Looking to enjoy the beautiful rock gorges and waterfalls at Watkins Glen State Park NY without the huge crowds? Watkins Glen Falls NY is the most scenic stop in the Finger Lakes region.
It is also the most crowded. In this guide, long-time full-time US travelers and avid hikers share their secrets to avoiding crowds when visiting Watkins Glen Falls.
- Watkins Glen State Park features breathtaking landscapes, including a stream, cliffs, and 19 waterfalls.
- The Gorge Trail is the park’s most famous and crowded trail.
- Avoid crowds by hiking the Gorge Trail from the back of the park to the entrance, visiting during the last couple of hours before closing, and avoiding the weekends.
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There are 11 lakes that make up the Finger Lakes Region. These finger-shaped lakes were formed by glaciers that scraped across the land. An aerial view of Central New York shows why these lakes look like fingers.
They left behind beautiful rock canyons and impressive waterfalls. Watkins Glen State Park is at the tip of one of the largest of the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake.
Why Is Watkins Glen So Crowded?
The reason Watkins Glen NY is so spectacular is the amount of gorgeous scenery packed into one short hike.
This scenic 2 miles boasts 11 waterfalls inside of a 200-foot tall rock gorge!
Chances are you learned about this park by stumbling upon some of the Watkins Glen State Park photos.
Our family found a photo of a Watkins Glen waterfall and the Watkins Glen gorge and we knew we had to travel here in our RV.
You can see why this park is so popular. In fact, Watkins Glen falls was voted in the top 3 US State Parks.
It feels more crowded though because hiking at Watkins Glen is limited in space inside the rock canyon. Plus this one hike is what everyone is there to see.
The things to do in Watkins Glen are limited so everyone is packed into this one main gorge corridor.
Trust us though, this hike is worth it! And I have a SECRET below to skip the crowds.
Important Things To Know For Your Visit To Watkins Glen State Park
Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks, renowned for its 19 waterfalls and stunning natural beauty.
Located at the south end of Seneca Lake in Schuyler County, New York, Watkins Falls NY offers various recreational activities amidst a remarkable landscape.
To access Watkins Glen State Park, use the main entrance located in the village of Watkins Glen.
This entrance leads to the main parking area and provides easy access to the park’s day-use areas, gorge trails, and the park’s Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Within Watkins Glen State Park, you’ll find several facilities to enhance your visit, such as:
- Picnic Areas: Enjoy a meal surrounded by the park’s beauty at one of the designated picnic spots.
- Playgrounds: Children can have fun at the modern playgrounds available within the park.
- Swimming Pool: Cool off during hot summer days in the Olympic-sized pool and keep an eye on your little ones in the kiddie pool.
- Hiking Trails: Hiking is the best Watkins Glen things to do. Check out the Gorge Trail as it winds over and under waterfalls and alongside towering cliffs.
- Campground: Watkins Glen State Park camping reservations must be made in advance. No walk up campsites are available.
Admission and Fees
There’s an entrance fee for Watkins Glen State Park, which covers vehicle use and access to recreational areas:
- Vehicle Use Fee: A $10 per vehicle fee is required for access to day-use areas and facilities.
- Shuttle Fee: The shuttle is $6 per person each way and runs daily between the 3 park entrances during the peak season and on weekends during the spring and fall.
- Camping Fee: Overnight camping at Watkins Glen State Park costs $18-30. Out of state residents also pay a fee of $5 per night.
- Rustic Cabins: The cost to stay in a cabin is $58 per night with a 3 night minimum. Out of state residents also pay an extra $7 per night.
Visit the New York State Parks website for current fee rates and information on purchasing an Empire Passport for unlimited access to state parks for $80 per year.
Operating Hours And Seasons
Watkins Glen State Park is open daily from dawn to dusk, however some areas and facilities may have specific hours or be closed during certain seasons.
Check the park’s website before planning your visit to check current hours, facility availability, and any temporary restrictions.
The state park is open year round but the Gorge Trail opens seasonally around May 20th and closes for the year in mid to late October.
The campground has a similar operating season as the Gorge Trail. Check the website for updated campground dates of operation.
Hiking Watkins Glen Falls
The most scenic part of the hike is the 3-mile round trip Gorge Trail.
