I saw one picture of Rainbow Falls at Watkins Glen State Park and that was it. I knew I had to see it. It looked like something out of a fairy tale. And after some research, I found that this park actually has 19 waterfalls! 19?! Seriously. That was it. I was ready to jump in the car like yesterday. Luckily, Watkins Glen is only a five hour drive from where I live, so I took a few days off work and G and I were off to the Finger Lakes region of western New York. First, let me start by saying the Finger Lakes are beautiful. If you’ve never been, you should make it a priority. Especially if you love wine. Wineries everywhere, with beautiful views. But I digress.
Watkins Glen State Park is located in a small village named, you guessed it, Watkins Glen! While the village itself is fairly small, it is charming and is a great place to spend a little time after your hike in the park.
Watkins Glen State Park has three entrances, Main, North and South Entrance. We parked at the Main Entrance, which is right off Franklin St. and I thought this was perfect because as soon as you pull in to the parking lot, you are already surrounded by gorges! And a waterfall. It is beautiful.
There are three trails at Watkins Glen. The first and main trail is the Gorge Trail. This trail will take you through a two mile hike, made mostly of stone and a LOT of steps. 832 steps to be exact. Ok so I know that sounds like a ton. And it is, but its very manageable because its not a continuous 832 steps. There are breaks of flat terrain mixed throughout and the trail is so scenic that you will be stopping a lot to take photos anyway.
The end of the Gorge Trail will actually just take you to either the Main Entrance or the South entrance, basically the opposite at which you entered. You can then hike back to your parking lot or there is a trolley that will take you back if you don’t feel like walking anymore. It is seasonal, so you will want to check to make sure its running while you’re there if that’s what you want to do.
You can also hike the South Rim trail, which mostly takes you through the woods and to Couch’s Staircase. Watkins Glen State Park was well worth the visit and is probably one of my favorite state parks that I’ve visited so far. G and I both love waterfalls and this place was so fun to explore and forget the world for a little while!
Get there early! We arrived right at sunrise, which was around 7:30 in October. We were the only people in the entire park and we didn’t see another person on the trails until around 9. I’m told on the weekends there are tour buses that arrive around 10. So while the lighting isn’t going to change much if you’re photographing(since you’re in the gorge), it’ll be a lot easier to get the photos you want without having to wait.
Wear comfortable shoes with some decent traction. Even though its only two miles, climbing all those stairs will require you have some support and many areas of the trail get very slippery due to the waterfalls and the natural humidity of the gorge.
Restrooms are located at the entrances, but not throughout the park. Use them before you leave; you may not have another opportunity for a while!
Bring snacks and water. There are no concession stands within the park either. Those are located at the entrances as well.
Admission is $8 per car; however we arrived before they began collecting and were able to get in for free. I even asked about paying as we were leaving and was told that you only pay the fee if you arrive when there is someone to collect money.
They also accept the Empire Passport, so if you have one, you can use that here!
Take your time! This hike could easily be done within an hour and a half, however we loved the serenity of having the park to ourselves and soaked up the gorgeous sights and sounds and actually spent around three hours here.