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Watkins Glen State Park Guide — Camping, Waterfalls, and More

Amar Hussain's image
Amar Hussain
Amar Hussain's image

Amar Hussain

Senior Content Contributor

Countries Visited: 63U.S. States Visited: 9

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury


Countries Visited: 44U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now Editor-in-Chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Watkins Glen State Park is a beautiful park located in New York state that is a world of opportunity for visitors to experience the natural beauty of nature and enjoy a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

This park is filled with waterfalls, a gorge path that winds throughout the park, phenomenal hiking trails, towering cliffs, and opportunities for camping, hunting, fishing, and more. This park brings in over a million visitors each year, eager to see what makes it the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks. 

How To Get to Watkins Glen State Park

Where Is Watkins Glen State Park?

Watkins Glen State Park is in Watkins Glen Village in New York state. It is about 20 minutes from Corning and 40 minutes from Ithaca. This park is part of the Finger Lakes region and is known for its infamous Gorge Trail and 19 waterfalls. 

Watkins Glen State Park Opening Hours and Seasons

This park is open all year from dawn to dusk. There are varying hours and seasons for different activities in the park. The Gorge Trail opens mid- to late May for the season, while the other trails are open year-round from sunrise to sunset.

Hot Tip:

The pool is open for the summer season only, and camping is permitted beginning in May.

Nearest Airports to Watkins Glen State Park

Check out 2 of the closest options to the park and see if either will suit your travel needs. 

Elmira Corning Regional Airport (ELM)

Elmira Corning Regional Airport is the closest airport option to this state park. It takes about 20 minutes to arrive at the park from here. This airport offers flights to and from Detroit and Orlando. Airlines serviced by this airport include Allegiant and Delta.

While this airport doesn’t have as many choices as some of the larger international airports, this is an excellent option for catching a connecting flight and getting as close to the park as possible. 

Ithaca Tompkins International Airport (ITH)

Ithaca Tompkins International Airport is about 28 miles from Watkins Glen State Park. It takes approximately 40 minutes to get from this airport to the park. This airport offers numerous flights daily to and from many major cities worldwide. Airlines serviced here include Delta and United. 

You are just a hop, skip, and jump from the state park to this airport. There are car rental kiosks to arrange the last leg of your journey, making it a breeze to get to the park and all your adventures. 

Driving to Watkins Glen State Park

The best way to navigate your way to this state park is to use a GPS or map app on your phone. From the New York State Thruway, take exit 42 and follow Route 14 South through Geneva. Continue driving south for 33 miles along Seneca Lake until you reach Watkins Glen’s village. The park’s entrance is in the heart of the village.

Taking the Train to Watkins Glen State Park

There is no train service directly to the park.

Getting Around Watkins Glen State Park

Waterfalls at Watkins Glen State Park
Image Credit: Kevin Chang via Flickr (license)

The best way to get around this park is on foot. There are 3 different entrances and parking areas, but the rest of the park is accessible by walking. The park offers several maps to help you plan your itinerary during your visit. 

Taking the Shuttle Bus at Watkins Glen State Park

A shuttle bus operates from late May to late June on weekends. This shuttle provides service daily from July 1 to the beginning of September. Then, from September to the end of October, it runs on weekends only. This service costs $6 per person each way. The shuttle runs between the park’s main, south, and upper entrances. 

What To See and Do in Watkins Glen State Park

This park has so many things for visitors to see and do. From hiking trails to hunting and camping to watching waterfalls, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Take a look at the top activities and sights here. 


Watkins Glen State Park is a fisherman’s paradise. There are fantastic fishing opportunities to reel in a big catch during your visit. Seneca Lake and Catherine Creek offer great chances to catch rainbow trout and salmon. The springtime is an incredibly wonderful time for fishing here. Catherine Creek is renowned for its annual spring run of rainbow trout. 


Hiking Watkins Glen State Park
Image Credit: Peter Miller via Flickr (license)

Hiking enthusiasts are in for a treat when visiting this state park. Several trails take visitors to the park’s highlights and past sites that will take your breath away.

The Gorge Trail is the most popular trail here. This trail is a mile and a half long and is considered moderate to difficult. This is a trail that is best to work from the bottom up. Some fantastic points of interest on this trail include Diamond Falls, Glen of Pools, Spiral Tunnel, the suspension bridge, and Whispering Falls.

