Review of Watkins Glen State Park: A top 3 state park in the state of New York with gorges and waterfalls!


Watkins Glen State Park, NY

Growing up in the state of New York, you can’t help but see “I Love NY” commercials everywhere you look.  They seemed to be omnipresent, in television, magazines, subway posters, and bus posters.  As a young impressionable kid, I always found many of the wonderful and magical places advertised, to be out of reach, as many of them felt so far away from the mean concrete jungles of New York City.

Places like Niagara Falls State Park was like an 8 hour drive from New York City, while Letchworth State Park was also something like a 6 hour drive.  For a young kid, pre-driving years, all of these places might as well have been in another country.

As I got older and finally was able to drive on my own, places like Niagara Falls State Park was no longer that distant place in a galaxy far, far away.   There was freedom in being able to go where I wanted and to see places I’ve only seen in media.  

One of the most impressive places that really made my imagination go wild in all those “I Love NY” commercials was Watkins Glen State Park in Watkins Glen, New York.  It was like seeing something out on the West Coast somewhere with beautiful deep gorges with several mesmerizing waterfalls.

I still remember Sigourney Weaver (actress from the movie Alien) narrating one of these commercials on television showing the impossibly gorgeous gorges of Watkins Glen State Park with its flowing waterfalls.  It totally blew me away…

Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks, and it was voted by USA Today readers in 2015 as the #3 state park in all of USA.  Within just 2 miles, the glen’s stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs generating 19 waterfalls along the way.  It was a no brainer that this place was high on our list of places to visit for a very long time, and we finally got to do that around the end of the summer of 2023!

On a beautiful and a warm morning in August, my wife and I headed towards the park from my friend’s place in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a drive of around 2 hours.  We took the familiar I-81, then got on I-86/NY-17 heading west.  

We arrived in the town of Watkins Glen around 11 a.m., then found the parking lot right across the street from the main entrance to the park.  Even on a weekday, the place was buzzing with activity.  We paid the parking fee of $10 at the kiosk, then walked towards the entrance.  *Note: There is no other entrance fee to the park, just the parking fee.

Main entrance, Watkins Glen State Park 

Visitor center, Watkins Glen State Park, NY

Near the visitor center, Watkins Glen State Park 

Our first impression of the park was very positive:  entrance area and the visitor center were clean and inviting.  We made the obligatory stop at the restroom and also the obligatory stop at the gift shop/visitor center before heading up the trail.   We picked up a map of the park from a friendly park ranger then slowly made our way up the famous Gorge Trail.

We were impressed by the majestic rocks guarding the entrance to the gorge.  It felt just like we were back on the West Coast with its beautiful rock formations and fantastic gorges.  We headed towards the first of our stops along the Gorge Trail, Sentry Bridge.

Sentry Bridge, Watkins Glen State Park, NY

Sentry Bridge was absolutely stunning with a gushing waterfall, snaking its way through a narrow gorge.  It felt great to hear the powerful sound of the waters and the view (wow, what a view!) made for a fantastic start to the hike.

We took a moment to take in the sights and the sounds, then made it up the bridge to cross it.  We got to see the gushing waters directly underneath us from the top of the bridge, really feeling the awesome power of nature first hand.  At the bridge, we were surprised to see a fellow hiker, in crutches, barely able to walk at a snail’s pace, but determined to enjoy the experience.  Power to him!  I probably would have done the same thing, had I been in same situation…

We followed the sound of the waters on our right and the cacophony of sound coming from hikers from above and below, remarking on the experience of the hike.  It was surely good to be hiking again, but more importantly, to be hiking the great Watkins Glen.

We came upon Couch’s Staircase next, with its 120 steps covered in ferns.  Couch’s Staircase is a cavity inside a rock and it’s dark.  If weren’t for the man made lights, it’d be difficult to traverse.

