing has since moved to its own contained course and hosts amateur and professional circuits, as well as concerts and other events. Other nearby glens, such as Excelsior and Havana, are not as grand as Watkins, but certainly worth the time to explore.

Seneca Lake is known for its wine, and the southern end near the village is packed with excellent selections. Some wineries offer casual dining, and gift shops as well. The village itself is home to several casual eateries, one particular favorite is the Seneca Harbor Station, right on the lake. Grab a  bite to eat, head over to one of the ice cream parlors for a sprinkled cone and walk along the pier at the village’s waterfront park and enjoy the scenery.

A view from within a cave, looking towards a bridge and waterfall in Watkins Glen

Hiking / Walking Trails

Gorge Trail

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult.

Distance: 1.5 miles one way… make it a loop with the Indian Trail for a full 3 miles.

Markings: Signs. Stonework walkways.

Description: We are currently working on a more detailed guide. 

This must-see trail is the reason why you came here, so take your time and enjoy it. We recommend starting from the bottom (Rt 14) and working your way up.

The trail will start at the Entrance Amphitheater and Entrance Tunnel, cross Sentry Bridge over Entrance Falls, and into a section called Glen Alpha. The view upstream from the bridge is often referred to as Stillwater Gorge. The trail passes Minnehaha Falls and the Heart-shaped Pool on the south side, and a set of stairs takes you up to, and behind the 50 ft plunge: Cavern Cascade.

The Spiral Tunnel will take you up in elevation into a section known as Glen Obscura, characterized by its towering jagged cliffs and narrow trail. You are now on the north side of the creek and will shortly pass Whispering Falls on your left and the Suspension Bridge above you. Pass through another tunnel and continue to Diamond Falls, named for its sharp, diamond-shaped edges. The following section is referred to as The Narrows as the space in the glen tightens and the water speed increases. Shortly, a set of steps will switch back to a path called Lover’s Lane–ignore this and continue forward.

As the gorge begins to widen, you will pass Sylvan Rapids (which is more easily heard than seen from the trail) and the glen opens up to what is called Glen Cathedral. The deep pothole pool in the middle is named Baptismal Font. A large set of stairs will take you up to Folly Bridge and above the 60 ft Central Cascade.

From Folly Bridge you can see the Glen of Pools wrap around the bend. Cross over the bridge and you are now on the south end with the creek to your right. Continue onward around the bend to reveal Rainbow FallsTriple Cascade and more pools. The trail runs right under Rainbow Falls and crosses the creek again over the first drop of Triple Cascade and continues along the north side through Shadow Gorge.

Behind the Cavern Cascade waterfall at Watkins Glen State Park

An outcropping of the cliff (the Pillar of Beauty) that has been polished by years of erosion will be on your left, across the creek. This marks the beginning of Glen Arcadia, a darker and tamer section of the glen. If water flow is high, you may notice a small sprinkle from overhead by an unnamed waterfall that drips from above. Shortly after, Pluto Falls will be in a wavy section of stream bed on your left. Climb some steps and view the Pool of Nymphs, a series of tiny cascades and pothole pools complemented by massive fractures in the bedrock.

Mile Point Bridge, over Arcadia Falls, is the junction between the Gorge Trail, Indian Trail (along the north rim) and the Finger Lakes Trail (along the south rim). Don’t cross it. Continue forward to the Glen Facility section. Here the stream calms and levels out while the path widens (known as Lover’s Ramble). There’s not much to the creek at this point, so continue on until you reach the base of Jacobs Ladder, a massive set of steps that will get you to the top of the gorge. From the base you can also see the Rail Bridge and an old concrete trestle from a previous bridge that was destroyed by flood.

Climb up and to the snack bar to the right… behind the snack bar is Indian Trail. Or you can wait for the shuttle to take you back. It runs every 15-20 minutes.

Maps: Park MapTrail MapInteractive map.

Watkins Glen gorge round stone formation covered in moss referred to as the Pillar of Beauty
Watkins Glen Cathedral Gorge

Indian Trail

Difficulty: Easy.

