5 Things to do at Watkins Glen State Park For First Timers

One of the most beautiful nature places you’ll find in all of New York State is Watkins Glen State Park and if you’re planning to go there for the first time, let me share what you need to know beforehand and what else you can see around the area (Finger Lakes).

5 quick bits of info about Watkins Glen State Park (before you go):

map listing of watkins glen state park in new york

How long does it take to walk through Watkins Glen?

About 1-2 hours is enough to cover the entire gorge trail at Watkins Glen State Park in my experience.

How much does it cost to get into Watkins Glen State Park?

There are 2 entrances to Watkins Glen. One is paid and costs $15 per car to enter and the other, by Seneca Lake is about $5 per car.

Is Watkins Glen a difficult hike?

No, the hike at Watkins Glen State Park is easy but there are many areas where walking upstairs is necessary.

How long is the trail at Watkins Glen State Park?

The main trail at Watkins Glen, known as the gorge trail is only 1-2 miles one way.

Do you need hiking boots for Watkins Glen State Park?

No regular shoes are fine for Watkins Glen, but wearing hiking shoes and even waterproof socks would help in areas where it’s wet or muddy.

My accidental visit to Watkins Glen State Park explained:

underneath rainbow falls in watkins glen state park

I never had any plans to visit Watkins Glen. But it accidentally happened while I was finishing up one of my favorite road trips through the Appalachian Mountains.

On that trip, we began all the way down in Georgia State and worked our way up to New York State, seeing the most amazing sights we could along the way, including:

And this was all before we reached Finger Lakes in NY and when we finally got to the State, the option to visit Finger Lakes came up, and being that none of us have ever been there, and I’d heard so much about it, we decided to plot it in the GPS and go!

And while we were traveling to our first destination, I noticed a gigantic gorge with a lot of cars parked next to it.

And if you know read my article on how I find hikes near me, this was an instant indicator that something popular was there. I looked at the GPS and saw that we had just passed Watkins Glen State Park!

And years prior to being here, I’d seen photo after photo of this place, but without ever researching where it was. Yet we got lucky and literally passed right by it. We decided to visit the other spots we planned on first, and then on the way back check out Watkins Glen! And this is where I bring you to:

The 5 things to do at (or around) Watkins Glen State Park:

things to do at watkins glen state park for first time visitors

1) 100% start with the main Watkins Glen gorge hiking trail.

No picture, however good can match the beauty you’ll see in this park until you enter it yourself.

Try to visit it early or towards an off season time (September and up) because you’ll have less people there. The main trail is easy, extremely scenic to hike and unforgettable.

One of the most unforgettable spots in this park is Rainbow Falls (right):

rainbow falls area in watkins glen state park

 2) Check out the town near Watkins Glen which is Schuyler County.

It’s small, but very pretty, has many restaurants and places to tour and enjoy the scenery.

3) Drive around Seneca Lake (west to east or east to west).

I recommend you save this as the last drive because this lake is HUGE and you’ll likely take about 1-2 hours to go all the way around it. It’s even bigger than Lake George (Another popular area in New York, just east of Finger Lakes).

And don’t forget that Finger Lakes as a region is 5 lakes next to each other (hence the finger name). Many of these lakes have some of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of New York State.

But if you are visiting Watkins Glen and are in the region, I recommend checking out the following waterfalls in Finger lakes (there’s many options).

4) Be sure to check out Hector Falls near Watkins Glen:

It’s about a 15 minute drive from the State Park, and is located east of Seneca Lake.

It’s a waterfall you may even miss because it’s right off the road, but it’s huge and there’s a hike down to it off the road that you can take (and I recommend you do).

5) Be sure to see the famous Taughannock Falls (the tallest in the region).

There’s a large park in Finger Lakes with many trails, waterfalls, campground and so on, but this particular spot is one of the most popular for people to see.

Here is a picture of both Hector Falls and Taughannock Falls:

things to see close to watkins glen state park

How to plan your trip to Watkins Glen Park efficiently:

amazing waterfalls to see at watkins glen state park

The above order of things to do at this park isn’t a rule.

You can totally mix it up, but I would plan to cover these 5 spots in a way where stopping at one location makes it easy to get to the other and so forth until you cover all 5.

I would even say that out of these 5 destinations, Watkins Glen might be worth visiting last, if you can hike it before sunset (it closes then).

But if you’re visiting this place for a few days, believe me, there are so many things to do around Finger Lakes that even a week here isn’t enough to see everything, so you’ll be booked with all the places you can see, but these 5 will probably be some of the most beautiful.

In our case, while our trip mainly took us through the Finger Lakes area, only for one day though, which I will cover in a later article, we decided to plan our day such that we would finish it up and make sure to visit this spot last.

And after we were done, not only were we glad we checked it out, but it was easily the most beautiful spot we saw on our 6 day road trip and besides the areas I listed earlier that we saw before hand.

Here is what we saw after our visit to Finger Lakes and Watkins Glen State Park:

Additional (amazing) places to see that look like Watkins Glen (nearby):

There are 2 specific spots:

But all of these locations, although highly recommended and incredibly scenic, were still second, even in the best cases to Watkins Glen State Park’s beauty! It’s truly one of the best state parks in New York.

And if you are of the same opinion (or different) I’d love to know your thoughts after you have visited Watkins Glen State Park (or already have).

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4 thoughts on “5 Things to do at Watkins Glen State Park For First Timers”

  1. i’m glad you shared this. The epic scenery can pass for a movie location! The good thing is that it doesn’t look dangerous to trek, as what you have also mentioned. 

    I never knew that New York has a hidden paradise that is accessible and has a lot of accommodation option for families who wish to stay a bit longer or has little kids and pets to trek with. Exploring places should not be expensive but meaningful and I Glen State Park is a good example. Thanks for sharing!

    • New York State in general has spots like this if you know where to look and in this case, Watkins Glen is within the Finger Lakes area of New York, where areas like this are close by to one another. I included a link of the region and what else there is to see there, but yes, Watkins Glen is my favorite so far and it is safe to walk there for the most part.

  2. Vitaliy, you are 100% right, this looks like an epic place to check out. Great photos, btw.

    My fiancée and I are full-time RV Lifers, and even though we aren’t mobile yet, within the next year we hope to start our journey out into the US. We are constantly looking for cool places to add to our list of potential travel destinations, and it looks like The Nature Seeker just helped us to lock in a good one. Neither of us had ever even heard of Watkins Glen, but it’s going on the map of our other places now.

    I’m curious, do you know if there are any good RV parks near the area? 

    Thank you for the informative article Vitaliy, we definitely appreciate it. I can tell you seriously enjoyed your time there, it shows through in your writing and the excellent photos you captured. I hope we will enjoy it just as much!

    I wish you great success, and I hope you have an excellent day!


    • Hi Bobby, thanks for the kind words. There’s actually a bunch of camping sites around all 5 areas in Finger Lakes, where Watkins Glen is. I do believe a lot of them contain RV spots as well. I’ll be doing a post on this soon, but a simple Google search shows these spots in the area.

      Glad you added Watkins Glen to your list, and I would suggest exploring the greater Finger Lakes region because there’s much more to see besides this spot (which is still stunning on it’s own).


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