With stunning waterfalls and an incredible uphill climb, the Watkins Glen Gorge trail is a perfect place to explore for families. Below we are sharing what you need to know about visiting Watkins Glen State Park with kids and how to plan an awesome family day out.
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We had an opportunity to spend a weekend in Watkins Glen earlier this summer and I really loved it. The gorge trail at Watkins Glen state park is stunning and unique. It is one of my favorite New York state parks, and for good reason.
The two mile hike will have you viewing 19 waterfalls and twisting under waterfalls and through caverns. You will get a bit wet on this hike! The gorge was formed by glaciers moving through the area and created an incredible park.
We first visited as a family of five in 2016. Our kids were 8, 6, and 4. They did really well with the hike, and I was determined to visit again.
Finally we made it back in 2020! A lot has changed in 2020, but the gorge trail at Watkins Glen park was still the amazing view I remember.
Watkins Glen Gorge Trail Details
Watkins Glen is open year round. There is camping, a playground, a picnic area, hiking trails, a pool, and a gift shop.
Watkins Glen Gorge Trail is not open in the winter months. The state park is open.
Update: Watkins Glen Gorge Trail will open May 15th. The Gorge Trail will be open to one-way travel to Mile Point with visitors returning via the North Rim Trail. Masks are required if you can’t socially distance.
Check the New York State website for the most up to date information.
Where is Watkins Glen State Park
Watkins Glen state park is located in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State. It is about a 90 minute drive from Rochester, making it an awesome day trip!
- From Rochester, NY: 82.9 miles
- From Syracuse, NY: 91.2 miles
- From Buffalo, NY: 146 miles
- From Albany, NY: 218 miles
Best Time to Visit Watkins Glen
The best time to visit Watkins Glen depends on two things: weather and crowds. The weather in Watkins Glen is typical to New York state and varies with the seasons.
On our visit in late June there was a big rain storm in the morning. We ended up arriving later in the day to hike the gorge and it was very wet. It some spots there were large puddles to walk through.
You will also want to consider the weather during the colder months. The state park is open year round but the gorge trail is closed in the winter months or due to weather conditions. Always check the website before you visit.
Crowds at Watkins Glen can make it difficult to take your time and stop along the hike. The best time to visit is during the week and early in the morning. Weekends are busier. If you visit during the weekend consider arriving early.
Related Post: Best Hiking in Rochester, NY with Kids
What to Bring to Hike Watkins Glen Gorge Trail
The hike itself is not very long. It is about 1.5 mile up and 1.5 mile down. They also offer a trolley, during certain times of the year, that can take you up or down. The shuttle cost $5.00 each way per person.
This can add up for a family of five and we always plan on walking. If you have small children pace yourself on the hike. There is no need to rush and we often find a small space to stop for a quick snack recharge.
I suggest packing a water bottle, small snack, and good walking shoes. You can find these items on my amazon affiliate page. Most of the trail is shaded but you may want sunglasses, hat, and sunscreen for extra protection. Also depending on the weather you may need a jacket.
Activities at Watkins Glen State Park
The Gorge Trail hike at Watkins Glen is the big draw for people visiting the NY state park but you can plan a fun family day together by packing a picnic and exploring the other areas of the park.
There is also a swimming pool at the park open from July-September. Hours vary but typically start at noon through 6:00pm.
If you are looking for New York State inspired gifts check out the gift shop located at the bottom entrance of the gorge trail.
Hiking the gorge trail is a must and I highly suggest going up the trail first. This is where you will experience the best views and get the most difficult part of the hike done first.
As you hike you will cross bridges, climb twisting stair cases, and walk behind waterfalls. Currently guests are asked to climb up the gorge trail and down the Indian trail to promote social distancing.
We really liked this because it provided more space on the narrow trails and allowed us to move at our own pace. Plus you get to experience two different trails.
Where to Stay at Watkins Glen State Park
Watkins Glen State Park has an on-site camping area that offers cabins and tent sites. No walk up camping is accepted and reservations are highly recommended. Check here.
There are also various hotels to stay locally in Watkins Glen. We stayed at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel and it is within walking distance (.5 mile) to the state park. It also sits along Seneca Lake making it a nice choice for a weekend getaway.
Check prices for area hotels here.
Tips for Visiting Watkins Glen State Park
- Parking is available at the bottom of the gorge trail. There is a daily fee for parking.
- Vehicle entrance fee that includes the pool is $10.00.
- Be prepared to hike up stairs and in slippery conditions. Although the hike is moderate length you will need to be able to climb stairs.
- Take your time to take in all the waterfalls along the way.
- Bring water for your hike.
- Plan your visit around the weather and dress accordingly.
- Plan to visit early when possible to avoid crowds.
- The trail is not stroller friendly. If you have young children consider a carrier for your hike.
- Pets are allowed at the park but not on the gorge trail.
- Restrooms are available near the gift shop and at various locations, but not along the gorge trail.
Overall Watkins Glen Gorge trail is a must visit for anyone visiting the Finger Lakes region. It is perfect for families looking to explore outdoors and enjoy a family day out.
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