The Watkins Glen State Park is a little, enchanted place in the East of the USA. The park is a real gem in upstate New York – far away from the Big Apple. If you are done with the big city jungle and you need more relaxation, drive to the Fingerlakes area and visit the Watkins Glen State Park!
When I planned our cross-country road trip, I’ve been browsing through all the websites like “100 hidden gems in the U.S.”. Many places were in the West, but fewer in the East. Then I came across one photo of the Watkins Glen River Gorge and the decision has been made: We had to see this place!
Integrating the Watkins Glen State Park on a road trip
We started our road trip in Boston and headed for the Niagara Falls. Around 500 miles away. This would be a day of driving without seeing much at Niagara Falls that day. So a stop at the Watkins Glen State Park was actually perfect.
Although it is not directly on the way to the Niagara Falls, it brought us around 400 miles closer. From the park, it’s only a 2-3 hours’ drive so that we could see the Niagara Falls at daylight and keep going on the road afterward.
If you start in New York City, the Watkins Glen State Park is even closer – only 250 miles (approx. 4 hours). However, it obviously depends on the location you are starting from. So it actually can be longer than 4 hours.
Our visit to the Watkins Glen State Park
After the first drive in our ‘73 Station Wagon, we were standing in front of the entrance cabin of the Watkins Glen State Park. It was around 2 pm and we were at the first destination of our cross-country road trip! It was a memorable moment for me. The long-desired tour has finally started. No big city noises. No stress. Just James and me and nature. It was much needed after my graduation.
In comparison to the Yellowstone National Park, this state park isn’t really big, but it has a lot of camping sites. Some of the loops of the campground are only for reserved spots. Others are for first-come, first-serve – that’s what we used. We were really lucky because we found a great campsite, which was huge and close to the Watkins Glen River Gorge Trail.
The hiking trails of the Watkins Glen State Park
There are exactly 3 hiking trails in this state park, which all lead along the Watkins Glen River Gorge.
Watkins Glen River Gorge Trail
This is the most popular and the most scenic hiking trail of the three. The Watkins Glen River Gorge Trail isn’t really long and very easy. We spent approx. 2 hours in the gorge – only because of my photo session (fortunately James brought a lot of patience this day). It’s an enjoyable walk that winds along the Watkins River Gorge.
There is a little river in middle, which is probably much bigger than in the dry July. Like on a cut-off tree, you can see the single layers in the rocks in the gorge. Nature put in millions of years of hard work to form this place. Here and then water drops fall from the steep walls of the gorge.
A bit down the gorge, you will come across the famous bridge and waterfall.
The Watkins Glen River Gorge Trail is closed for winter season. If you are not visiting the park in summer, you should check out the official website (link in info box below) to make sure it’s open. It is usually open from the end of May until September.
To give you some impressions of this fantastic place, here are my best shots:
The Rim Trail
This hiking trail goes along one side of the gorges top. It doesn’t go through the gorge and doesn’t offer views into the gorge. Nonetheless it can be a nice and calm 3-miles hike.
The Indian Trail
You will enjoy views into the gorge from this trail – not all the time though. It is crisscrossing the Watkins Glen River Gorge Trail quite often. If you are starting at the entrance of the state park (not the campsite), you can use this trail to make your hike a loop as it also goes along the gorge, but on top of it.