Watkins Glen State Park

Welcome to Watkins Glen State Park

Looking for a scenic and adventurous getaway? Look no further than Watkins Glen State Park, located in the heart of downtown Watkins Glen in upstate New York. This park is not only a natural wonder, but also a testament to human ingenuity and determination. From its industrial past to its current status as a beloved state park, Watkins Glen has a rich history that is worth exploring. In this article, we will delve into the history of the park, its transformation from an industrial site to a natural wonder, and tips for planning your visit to make the most of this breathtaking destination.


Dawn to Dusk
Open year round


$10.00 per vehicle *pool & other amenities additional


1009 N Franklin St Watkins Glen, NY 14891

Contact Info

(607) 535-4511

Plan Your Visit

Discover the Natural Wonder of Watkins Glen State Park and Its Popularity

Watkins glen state park track

Watkins Glen State Park, located in the heart of downtown Watkins Glen, is a beautiful natural wonder that has captivated visitors for over a century. Known for its stunning gorge trail, the park attracts tourists from all over the world. The lower parking area of the park fills up quickly due to its wild popularity, so visitors are encouraged to plan their visit in advance to avoid crowds. The park’s popularity is not limited to its natural beauty, but also to the annual car races that take place at Watkins Glen International. Despite its popularity, visitors can still enjoy a leisurely walk along the mile-long gorge trail and take in the amazing sights that the park has to offer.

Famous Car Races and Other Activities at Watkins Glen State Park

In addition to its natural beauty, Watkins Glen State Park is also known for hosting the annual car races at Watkins Glen International. The park has a long history with car racing, having first hosted a race in 1948. Since then, the park has been a popular destination for race fans from all over the world. The races take place on the track, which is located near the park, and visitors can often hear the roar of the engines from the gorge trail.

Apart from the car races, the park offers a range of activities for visitors to enjoy. The park has a campground for those who wish to spend the night and take in the beauty of the park at their own pace. The campground offers modern amenities and is equipped with restrooms, showers, and a camp store.

Visitors can also take a dip in the park’s swimming pool or explore the park’s network of trails, including the gorge trail and rim trails. The rim trails are open year-round, while the gorge trail is closed during late fall to early spring. It is worth noting that the opening of the gorge trail varies year to year depending on the winter and springtime flooding, so it is always a good idea to check the park’s website before planning a visit in the spring.

Overall, Watkins Glen State Park offers something for everyone. Whether you are a race fan or a nature lover, there are plenty of activities to keep you entertained during your visit.

Avoiding Crowds at Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park is a wildly popular destination, attracting visitors from all over the world to experience its natural beauty. As mentioned earlier, the lower parking area of the park fills up quickly due to the park’s popularity, making it difficult to find a parking spot. Therefore, it is essential to plan your visit in advance to avoid the crowds.

One way to avoid crowds is to plan your visit around the annual car races that take place at Watkins Glen International. During the race weekends, the park is bustling with people, making it challenging to enjoy the serene atmosphere. So, it is better to plan your visit when the races are not taking place.

Another way to avoid crowds is to visit the park during the week and early in the day when most people are at work or in school. Visiting during off-peak hours is a great way to enjoy the park without worrying about crowds. It is also recommended to visit the park during the school year when children are in classes, as this can significantly reduce the number of visitors.

Even during off-peak hours, visitors should still expect the trail to be busy. The gorge trail is only a mile long, but the many photo opportunities and narrow parts of the trail cause numerous slowdowns. Therefore, visitors should plan on a leisurely pace to enjoy the sights fully and avoid feeling rushed.

In summary, planning your visit in advance and visiting during off-peak hours is an excellent way to avoid crowds at Watkins Glen State Park and fully enjoy the park’s natural beauty.

History of Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins glen state park track

Watkins Glen State Park has a rich history that spans back to the early 19th century. Originally, the park was used for industrial purposes, with a saw and grist mill located in the present-day parking area, and other mills situated further along the gorge. The area was seen as an obstruction to the pastoral ambitions of early settlers, and the mills were used to produce goods for the growing population of the region.

However, the park’s transformation into a tourist destination began in 1851 when Judge George C. Freer first opened the gorge to the public. An informal network of paths and wooden bridges was established, allowing visitors to explore the mills and the natural beauty of the area. Morvalden Ells, a journalist from Elmira, was among the first tourists to the park. He was so captivated by the gorge that he took on the principal role of promoting the area as a marvel of nature to rival Niagara Falls. His imaginative and often romantic descriptions of the park created the beginning of a tourist trade that endures today.

In 1906, the park was purchased by the state for $46,000 and was administered by the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society (ASHPS). This marked the beginning of the park’s transformation into what we see today. The industrial vestiges of the park’s past were removed, and concrete, iron, and steel became the basis of the park’s infrastructure. The park’s paths were broadened, and new bridges and iron guardrails were tied into the gorge’s walls. Workers were often lowered into the park on slings to carry out the work along the steep walls while blasting and tunneling took place elsewhere. The trail begins inside one of these hand-cut tunnels.

