Watkins Glen— the Finger Lakes region site of 1973’s epic Summer Jam and home to a beloved state park featuring 19 distinct waterfalls. This New York State Park is a Northeast US road trip mainstay, offering spectacular views for wide-eyed tourists and weekenders chasing waterfalls. You can’t swim in or around these falls, but they’re well worth a visit for the scenery.
Formerly known as simply The Glen, Watkins Glen State Park was acquired by New York State in 1906. Before that, the park was a privately owned and operated tourist attraction.
The unique gorge that Watkins Glen is known for was carved over millennia by the patient, persistent flowing waters of Glen Creek. And just a short walk North of this flagship NYS park is the Southernmost tip of Seneca Lake.
Watkins Glen State Park
Sure, the area has its touristy trappings, featuring busloads of bemused vacationers, cruises on Seneca Lake, and gift shops with a reasonable and expected amount of kitsch. Still, those things don’t take away from the natural beauty of the region.
As spontaneous day visitors from a mere (🙃) 200-mile car ride away, we spent a quick afternoon exploring what we could. Having visited in July, most of the park’s trails were burning-hot under the sun. The trails were crowded, featuring a melange of folks; a notable number humorously wearing location-inappropriate attire. (Picture this: inexplicable donning of puffy winter jackets in the summertime and wearing delicate flats or the floppiest of flip-flops along a slippery hiking trail.)
With the trail traffic and the heat, we only spent a short time along the Gorge Trail before deciding to take a dip in the park’s Olympic-sized pool. (Had to make that 3.5-hour drive worth it, after all!) Having never spent much time in the Finger Lakes Region, this afternoon taste of this part of New York definitely whet my appetite for a future visit— just maybe not in the dead of summer.
Visitor tip: If you prefer your hiking trails on the quiet side, visit in April or May or after the school year begins in the fall.
For more information about Watkins Glen State Park, check out these resources:
Bonus nearby waterfalls
Just south of Watkins Glen stands a small town called Montour Falls. Within the unassuming residential neighborhood of Montour Falls, you’ll find the humbly majestic Shequaga Falls.