Distance: 1.5 miles one way… make it a loop with the Gorge Trail for a full 3 miles.

Markings: Signs. Some stonework walkways.

Description: We are currently working on a more detailed guide.

We recommend the Indian Trail as a way to get back to the Entrance Amphitheater rather than taking the Gorge Trail in reverse. You can start looping back on the Indian Trail at Mile Point Bridge if you prefer a less strenuous climb up the gorge. Although, the recommended route is to scale Jacob’s Ladder at the end of the Gorge Trail and head towards the snack bar/souvenir shop. Just beyond the shop you will see the trail-head for Indian Trail, which runs along the north rim of the glen. It is supposedly named “Indian” as it was a Seneca hunting trail prior to white proprietors building their own trails within the glen.

About half of the trail is uneventful over packed earth, with few roots and rocks as obstacles. There are some gradients, but nothing too strenuous. About half-way through you will come across Rainbow Overlook which gives you a view of the upper half of Rainbow Falls as it cascades down a steep mossy gradient before it drips over the Gorge Trail. The next stop is Central Cascade Overlook which serves as a bird’s eye view of Folly Bridge and Central Cascade.

The trail runs along St. Mary’s and Glenwood Cemeteries with a small wooden rail between you and the cemetery property, which gives an unobstructed view. Feel free to explore the cemetery grounds. A two story Winter Crypt, that was used to house the dead in the winter months (the ground being too frozen to dig by hand), still stands. Of particular interest is the Glenwood portion, furthest east, as it was the first major cemetery in Watkins Glen and has stones dating back as early as the 1840s. A Trail Shelter stands just along the trail just after the cemeteries.

Continue on as the trail veers towards the Suspension Bridge (originally constructed in 1873). Here a junction will lead through an offshoot called Lover’s Lane, which offers little more than a secluded path to the Gorge Trail. Cross the bridge (85 ft above Glen Obscura) to the south end of the glen. Veer left past Lily Pond and the site of the old Glen Mountain House to get to Couch’s Staircase. Take the stairs down to get to the Gorge Trail at Glen Alpha. Head across Sentry Bridge and through the tunnel to the parking area.

Maps: Park MapTrail MapInteractive map.

Looking down at the rock formations below Cavern Cascade in Watkins Glen State Park

Finger Lakes Trail / South Rim Trail

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate.

Distance: 4.5 miles one way.

Markings: White blazes.

Description: We are currently working on a more detailed guide.

This segment of the 900 mile Finger Lakes Trail runs along the South Rim of the glen, from Frankin St., just outside of the Entrance Amphitheater, past the South Pavilion, campgrounds, Rail Bridge, Punchbowl Lake, all the way to the section of the park occupied by Hidden Valley 4H Camp.

You can continue west and also pass by Twin Falls, which is on Glen Creek, west of the park.

Maps: Park MapTrail MapInteractive map.

A view of a flat section of Watkins Glen Gorge called "Lover's Lane"

Watkins Glen State Park Interactive Map

History

Watkins Glen Historical Timeline

Watkins Glen Historic Timeline

Read about the exciting history of Watkins Glen, the village, the races, the gorge, from the formation of the bedrock to the latest tourist resorts. A complete history of events in chronological order and with historic imagery.

Flack's Scenic Guide to Watkins Glen from the 1930s

Flack’s Scenic Guide – Watkins Glen State Park

A short descriptive guide from the 1930s with black and white photos of different parts of the park. These photos show the concrete and iron style of walkways and bridges that existed before the CCC-era stonework.

Descriptive Guide Book to Watkins Glen from 1874

Descriptive Guide Book to Watkins Glen

Illustrated guidebook with illustrations, poetry, excerpts from newspapers and journals, as well as vintage advertisements for local shops. (Lytle, 1874)

Watkins Glen and Seneca Lake 1895 Poem

Watkins Glen and Seneca Lake

A very long poem written about the the park, the village and Seneca Lake. (Drake, 1895)

The Glen Springs At Watkins Glen (A historic booklet)

The Glen Springs

A brochure covering the premier natural spring resort and health center that was located in Watkins Glen from 1890 to 1942. (Leffingwell, 1903)

A section of Watkins Glen gorge that is naturally sculpted smooth from hundreds of years of erosion.

