Watkins Glen State Park, NY

The Gorge Trail
Watkins Glen State Park, NY
Distance: 2 miles
Type: Out and back
Views: Waterfalls
Dogs: Leashed dogs, only allowed on the outer rim trails; no dogs allowed on the Gorge Trail
Trailhead: Parking area off of Route 14 in Watkins Glen, NY
Notes: Breathtaking hike; short and popular.
Vehicle Entry/Parking fee applies – $8 per vehicle (summer 2015 – fee may change)
Rainbow Falls

Getting there:
The park entrance is on Route 14 in downtown Watkins Glen, NY. If you are staying in Watkins Glen, you may want to walk to the entrance as you won’t have to pay the vehicle entry/parking fee.

Difficulty and length:
This out and back trail took me about an hour to complete (including picture stops). The entire Gorge Trail is 2 miles total. One mile out to Milepoint Bridge and then backtracking that mile to exit. For me, it was a moderate hike. There are over 800 steps on these trails and much of the hike is climbing stairs. Be prepared to feel this one in your thighs! Be cautious if you have knee trouble.

Details:
Park in the Watkins Glen State Park parking area. The trail begins walking through a opening in a rock wall at the far end of the parking lot. Following the trail is easy, just keep going forward and check signs occasionally to make sure you are staying on the Gorge Trail.

Sites of interest along the path: Cavern Cascade, Glen Cathedral, Glen of Pools, and Rainbow Falls. If you stay on the Gorge Trail towards Milepoint Bridge as described above you will see all of these sites. Once you hit Milepoint Bridge simply turn around and retrace your steps. If you have extra time and want to explore further, continue on the Gorge Trail to the Upper Entrance of the state park. Stop at the restrooms and gift shop and then make your way back on the Indian Trail for different views on your return trip.

Check out this Watkins Glen trail map from NY State Park’s website.

Note:
Heed the warning signs and do not stray from the path. Several of the pools look very inviting, but taking a dip could lead to a disaster. There have been fatalities at this park.

Additional Note:
Please don’t litter. If you bring water or snacks with you, pay attention to where you place them when you stop to take photos. I assume that most of the water bottles I saw in the pools along the hike were accidentally knocked down. I can’t imagine anyone would intentionally ruin this beautiful place. Respect Mother Nature.

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Tip:
Use the restrooms at the gift shop before beginning your hike. I didn’t spot any good places to have a ‘private moment’ along the trail.

My Experience:
Watkins Glen State Park is absolutely stunning. This is some Lord of the Rings stuff here. I highly recommend a visit at least once in your lifetime. I hiked this trail on a week day a few days before a Phish Festival, Magnaball*. The additional people in town may have contributed to the heavily populated trail, but I imagine a place with this kind of beauty is often crowded. I got a late start that morning (arrived at trail around 9am) and the parking lot had about 30 spaces taken. When I finished about an hour later the lot was almost completely full. As usual, I suggest getting to your hike at 8am or earlier for more solitude. Despite the crowds, I enjoyed the entire hike. Whenever I felt a little overwhelmed by the people, I would simply stop and wait for a bit until I found a good pocket of silence between groups. It was fairly warm at the beginning of the hike and by 9am mid-August the sun reached most of the trail. It started to get a little chilly around the Glen of Pools, so don’t ditch the lightweight jacket in your car (or run up a few steps to warm up). This park is so wonderful, I made my husband do it with me again a few days later before leaving town.
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*Magnaball – A quick side-note about my experience at Magnaball (Phish Festival). This was only my second Phish Festival (first one was Festival 8 – Indio, California), but as always the sense of kindness and community was overwhelming. Perfect weather helped the good vibe, but the people and the band really made it an incredible weekend. I love going to Phish shows and seeing strangers bond over a common love for a certain song. There’s nothing like seeing friends from all over the states come together to laugh and dance. I even got to visit with an old friend from High School who was taking a break from his 2015 thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. One of my favorite moments from the weekend was when the band started playing “Prince Caspian” (for some this is a good ‘restroom break’ song); me and my friend Mark stayed behind while our friends left to fill up their drinks or use the bathroom and the band started jamming the song out and blowing everyone away. Mark and I kept looking at each other smiling, asking ourselves “is this really happening?”. Great moments from a great weekend.
Magnaball