Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks, with a reputation for leaving visitors spellbound. Within two miles, the glen's stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls along its course. The gorge path winds over and under waterfalls and through the spray of Cavern Cascade. Rim trails overlook the gorge. Campers and day-visitors can also enjoy the Olympic-size pool, scheduled summer tours through the gorge, tent and trailer campsites, picnic facilities and excellent fishing in nearby Seneca Lake or Catherine Creek, which is renowned for its annual spring run of rainbow trout. In 2015, the park was chosen from more than 6,000 state parks across the nation as a nominee in the USA TODAY Readers' Choice Poll for Best State Park in the United States, and won third place!
You can experience the dramatic landscape of Watkins Glen State Park on the North Rim Trail, South Rim Trail, and the Gorge Trail where the 19 waterfalls are best seen and experienced as the North and South Rim Trails follow the forested rims of the gorge. Waterfalls are best experienced on the Gorge Trail, which follows Glen Creek past water-sculpted rock and 19 waterfalls. The Gorge Trail can be accessed from the Main, South and Upper entrances. Most visitors walk uphill from the Main Entrance and return. Others take a shuttle bus (when available) to the Upper Entrance and walk the 1 ½ miles back down to the Main. Many prefer a shortened trip from the South Entrance to the Main or vice versa. If you would like to explore the gorge with a guide, look for posters around the park listing times for tours offered weekly during the summer months.
Cavern Cascade - This is one of two waterfalls you can walk behind. This is made possible by the wearing away of a thin layer of shale rock underneath a tougher layer of sandstone. The waterfall has eroded this narrow section of gorge and the deep pools below. Cavern Cascade and other waterfalls have created Watkins Glen State Park by eroding the rocks deep into the hillside.
The Narrows - Beyond the next tunnel and staircase are the Narrows. The gorge here has its own “micro-climate.” It is shady, cool and very moist most of the time, similar to a rainforest. Plants including ferns and mosses prefer these conditions and thrive here.
Glen Cathedral - Beyond the top of the next staircase is the broad, high Glen Cathedral area. Lover’s Lane meets the Gorge Trail here which leads to the North Rim Trail at the Suspension Bridge. If the Narrows are like a rainforest, then the Cathedral is like a desert. On a clear day, you will notice the sun soaking the dry gorge walls beside the trail. These ledges support drought-resistant grasses, wildflowers and shrubs typical of a dry field. An interpretive panel here features the plants that grow in both sunny and shady sections of the gorge.
Just where Lover’s Lane joins the Gorge Trail here, there is a slab of stone with a rippled surface. Stand on it. You are standing on an ancient sea bottom! They were once ripples of sand on the floor on an ancient sea that eventually turned to stone.
Central Cascade and Glen of Pools - Central Cascade, plunging more than 60 feet, is the highest waterfall in the gorge. Above this waterfall, the trail crosses the creek on a scenic bridge where you will find a panel that highlights the Glen of Pools area. Stop here to discover how the creek forms deep and rounded “plunge pools” or “potholes.”
Rainbow Falls - The Glen of Pools leads to Rainbow Falls. Like Cavern Cascade, you can walk under this waterfall. Visit Rainbow Falls in late afternoon to see rainbows reflected off the falls on a sunny day.
Spiral Gorge - Beyond the bridge above Rainbow Falls, enter a dark and narrow passage with dripping springs, sculptured pools, and thin Pluto Falls, named for the ancient Roman lord of the underworld. Little can grow in this darkness.
Trails are open from dawn to dusk. A shuttle bus between the Main and Upper Entrances is available during the summer season.
Pet Policy: Regrettably, for their own safety, pets are not allowed on the well-known Gorge Trail, though the North Rim Trail, and many areas of this legendary park do allow pets. Pets are to be supervised at all times and either be crated or on a leash not more than 6-feet in length. Proof of rabies inoculation shall be produced if requested by staff. Please call the State Park with any additional questions about their pet policy, or any vital attributes, to confirm their most current policies at (607) 535-4511.
Schuyler County has many other waterfalls, some of which are easy to find and access, while others are off the beaten track. For a complete listing of these nearby waterfalls, descriptions, and details on how to find them, visit our page here.
Watkins Glen State Park in the heart of downtown Watkins Glen is the largest outdoor attraction in the region and is considered one of New York State's flagship parks. It was also voted the #3 state park in the country in a USA Today Readers' Choice Poll recently. The Gorge Trail features 19 waterfalls and stunning experiences as the path...Read More