In 1935, catastrophic floods washed away virtually all of the work done by the ASHPS. A Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), based in the park since 1934, was suddenly transformed from a labor force into a rescue team as the town was inundated. Later the corps became a major force in the park’s restoration and reconstruction. Despite the setback caused by the floods, the park’s designers saw an opportunity to improve the park’s infrastructure further. The new design incorporated natural stone in the paths, staircases, and stone walls, blending the construction into the landscape seamlessly.

Today, Watkins Glen State Park is a testament to the power of nature and the ingenuity of humans. Its rich history, which encompasses both its industrial past and its transformation into a natural wonder, makes it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in the region’s history and natural beauty.

Features of Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins glen state park track

The Gorge Trail and Its Unique Features

Watkins Glen State Park is famous for its one-of-a-kind gorge trail that takes visitors through a breathtaking natural wonder. The trail is a little over a mile long and has several unique features that make it a must-see destination for nature lovers.

The trail begins inside a hand-cut tunnel, which gives visitors a sense of adventure and excitement from the get-go. As visitors make their way through the trail, they encounter several waterfalls that cascade down the gorge walls. The most famous waterfall in the park is the Cavern Cascade, which is 60 feet tall and located near the entrance of the trail.

One of the unique features of the trail is the Spiral Tunnel, which takes visitors up a narrow set of stairs to a higher level of the gorge. The stairs are built into the gorge wall and give visitors a bird’s eye view of the trail and the surrounding landscape.

Another highlight of the trail is the Rainbow Falls, which is aptly named for the rainbow that forms when the sun shines on the mist created by the falls. Visitors can walk behind the falls and feel the cool mist on their faces, making it a perfect spot for photos.

Other Trails and Activities Available in the Park

In addition to the gorge trail, Watkins Glen State Park has several other trails and activities available for visitors. The Indian Trail is a less strenuous alternative to the gorge trail and provides a scenic walk through the forest. Visitors can also explore the South Rim Trail, which provides stunning views of the gorge from above.

For those interested in camping, the park has several campsites available, including cabins and tent sites. The park also offers fishing, picnic areas, and a playground for children.

The CCC’s Role in the Park’s Restoration and Reconstruction

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) played a significant role in the restoration and reconstruction of Watkins Glen State Park after the devastating floods of 1935. The CCC was originally stationed in the park as a labor force but quickly became a rescue team during the floods.

After the floods, the CCC worked tirelessly to restore the park to its former glory, using natural stone to blend the infrastructure into the landscape. Their efforts are visible in the stone walls, staircases, and paths throughout the park. Today, visitors can enjoy the park’s beauty thanks in part to the hard work and dedication of the CCC.

Tips for Visiting Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins glen state park - State Parks USA

Watkins Glen State Park is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Finger Lakes region of New York. To make the most of your visit and avoid crowds, it’s important to plan ahead and be prepared. Here are some tips to help you have an enjoyable and comfortable visit to the park.

Timing Your Visit:

To avoid crowds and enjoy a peaceful walk through the park, plan your visit during the off-season. The park is open year-round, but spring and fall are the best times to avoid large crowds. Weekdays are also generally less busy than weekends. If you’re visiting during peak season, arrive early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the crowds.

Dressing Appropriately:

The park’s gorge trail is a one-mile-long walk that can be steep and slippery at times, so it’s important to wear comfortable, sturdy shoes with good traction. Sneakers or hiking boots are ideal. It’s also important to dress appropriately for the weather. The park can be cooler than surrounding areas due to the gorge’s shaded areas and the mist from the waterfalls, so bring a jacket or sweater even on warm days.

Staying Informed:

Before you visit the park, be sure to check the park’s website for information on hours, parking, and any alerts or closures. The park’s website also has a map of the trails and other useful information to help plan your visit. Additionally, visitors can follow the park’s social media accounts for updates on weather, trail conditions, and other park news.

By following these tips, you can have a comfortable and enjoyable visit to Watkins Glen State Park. Remember to plan ahead, dress appropriately, and stay informed to make the most of your visit to this natural wonder.

Discover the Natural Wonders and Fascinating History of Watkins Glen State Park

With its fascinating history and breathtaking scenery, Watkins Glen State Park is a true gem of the Finger Lakes region. From its origins as an industrial site to its transformation into a beloved tourist destination, the park’s story is one of resilience and beauty. Visitors can take a leisurely walk along the gorge trail, explore other trails and activities, and learn about the important role the CCC played in the park’s restoration. However, it’s important to plan ahead to avoid crowds, wear appropriate footwear and clothing, and check the park’s website for up-to-date information. Whether you’re a nature lover or a racing enthusiast, Watkins Glen State Park has something for everyone. So why not plan a visit and experience its natural wonders for yourself?

Frequently Asked Questions about the park