© 2001 Jon Binder
Ratings (ratings explained)
Ease of Access: 8/10
Watkins Glen is probably the best known of all the gorges of the Finger Lakes Region, and for good reason. The Gorge Trail provides views of all 19 waterfalls, as well as of the beatifully sculpted rock through which the water flows.
"Classic" view of Watkins Glen
Rock formations and cascades in upper Watkins Glen
Cascades in upper Watkins Glen
The village of Watkins Glen is located at the southern end of Seneca Lake. NYS route 14 provides access into the village from the north and south. The main entrance into Watkins Glen State Park is on the west side of NY 14, just south of the center of the village. The gorge trail starts at the west end of the parking lot.
To reach the upper entrance to the park, take NY 409 west from the center of the village at the junction of NY routes 14, 414 and 409. The upper parking area will be on the left after a couple of miles.
Both entrances are well marked, and finding them should not be difficult. Be aware that a $5 admission fee is charged in season, but it is well worth it.
When you pay your admission fee, you will receive a map of the trails in the park. There are several trails throughout the park, but take the gorge trail if you wish to see the main attractions and all 19 waterfalls. You can start either at the main entrance or the upper entrance, depending on whether you want to ascend or descend. In busy times of the year, a shuttle bus runs from the main entrance to the upper entrance, allowing you to start at the top, descend fairly easily, and take the bus back up to your car. Either way, the trail is 1 and a half miles long, with a 500 foot elevation change, and 832 steps along the way.
Starting from the bottom, at the west end of the main entrance parking area, you immediately enter the first of several short tunnels along the trail, and then cross a bridge. Starting the climbing, you soon come to the first of the glen's major waterfalls. Cavern Cascade is a free falling waterfall that the trail actually goes behind. In the picture, you can see the railing directly behind the falls.
Continuing up, through the Spiral Tunnel, you soon come to a section of the gorge known as The Narrows. As the name implies, in this section, the walls of the gorge are close together, creating a shady, cool, and moist environment. The rock walls are covered with mosses due to the constant drips of water that fall down their sides.
The next section of Watkins Glen, known as the Cathedral, provides somewhat of a contrast. In this area, the rock walls are high and set further apart, allowing the sun to fill the gorge and create a much drier environment. Eventually, this section culminates in Central Cascade. At 60 feet, this is the highest falls in the park.
After crossing a bridge at the top of Central Cascade, continue climbing through the area known as the Glen of Pools. Here, beautifully sculpted plunge pools gather water before it continues to fall over the next little cascade. At the end of this section, the classic scene of Watkins Glen is found. As the picture on this page shows, a series of little cascades graces the stream as a side stream falls beautifully into the gorge.
This side falls, known as Rainbow Falls, can be seen in its entirety after continuing up, behind the falls, and then onto the bridge that once again crosses the stream. Also from this bridge, a beautiful series of cascades is seen, known as Pluto Falls.
Continuing on the gorge trail, the walking becomes a little easier as the way is much flatter. Several springs from above empty water over the sides of the gorge, so that it falls right on you as you walk. While this section is less dramatic, it still passes some incredible rock formations as well as more beautiful little falls.
At this point, you can either walk back to your car, or continue up to the upper entrance parking area, where there are bathrooms and refreshments.
Overall, Watkins Glen is a great place to see a lot of great waterfalls. Needless to say, the only drawbacks are the crowds and the heavily built up nature of the Park. Be aware that the trails in the park are closed from mid Novermber to early May, due to dangerous icy conditions.
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Page Last Revised: February 23, 2002