Hot Tip:

If you can only complete 1 hike during your trip to this park, this is the hike you won’t want to miss. Other hikes that wind through this park include the Finger Lakes Trail, Indian Trail, and South Rim Trail.


Hunters love a Watkins Glen State Park trip for its excellent hunting opportunities. This park allows bow hunting for deer. Hunting is permitted on the west side of the railroad and is open during archery seasons. Hunting can occur on the railroad’s east side from November 1 to the end of the archery season.

Those who want to participate in this event need a valid New York state hunting license. Being familiar with the rules and regulations of the Department of Environmental Conservation is wise. 


An Olympic-sized pool is a great place to cool off and relax while exploring the park. There is also a kiddie pool that is perfect for the smallest visitors of the park. The entrance fee includes admission to this pool. The swimming season is from late June to early September each year. The pool hours are from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. 


There are 19 different waterfalls within the boundaries of this state park. Hiking to the other locations to see these towering falls is one of the most popular activities here. The best trail for viewing these waterfalls is the Gorge Trail. It follows Glen Creek and showcases the waterfalls throughout the park.

Central Cascade is the top waterfall guests want to see during their visit. This waterfall plunges over 60 feet and is the highest fall in the gorge. Other waterfalls include Glen of Pools, Rainbow Falls, and Spiral Gorge. These waterfalls are a great place to stop and reflect, as well as take photographs to capture the natural beauty of these cascades. 

Best Times To Visit Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park is a remarkable place to visit no matter what time of the year you go. However, there may be a better time than others to plan a trip. Check out some of the best times to visit this park.

Best Time To Visit Watkins Glen State Park for Fall Foliage

Watkins Glen State Park Fall Foliage
Image Credit: David Zhang via Flickr (license)

Autumn is a stunning time to visit this park. October is a great month to see the trees bursting in vibrant shades of gold, burgundy, and apricot. Not only can you see the bright colors, but the temperature is perfect for hiking the trails. 

Best Time To Visit Watkins Glen State Park To Avoid the Crowds

Exploring the park at your own pace without the stress of crowds is ideal. November is the best time to visit if you hope to avoid the crowds. Should you come during this month, it is essential to note that the shuttle and other services and facilities will not be available. 

Best Time To Visit Watkins Glen State Park for Waterfall Viewing

The waterfalls are a huge draw to Watkins Glen State Park. If you want to see these falls in all their glory, plan to visit in the middle of May. This is when the Gorge Trail opens for the season, and the flow of the falls is most impressive. 

Cheapest Time To Visit Watkins Glen State Park

Saving money while traveling may seem impossible, but it can be possible with some research and planning. The best time to visit this park and save money is early September. Flight and accommodation rates are typically reduced at this time, allowing you to save hundreds in travel expenses. 

Annual Events in Watkins Glen State Park

There aren’t any annual events that take place at this state park.

Where To Stay in Watkins Glen State Park

Determining where to stay is one of the top priorities for any trip you plan. Thankfully, securing accommodations is a breeze when visiting this state park. Whether you stay within the park’s boundaries or in a nearby town, plenty of options exist here.

Inside the Park

The only option for lodging within the boundaries of Watkins Glen State Park is to set up camp under the stars. This state park has a campground with 305 campsites that offer a long list of amenities, such as bathhouses with hot showers and flush toilets, a playground, a swimming pool, basketball courts, and access to hiking trails.

Cabins are also available for visitors who prefer sleeping with a roof over their heads. The camping season is from mid-May to mid-October each year. Reservations can be made the day you arrive or up to 9 months in advance. This campground is open to tents and RVs. 

Towns Near Watkins Glen State Park

Visitors looking for more traditional accommodations may stay in a town near the park. Several towns and villages near the park make an excellent home away from home.

Corning, New York

Corning is a short 20-minute drive from the park. This city is known as “America’s Crystal City” because of the many glass things from noteworthy people in history. This town has a mesmerizing history of technology and science, from Thomas Edison’s light bulbs to modern-day fiber optics and Gorilla Glass.

There are plenty of places to choose from when it comes to lodging here. Whether you are looking for an affordable motel or a luxury hotel, this town has it all. There is a wide variety of dining options, from local diners to chain restaurants and everything in between.