This trail is the one that goes through the gorge, under waterfalls, next to waterfalls like the popular Watkins Glen State Park Rainbow Falls, and alongside the rock pools.
The Gorge Trail is a stone and gravel path with lots of stairs. It is often wet and muddy so wear sturdy shoes with good traction that can get wet.
The elevation gain is about 500 feet and the trail takes 2-3 hours to finish depending on how often you stop to take photos.
The Indian Trail is the trail that is over the rim of the gorge. It is less scenic but also more flat for people that have issues with stairs.
Many people choose to go out on one of the trails and return on the other one creating a 3-mile loop.
There are also a couple of small offshoot trails including one with a suspension bridge over the gorge that is fun.
Keep reading to find out the BEST way to combine the two trails.
Notable Gorge Trail Waterfalls
Throughout your hike, you’ll encounter numerous remarkable waterfalls. Some highlights worth mentioning include:
- Cavern Cascade: This waterfall is unique as it allows you to walk behind it!
- Rainbow Falls: The most iconic spot in the park, Rainbow Falls Watkins Glen is a must-see for any visitor to the Gorge Trail.
- Central Cascade: This impressive fall marks the midpoint of the trail and offers stunning views.
Make sure to explore other waterfalls along the trail to fully experience the beauty of Watkins Glen State Park.
Watkins Glen Gorge Trail Safety
While enjoying your hike through the gorge, remember to prioritize safety. A few essential tips to help ensure a pleasant experience:
- Wear sturdy, non-slip shoes to navigate the stone staircases and wet paths.
- Stay on marked trails and don’t venture too close to cliff edges.
- Keep a close eye on children and consider using a child carrier for toddlers.
- Check the weather forecast before starting your hike, and avoid the trail during storms or other hazardous conditions.
- Dogs are not allowed in the gorge area of the park.
With these tips, you’ll have an unforgettable experience exploring the pools, narrows, and majestic waterfalls of Watkins Glen State Park.
Don’t Make This Common Mistake At Watkins Glen State Park
If you arrive at the Watkins Glen waterfalls at the wrong time of day or without a plan, this place can look more like a tourist trap!
It can be hard to enjoy the scenery through the mobs of people.
The biggest mistake people make when visiting the park is to arrive when it first opens for the day. So many people recommend that the best time to visit Watkins Glen is early in the morning.
Don’t fall into this trap! While this may be good advice for some locations, it is dead wrong at Watkins Glen falls.
Everyone shows up early also trying to beat the crowds and you can quickly see by the parking lot that this is a mistake.
No worries! Read on for your PERFECT PLAN to avoid the crowds.
Your Crowd Free Plan To Watkins Glen Falls
The least crowded and best time to visit Watkins Glen State Park is actually the last 2-3 hours the park is open for the day. Another bonus to visiting later, is avoiding the heat.
Here is your perfect plan:
1) Go on a weekday if possible
2) Arrive 2 1/2 hours before the park closes
3) Spend the first hour hiking OUT along the rim on the Indian Trail
4) Spend the last 1 1/2 hours hiking BACK via the Gorge Trail
The Gorge Trail is the best of the best, and this puts you on it the last hour of the day when there are hardly any crowds!!!
This also allows you to head down all the stairs in the Gorge Trail because the return is downhill. Double win!
Best Time To Go To Watkins Glen State Park To Avoid Crowds
While the best time of day to hike the Watkins Glen Gorge Trail is before the park closes for the day, when is the best time of year or day of the week to visit?
Watkins Glen, New York, in the fall, is incredible. Not only are the temperatures perfect for hiking and outdoor activities, but the fall foliage in the Finger Lakes region is spectacular.
The Watkins Falls area is much less crowded as well during the fall season. Just make sure to check the operating dates as the Gorge Trail closes in mid to late October each year.
What about the days of the week? The Watkins Glen State Park best time to visit to avoid crowds is always a weekday.
Weekends can be a circus at this state park. Fall weekdays can be a tranquil and beautiful time to soak in the beauty of this special place.
Watkins Glen State Park Camping To Avoid Crowds
A little-known pro tip is to stay in the Watkins Glen State Park campground to avoid crowds.
