Location: Watkins Glen, New York
Webpage: New York State Park
General Description: Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous of the finger lake state parks and has been ranked third in the 2015 USA Today Reader’s Choice Poll for Best State Park in the US. Within two miles the glen’s stream descends 400 feet past 200 foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls and a multitude of cascades and pools. The gorge trail ascends alongside the Cavern Cascade leading visitors through tunnels, behind waterfalls, and along the pools and cascades. Visitors can either ascend the more than 800 steps along this 1.8 mile trail or catch a shuttle to the top and descend down along the stream. There is also rim trails along both rims that provide multiple views of the gorge and the lush Ney York forests.
1) At the main parking lot, there are two others at the midpoint and top of the gorge, there is a nice gift shop and eating area. During busy times of the year there is a shuttle that travels between all three parking lots.
2) Since your first impression of Watkins Glen State Park is to ascend through a man-made tunnel to a bridge over the stream, you begin the ascent with a feeling of awe. At the end of the tunnel you can also see a large hole hand drilled through the rock to provide for a flume that was used in the 19th century to power a flour mill that was located where the parking lot is today.
3) As you continue to ascend up the stone path that has been carved out alongside the stream and up the numerous steps your sense of wonder continues to soar. In mid-June that water flow is not very high, but still the symmetrical pools, cascades, and small waterfalls are amazing examples of nature’s beauty. There are a few interpretive signs along the gorge trail about the history of the gorge and differences in micro-climate on the north and south facing rims and between the bottom and top of the gorge.
4) For me, memorable highlights of the trail are the Spiral Staircase handcarved inside the side of the gorge, the stone bridges over the stream, and especially the two times the trail went behind the waterfalls!!
5) Of course you will never forget Jacobs Ladder at the upper end of the Gorge Trail, where you quickly ascend to the rim up more than 100 steps.
6) The trip back downstream along the Indian Trail along the north rim is a nice downhill walk without the numerous steps of the Gorge Trail. There are a few overlooks of the gorge that make the trip worthwhile, however, the most enjoyable part of the trip is the lush New York forests along the rim that change from maple/oaks to sruce/hemlocks as you descend.