Watkins Glen State Park Media

Watkins Glen Audio

The Sounds of the Glen 3D audio

Watkins Glen Video

More videos coming soon.

Watkins Glen State Park Photo Gallery

A friendly reminder that the photos on this page are under copyright of the creator and unauthorized commercial use will result in a bill being sent for license fees.

10 Must-visit Waterfalls in New York State

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A selection of the most popular and accessible waterfalls around the State of New York. From Niagara Falls in Western NY to Kaaterskill Falls in the Hudson Valley Region.

Interesting Stuff

Parking in the gorge

Prior to the recent renovations, the east end of the gorge was used as a parking lot.

Watkins Glen in winter

The Gorge Trail is closed in winter, because of impassible ice, constant rock falls, and crumbling trails. In spring much of the trails are rebuilt and rock slides cleared. The rim trails are open in winter. From some points you can catch a glimpse of the waterfalls below. Some Instagrammers will break in, risking arrest, to get photos for their feed. Permission to enter in winter is rarely ever granted due to the dangers.

Fat Man’s Delight

The cliff face just up the gorge from Sentry Bridge has a hole through it. This hole was blasted and dug out to lead tourists up the gorge in the late 1800s/early 1900s—well before concrete or stonework trails and larger tunnels were constructed. Visitors has to squeeze through the tight opening to cross over to the next section of the gorge, giving the tunnel the snarky name “Fat Man’s Delight.”

Timespell

Since the gorge becomes pitch-black at night, the state sought ways of increasing park traffic and revenue for the off-hours (short of illuminating the whole glen). In 1983, the Timespell Light and Laser Show opened, allowing ticket-holders to pack the Stillwater Gorge (just downstream from Cavern Cascade). The wide trail here allowed up to 400 viewers to watch a laser show projected a hundred feet high on the cliff across the gorge while music played and the surrounding cliffs and falls were illuminated. The show illustrated the geological history of the Finger Lakes and Watkins Glen. The show closed in 2003. You can see remnants of the light installations embedded in the cliffs of Glen Alpha.

A winter view of frozen Cavern Cascade in Watkins Glen State Park
A shadowy Scene of Rainbow Falls and Triple Cascade in the heart of the Watkins Glen Gorge

Stone trails

The stonework trails and bridges of the Gorge Trail were primarily laid out by the Civilian Conservation Corps and State Parks Department in the late 1930s after a massive flood destroyed the existing concrete and iron walkways. Prior to modern walkways, wooden stairs, ladders and natural cut platforms were used to navigate. Winter weather damages the trails, and the Parks Department has to begin repairs in early spring to prepare for the gorge trails’ opening in May. Substantial damage to the walkways can mean a delayed opening. Repairs are done with mortared limestone to keep consistent with the CCC-era construction and to blend in with the surrounding glen.

Train Trestle

Located just beyond Jacobs Ladder at the end of the Gorge Trail, the New York Central Railroad Bridge was first built in 1877 and destroyed by the Flood of 1935. It was rebuilt shortly after with stronger concrete supports and bulkier steel.

Steps

The Gorge Trail will take you up 789 steps, nearly 200 of which are at the end. Jacob’s Ladder, which takes you up the gorge to the Indian Trail, offers benches along the way for this grueling climb. Once at the top, there are informational signs, a snack bar, vending machines, and a drinking fountain. Take the shuttle bus back if you are too exhausted.

The Glen Mountain House

is no longer there, but you can imagine this large hotel resort hugging the south gorge rim as you pass by the former site along the Indian Trail near the suspension bridge. Capable of housing 300 guests, it towered above Glen Obscura, which was inaccessible at the time, and park visitors has to pass by the hotel to proceed through the rest of the park. Built in 1873, the Glen Mountain House eventually featured a music hall, billiards, bowling, and a restaurant. It was destroyed by fire in December of 1903.

