Watkins Glen State Park in New York began as a private park in 1863 and has been a state park since 1909. It is a place of scenic enchantment and outdoor enjoyment. We have some suggestions about how to best enjoy the park, letting gravity be your friend, as follows.
Begin at the South Entrance. This will help you start in a setting that avoids the crowds of the Main Entrance. It also allows you access to the marvelous children’s playground, which is great for having the kids let off some steam after being in the car. Then, after a stop at the historic South Pavilion, a stone building that also houses the restrooms, take the South Rim Trail to Couch’s Staircase, and then down that staircase, to the Main Entrance. The hike is shady and pretty, and an easy downhill walk.
At the Main Entrance, hop on one of the shuttle busses and take it up to the Upper Entrance, at the top of the gorge. There, you will find another convenient snack bar, gift shop, and restrooms. Next, you will also let gravity be your friend again, as you descend the 180 stone steps of Jacobs Ladder. On the way down, you are sure to encounter others who did not get the memo, and who are making their way slowly up these same stairs, panting and out of breath.
Once you have descended Jacobs Ladder, you are in the Gorge. You will follow the Gorge Trail, seeing gorgeous named features. Features range from Mile Point Bridge, Spiral Gorge, Rainbow Falls, Central Cascade, Glen Cathedral, and The Narrows. Along the stream, as it runs over, under and along the park’s nineteen waterfalls. You then get to Lover’s Lane, the trail that takes you up out of the Gorge, across the Suspension Bridge, and back to the South Entrance.
The Gorge Trail is narrow in some places and wider in other. You will be amazed by the overhanging cliffs, the beautiful stone bridges, and the lovely side waterfalls, some of which fall right on the trail, or create a kind of tunnel effect as you stroll under them, on your downhill hike.
Take your time. Pause, look back, to see what the uphill climbers are seeing. Savor the views. Take lots of photos. If the Glen is crowded, simply wait. People seem to come along in clumps. You will get the photos you want without anyone in them if you are patient.
The trail along the Glen is often wet underfoot. So wear good hiking shoes, or at the least, good athletic shoes. This is not a flip-flop venue. Much of the path is flagstone, which, being natural stone, is naturally uneven. Parents should also note that there are many places along the hike where there are no, or very low, retaining walls. Please keep little ones well in hand.
You can find food at the little stand at the main entrance, or walk a block or so in the village of Watkins Glen to any number of restaurants of a range of style and price. Having paid to enter the park, you can come and go quickly. While at Watkins Glen State Park, you may marvel at what you hear. Not just the soothing sounds of the water as it rushes from rock to pool, but also the multiplicity of languages spoken by your fellow guests. It is truly world famous.