Couch’s Staircase 

After getting a decent workout climbing those stairs, we came upon Point Lookout.  There, we got to see down below to get a closer look at the sculpted rock formations.  We found the gorges absolutely stunning and beautiful…

Along Point Lookout, Watkins Glen State Park 

The ground we were walking on was wet, muddy, and not the kind of place where you would wear anything in white color!  We were glad we had our usual hiking gear: boots and throwaway sweatpants!  We didn’t care to get dirty, as we’d done plenty of that during our West Coast trip over the winter.

Next stop on our hike was the famous Cavern Cascade.  The views were simply majestic and out of this world.  The waterfall is heard well before being seen.  As we approached it, we finally got to see it in all its glory.  Wow!  

We passed throngs of people walking towards/away from it, but still had to stop for a better view up close.  Sound of the waterfall was deafening up close!  It drowned out every other sound nearby.  Incredible…

After a moment (and several photos), we walked behind the waterfall to see it come down with fury.  It’s always a treat to get close to any waterfall but this one was spectacular. The volume of the water coming down was massive and at least for that moment, I imagined I was in Niagara Falls…

Cavern Cascade

We traversed through the cavern, hiking up more steps, then came out on the other side to continue our exploration of the trail.  Pretty soon, we saw a suspension bridge suspended high above the gorge with people walking over it.  By then, we were climbing up more steps and we sure got a good leg workout!

Suspension bridge after Cavern Cascade 

Directly underneath the suspension bridge, there was a spot along the trail where a portion of the trail was flooded.  Few hikers were stuck near there, unsure of what to do.  I took the rock ledge on my left to bypass the huge puddle below.  I know I took a chance by doing that, but the drop at that point of the trail was only about 10 feet, and I figured I would live to hike another day.

My wife, on the other hand, decided to walk through the puddle bravely.  Her boots were older than mine, and she didn’t mind a little grit and grime on her boots, but I certainly did.  *My boots were brand new!

We made it to Lover’s Lane Lookout, but went right past it, as the place was crowded and the day was getting hot and humid.  It was also in an area where it got a full sun.  We were clearly looking for some shade by then after climbing all those stairs just before.

We passed Glen Cathedral before seeing the popular Central Cascade.  At a drop of more than 60 feet, Central Cascade is the tallest waterfall in the gorge, and it is a beauty.  

Central Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park 

The Gorge Trail is such a great place to hike as the views are amazing just about everywhere you look.  With every turn of the trail, there’s something to see and be amazed by…We were loving the hike!

We took a breather right near Central Cascade along with many tired and weary hikers.  After taking a gulp of water and cooling down for a minute or two, we continued on.

Our next stop, the iconic Rainbow Falls!  Rainbow Falls is perhaps the most famous location at the park.  It is the same place that was featured in all those “I Love NY” commercials of Watkins Glen State Park, and I was finally seeing it!  

A photo or a video of this place doesn’t do justice to Rainbow Falls.  It is a magical place, something out of a fantasy world, a paradise with waterfalls with impressively sculpted rocks on either side.  The iconic bridge adds to the ambiance.  Wow, we were finally here!!!

Rainbow Bridge, Watkins Glen State Park 

We got wet trying to walk along the trail, right beneath the waterfall.  It’s next to impossible to walk without getting wet under there, but we didn’t mind.  How often do adults get soaked by a waterfall anyway?  As a child, we all love to play with water (or maybe play in general), but not so much as adults.  I wonder why that is…Are we so devoid of fun that we actively seek to avoid fun even when it’s available?  Not sure, and something to think about for another time…

Putting away those thoughts, we continued on.  We walked through the narrow sections of the trail that is the Frowning Cliff.  This part of the trail gets very little sunlight, therefore not much plants are visible.  

Entrance to Frowning Cliff

We pushed on, wondering how much longer we have to hike before reaching the end of the trail.  We got our answer shortly afterwards when we saw the Mile Point Bridge up ahead.  Mile Point Bridge, like the rest of the Gorge Trail, is part of the stone masonry constructed after the flood of 1935.

At that point of the trail, we had two options: 1) hike back the same way we had come, or 2) continue on the trail to get to the Jacob’s Ladder.  We chose option #2 to finish our hike.