Hope’s Art Gallery

Just yards down Lover’s Lane from the Suspension Bridge, is the former site of Hope’s Art Gallery. Captain James Hope, a self-taught artist who once documented Civil War battles, fell in love with Watkins Glen in the 1870s and moved his portrait studio from New York City to this very spot in 1872.  He spent the next 20 years painting, sketching and photographing the Glen and Seneca Lake, and his gallery became a frequented attraction for visitors. After his death, his work was moved to the souvenir shop at the main entrance, and most of it was destroyed by the Flood of 1935.

Whites Hollow Road

This challenging segment of the old Watkins Glen Grand Prix Course (1948-1952) dips abruptly into the park and down towards the glen, crossing Cornett’s Stone Bridge over Glen Creek and then a hard right ascending up and out of the shallow glen to continue south. It was considered to be the most challenging section of the course.

The Watkins Homestead

Located at 124 East 4th Street in the village, this early 1840’s era brick building was home to village founder Samuel Watkins before he built a huge mansion (which no longer exists) on the adjacent lot.  Map

Dam it!

Since the devastating Flood of 1935, which destroyed the old rail bridge and much of the old Gorge Trail, two dams were installed to regulate the flow of the glen. They are best viewed from The Finger Lakes Trail on the south rim.  Punchbowl Lake Dam does what the name implies, holding back a small pond called Punchbowl Lake. Check this dam out when the water is high to see a photogenic man-made waterfall streaming from it.  Further west is Glen Creek Dam, which is almost completely filled with silt and stone.

Captain James Hope painting of Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen by Captain James Hope (1875)
A historic photo of the James Hope and his Art Gallery in Watkins Glen
The Glen Mountain House
A winter scene of Cathedral Gorge at Watkins Glen State Park

Photography Tips

Photographing Watkins

  • Wide angle — bring that wide angle lens. Some spots are tight and you may not have room to back up. A wide angle will also help include the grand limestone cliffs and capture the expanse of the gorge.
  • Wake up — Get to the glen as soon as it opens, to beat both the tourists, and the light penetrating the glen canopy.
  • Be creative — Watkins Glen’s most familiar scenes are familiar because they have been depicted the same way millions of times. Try capturing them in a new way… wider… closer…odd angles… upside down? Experiment!
  • Rainbows — Want to capture a rainbow in Rainbow Falls? Easy! Remove that polarizing filter and wait for the sun to penetrate the glen and shine on the falls. The best spot is to stand just past the falls, closer to the steps leading to the bridge, and look back. Careful, your camera could get wet here.
    Reverse — Photographers visiting the glen their second time should walk the Gorge Trail in reverse to spot angles and scenes most camera-carriers ignore.

Overcast skies

  • Daylight will cast uneven shadows through the canopy and cause sunspots in your shots. It is best to wait for an overcast sky for this one.

Monopod or Compact Tripod

  • The trails are often too narrow to lay out a large tripod. Don’t even bring one. Grab a pocket tripod or a monopod that can double as a walking stick.
A rainbow appears in the dripping waters of Rainbow Falls on the Gorge Trail of Watkins Glen State Park.

Silky water effect

  • To get that smooth cotton-candy look to the falls, you need to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter on your lens. The ND filter will block some of the light from entering the lens without altering the color, and thus allow your shutter to stay open longer. This blurs the water and creates a soft white gloss to the foamy areas of the falls.  Check out the article for the all the details.

More tips

  • See the Articles for more photography tips.
A close up view of smooth and curvy walls of watkins glen caused by erosion.
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Who to Contact

Watkins Glen State Park
P.O. Box 304
Watkins Glen, NY 14891
Phone: (607) 535-4511
nysparks.state.ny.us

A close up of a wet and mossy trail in Watkins Glen

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