Hot Tip:

For recreation, visitors enjoy exploring the Corning Museum of Glass, the world’s largest museum of glass art and artifacts.

Watkins Glen, New York

There’s no better option for staying near the park than Watkins Glen. This is the village where the park is located. This is the perfect location for exploring the park, and there are also racetracks, vineyards, breweries, and several nearby parks.

Visitors can choose from local inns, hotels, and bed and breakfasts for lodging. Food enthusiasts are in for a treat in this village, as there are many types of restaurants to try. There’s something for every palate here, from pit barbecue joints to donut shops, local pizza parlors, and pubs.

Where To Eat in Watkins Glen State Park

It’s not difficult to find incredible breakfast, lunch, and dinner options when visiting this state park. There are dozens of outstanding restaurants just a short drive from the park. Check out some of the most popular choices.

Blue Pointe Grill

Blue Pointe Grill
Image Credit: Blue Pointe Grill

Blue Pointe Grill is a top-rated restaurant near the park. It takes just 4 minutes to get here from the park. This restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. 

The menu here offers fresh, local flavors as well as American classics. From seafood fresh from the ocean to beautiful chopped salad to premium quality beef. There’s something for every palate here. Customers rave about the porterhouse, ahi tuna, and the lobster over mushroom-stuffed ravioli.

This restaurant is in a AAA Four Diamond hotel with gorgeous views of the shores of Seneca Lake and Watkins Glen. When you finish your park adventures, head to Blue Pointe Grill for a delightful meal, excellent customer service, and stunning views.

Jerlando’s Ristorante and Pizza Company

Jerlando’s Ristorante and Pizza Company is just a mile from Watkins Glen State Park. This restaurant is a fabulous option for lunch and dinner.

This family-owned restaurant has a menu featuring classic Italian and American dishes made with wholesome, fresh ingredients. The most popular menu items include ribeye steak, toasted ravioli, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, hand-tossed pizzas, and tiramisu. 

For a meal and ambiance you won’t forget, check out Jerlando’s when visiting this state park. Your tastebuds and tummy will thank you.

Watkins Glen State Park Facts

1.  A New Park

The Glen, now known as Watkins Glen State Park, opened for tourism on July 4, 1863. A local newspaper owner and landowner opened the park and sold approximately 10,000 tickets in its first year. 

2. Bought by the State

The Glen was purchased by New York state in 1906. Once the state owned the park, it was free for visitors to tour. Later, in 1924, the first New York State Parks department took over park management. 

3. What’s in a Name?

Watkins Glen hasn’t always been the name of this New York area. It was originally named Salubria when it was first settled in the late 1700s. The village changed its name to honor Dr. Samuel Watkins, who was passionate about promoting this New York community. 

4. Best State Park in the U.S.

In 2015, Watkins Glen State Park was nominated out of over 6,000 state parks in the country for Best State Park. Not only was the park nominated, but it also won third place. 

5. Auto Racing

This small village is known for its natural beauty, but it is also well known for auto racing. This town and its county are home to the birthplace of road racing in America. Today, visitors can visit racetracks and check out vintage cars throughout the town. 

Final Thoughts

Watkins Glen State Park is a beautiful park to visit and explore. Whether you want to hike and stand in awe of the magnificent waterfalls, hunt for deer, or camp in the great outdoors, you can find all you desire at this park. Book your trip to this state park today and discover what brings in over a million visitors worldwide each year. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter Watkins Glen State Park?

The cost to enter this park is $10 per vehicle. This fee also includes the pool fee.

Should I start at Watkins Glen State Park's upper or lower entrance?

If you hope to hike the Gorge Trail, entering the main entrance and hiking to the Upper Entrance is best. This will give you the best views of the waterfalls and the gorge and save you extra steps.

How much time should I plan to spend visiting Watkins Glen State Park?

It is recommended to spend a minimum of 3 hours at this park. This will allow time for hiking, picnicking, and taking photos.

Can I bring my dog to Watkins Glen State Park?

Pets are permitted at this state park, but several regulations exist. There is a maximum allowance of 2 pets per campsite. They are to be leashed at all times and can prove rabies vaccinations. Pets are prohibited in playgrounds, buildings, and pools.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.


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