Jacob’s Ladder is a tough climb up 180 stairs which leads you to the Upper Entrance to the Gorge Trail.  We passed a very serene creek on our left, walking at a very leisurely pace, and enjoying the level gradient for a change!

We made it to the entrance to Jacob’s Ladder and made our ascent up those stairs.  It was tough going, but we had made it to the top!  

Jacob’s Ladder

Once we made it, we needed to rest and get some energy into our tired bodies.  We found a perfect place to do both, a gazebo overlooking the parking lot and the wide open field.  We grabbed our home made sandwiches (our usual, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches) and took our time enjoying our lunch while resting.  Boy, that felt good!

We rested about 15 minutes or so, then decided to head back down the Gorge Trail.  Hike down was so much easier and we finished that in less than half the time it took for us to hike up.  We’ll take that!

We made it back to the parking lot then decided to go for a little drive to see the beautiful Seneca Lake.  Driving through the downtown area was nice as there are plenty of things to see and do, all within walking distance of Watkins Glen State Park.  We loved the neat set up of the area:  a world class attraction of Watkins Glen and the beautiful Seneca Lake, one of the most popular Finger Lakes.

We drove around Seneca Lake for about 30 minutes driving at a leisurely pace, just enjoying the shimmering lake on a beautiful summer day.  It doesn’t get better than that!

We cut our trip short as we were still hungry after doing all that StairMaster stuff to get to the top of the trail.  Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches were definitely inadequate to provide enough fuel for our bodies that day.

We stopped at a gas station that had a Wawa or Sheetz like food service inside it.  We bought plenty of comfort foods (jalapeño poppers, two sandwiches, curly fries, etc.) and started eating them on our drive back to our temporary home in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Wow, that tasted so good!!!

In conclusion:

Watkins Glen State Park was just as I imagined it would be, full of beauty, grandeur, and majesty.  I can see why it’s the state park that always seems to be featured in all those New York commercials.

We’re glad we finally got to experience the great Gorge Trail to finally say we hiked the park.  It is an easy to intermediate hike, suitable for almost anyone.  Although portions of the hike can be challenging due to strenuous stair climbing, compared to hikes we’ve done on mountains, the hike isn’t bad at all.

We thoroughly enjoyed the hike with all those wonderful views of the gorge and various waterfalls.  We will definitely be going back in the future!

Thank you for reading and happy trails!


Wandering Money Pig 

Please click here if you missed our ‘Top 3 things to do in Ocean City, Maryland’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Top 3 things to do in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Review of Bushkill Falls and Grey Towers.’

Please click here if you missed our ‘Top 3 natural attractions in Las Vegas’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Review of Zion National Park’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Review of Vdara Hotel’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Review of Chateau at Coindre Hall’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Top 3 things to do in Oyster Bay’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Review of Ocean Casino Resort’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Review of Wildwood Park and Fort Hunter Mansion’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Top 3 things to do in Ottawa’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Review of Fiore Suite and classic room at the Borgata’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Top 3 places with awesome views near Harrisburg, PA’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Top 3 things to do in Quebec City, Canada’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Top 3 quintessential places to visit in New York City’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Review of Ricketts Glen State Park, PA’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Review of Beaufort, NC’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Top 3 things to do in Vernon, NJ’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Top 3 things to do in Harrisburg, PA’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Top 3 things to do in Montreal, Canada’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Review of Falls Lake Dam Recreation Area, Wake Forest, NC’.

Please click here if you missed our ‘Top 3 parks to visit in Bogue Banks, North Carolina’.

Please check out our YouTube channel ‘Wandering Money Pig’ showcasing our travels and our Pomeranian dog!

Popular posts from this blog

AirBNB horror story: How we got a refund from AirBNB due to a noisy neighbor…

Review of Vdara Hotel, Las Vegas, NV (Nevada): Pros and Cons

Review of Ocean Casino Resort, Atlantic City, NJ (New Jersey)