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Watkins Glen State Park

Capturing the natural beauty of New York State Parks

For me, spending time at a state park is little like enjoying a glass of wine at sunset. It's just plain good for my soul. Trouble is, state parks can often be overrun with tourists and the peace offerings your soul is searching for can be hard to track down.

Watkins Glen State ParkWatkins Glen State ParkWatkins Glen has a secret that's worth searching - the Gorge.

Water created this glen and for thousands of years has alternated between whispering and thundering through the rock, shaping its ledges, pools and waterfalls. The cool, wet climate of the area and the humid conditions within the Gorge, support a unique ecosystem. If you're lucky enough to visit on a quiet day, take time to enjoy.


The Gorge

Finger Lakes State ParkFinger Lakes State ParkDuring the Victorian era, Watkins Glen was compared with Niagara Falls and Saratoga Springs as a prime tourist destination.  The park is home to almost 20 waterfalls. Today, it's still a popular tourist destination - and thankfully not as overrun with tourists.

We visited the park during a recent trip to the Finger Lakes region of New York. We arrived to hike the Gorge on a hot day in July at noon. The parking lot was almost full with families, young couples just starting out and older couples, clearly seasoned to each other. We were given the option to hike the gorge (3 miles round trip) or take a shuttle back to our car at the half way point.

Hiking in New YorkHiking in New YorkWhen we looked at the age of some of the people hiking, we hitched up our resolve and set off to do the whole trail both ways. The assent felt slow at first, with more than 800 steps peppered with caverns and waterfalls to walk around and under.

The last 200 steps were a different story - winding staircases that served only one goal. Reach the top. The only thing propelling us forward at that point was the ice cream shop. Not to mention the couple who clearly looked to be in their 70's sauntering along like they did this kind of hike every day.

We have to be honest though. A hike up and down the Gorge is not as taxing as a hike into a volcano, nor is it as exhilarating as zip lining. But if you can escape the crowds, it's a great way to spend an afternoon in the Finger Lakes.

If you go:

  • Waterfalls in Watkins Glen State ParkWaterfalls in Watkins Glen State ParkEntry fee is $8 per vehicle, which also gives you access to the large pool (separate entrance).
  • Bring water bottles with you and refill at either end in the washrooms.
  • Bring change for a treat if you're hiking both ways - a little motivation goes a long way.
  • If you reach one end (the midway point) and decide you can't make the trip back to your car, the shuttle is $2 per person.
  • If you plan to do only one way, take the shuttle to the top and climb down, it's less strenuous.
  • If you plan to do both ways ,we recommend starting at the bottom so you can enjoy the descent after the big climb.
  • Stay on the trails. The path is strictly monitored and if you're caught picking flowers or dipping your toes in the stream, you may be escorted out of the park.

Have you ever visited the state parks in New York - or anywhere else in the US or Canada? What's your favorite? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook and let's start talking!

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One of our travel goals as a family is to visit more state parks. The same for Canada's national parks (we are in Canada). These places really are gems and budget-friendly gems for travel! I've been inspired to visit the Finger Lakes area, that's for sure! :)

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