This gives you access to walk over and hike the Gorge Trail at sunrise before anyone else starts to show up for the day.
Not into camping but still want early access to the park for hiking and outdoor activities?
They also have rustic cabins available for rental with a 3-night minimum.
It can be extremely tricky to get reservations in this popular campground. Make sure to grab our FREE GUIDE to snag all of our tips for snagging state park camping reservations.
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Where To Stay Near Watkins Glen State Park NY
Looking for places to stay close to the Watkins Glen Falls? Here are a few great options.
Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel sits right on the water with beautiful views. It is also only a few miles from the waterfalls.
The Idlewild Inn is the best pick for a charming an unique place to stay. This historic property with breakfast is one of a kind!
Visiting in your RV? Check out the big rig friendly Finger Lakes RV Resort.
FAQs Watkins Glen Falls NY
How many waterfalls are in Watkins Glen State Park?
Watkins Glen State Park has 19 impressive waterfalls that cascade down the stream and rock formations. You’ll want to take your time exploring them along the park’s gorge hiking trails.
What is the best time to visit Watkins Glen State Park?
The best time to visit Watkins Glen State Park to avoid crowds is during the spring, and fall months on a weekday, when the weather is pleasant and the park is more peaceful.
What is the Watkins Glen Gorge Trail difficulty?
The most popular trail in Watkins Glen, the Gorge Trail, is rated as moderate in difficulty, with an elevation gain of around 500 feet. Be prepared for some stair climbing and uneven terrain.
How much does it cost to get into Watkins Glen State Park?
The cost to get into Watkins Glen State Park is $10 per vehicle. Pedestrians and cyclists can enter the park for free. The optional park shuttle costs $6 per person each way.
How much time do you need at Watkins Glen State Park?
Allow plenty of time at Watkins Glen State Park to hike the Gorge Trail. This trail offers the best waterfalls experience and is approximately 3 miles round trip with an estimated hiking time of around 2 to 3 hours, depending on how often you stop to admire the waterfalls.
Does it cost money to get into Watkins Glen State Park?
It costs $10 per vehicle to get into Watkins Glen State Park. However, there is no charge for pedestrians and cyclists to enter the park.
Can you swim in the waterfalls at Watkins Glen State Park?
There is no swimming allowed in the waterfalls or gorge area of Watkins Glen State Park. The park does have an Olympic size swimming pool included in the park entrance fee that is open seasonally.
Which entrance is best for Watkins Glen State Park?
The best entrance for Watkins Glen State Park is the main entrance at 1009 N. Franklin St. This is the location of the largest parking area, the gift shop, and the area to board the shuttle.
How much does it cost to camp at Watkins Glen State Park?
The cost to camp at Watkins Glen State Park ranges from $18 to $30 per night. There is also a $5 per night fee for out-of-state guests.
How long is the hike at Watkins Glen State Park?
The most popular hike at Watkins Glen State Park is the 3-mile round trip Gorge Trail. This is the best trail for viewing the park’s waterfalls. The hike gains 500 feet of elevation and can take around 2-3 hours.
Can you walk into Watkins Glen State Park?
You can walk into Watkins Glen State Park for free as a pedestrian. The park is open from dawn until dusk however some parts of the park, such as the gorge area, are only open seasonally.
Will You Try These Secrets To Avoid Crowds At Watkins Glen Falls NY?
I hope this article has inspired you to enjoy the stunning scenery and unique geology of Watkins Glen without dealing with all of the crowds.
Have you ever traveled to Watkins Glen State Park? Was it crazy crowded? Please leave me a comment! I would love to hear about your experiences.
Are you also headed to nearby Vermont on your trip? Check out: 7 Fun Things To Do Near Stowe Vermont.
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Enjoy your adventure detour!
Scott and Van of The Adventure Detour are travel writers focusing on RV travel, family outdoor travel, national parks travel, and hiking. They have been full-time RV living and traveling across the US since 2015. In 8 years of full-time RVing, they have visited 38 national parks so far with the ultimate goal to see them all. They work as digital nomads while roadschooling their daughter nicknamed Sissy. On the way to all 50 states, they have visited and hiked through 42 states so far. The travel bucket list is forever growing!