A Weekend Getaway to Watkins Glen, NY
July 10, 2013

A few weeks ago, we took our kids on a three-day getaway to Watkins Glen State Park in the Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York. As a child, I lived nearby for several years and had been to the park with my family, but I had forgotten how truly breathtaking its gorge hikes are. Since it’s just a 3.5-hour drive from our home in the Lehigh Valley (or a 4-hour drive from Philadelphia), it is the perfect destination for a convenient yet unforgettable long weekend outdoors.

The park offers three main trails: Gorge Trail, Indian Trail, or South Rim Trail. Indian Trail and South Rim Trail take you along the forested top of the gorge, offering a look down at the landscape below. If you pick up Indian Trail, part of your hike will cross an 85-foot-long suspension bridge above the creek. 

Hiking Gorge Trail—which is what we chose to do—takes you along Glen Creek, where you will see stunning landscapes, water sculpted rock formations, and nineteen cascading waterfalls. Gorge Trail is only about 1.5 miles long, but boasts 800 stone steps. Steep or not, this trail is worth the hike!

You can walk behind two of Gorge Trail’s waterfalls: Cavern Cascade and Rainbow Falls. (Make sure you have extra shoes and a change of clothes for your kids because if your children are anything like mine, they will have fun getting wet from standing under the waterfalls!) Another notable waterfall is the Central Cascade, which is the largest in the gorge at more than 60 feet high. At Spiral Gorge, you can cross Mile Point Bridge to take Indian Trail or continue on the Gorge Trail for the remaining ½ mile hike along a quiet and serene section of the stream. At the end, you will walk up the final 180 steps named Jacob’s Ladder. This takes you directly to the Upper Entrance where there are restrooms, picnic tables, and a playground. Once at the top, most people turn around and come back, but you also have the option of taking a shuttle bus back to the Main Entrance, when it is available.

We opted not to bring our baby carrier since we really have a hard time keeping 18-month-old Miles content in it anymore. We alternated between carrying him and letting him walk, which worked out just fine. He loved climbing the stairs, walking through dark passageways with dripping water while listening to our voices echo, and watching the waterfalls. Lucas  had no problem hiking the entire Gorge Trail and back. He enjoyed reading the various signs posted along the trail, revealing facts about the gorge. Remind your kids to walk, not run, since most parts of the gorge are wet and the shale can be slippery.

Hiking Watkins Glen is a good half day hike. The park is much less crowded early in the morning and late in the day. There is a picnic area at both the Main Entrance and the Upper Entrance but you can find plenty of family friendly restaurants in the town of Watkins Glen. 

To fill out your long weekend in the area, consider stopping by Farm Sancutary, a beautiful 175-acre shelter for rescued farm animals. Other nearby state parks for hiking and camping are the Robert H. Treman State Park, Buttermilk Falls State Park, Newtown Battlefield State Park and Taughannock Falls State Park. If you choose to walk the gorge at Taughannock Falls, make sure you cross NY-89 and spend some time on the beaches of Cayuga Lake. This portion of the park has designated swimming areas with life guards, areas for skipping rocks, and an enormous playground for your kids to play on. For more information on any of these state parks, visit www.nysparks.com


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