I finally got to travel somewhere in 2020 ! Ok ok, it’s not exactly like Paris or Costa Rica. But hey, I got to get away from the city for a bit and enjoy nature. That’s always a win-win. Here we go, to Watkins Glen!
Now why Watkins Glen? Well, why not? It’s been on my radar for quite a while as a nice hiking option complete with natural gorges and waterfalls, but dang that 4 hour drive was keeping it on the back burner. Since COVID happened, I might as well explore my home state and finally take that hike.
After getting settled in our motel, we explored the town, got to know the surroundings before hiking the next day. We saw many small businesses along the main road, N/S Franklin St, lined with few shops that seem to be closed permanently (probably from covid) and most of the open ones were restaurants. On the sidewalks were plaques commemorating race car drivers. We learned the town is a big Nascar hub, hosting annual races and even has a museum dedicated to the field (International Motor Racing Research Center). It wasn’t my cup of tea, but interesting nonetheless.
On our walkabout, we found the south entrance to Watkins Glen park — did a quick look around – signs explaining the park’s history, including that the area was once under a mile-high sheet of ice thousands of years ago. How interesting!
So there’s no fee to enter the park itself, which is a big plus. However, if you want to park near the entrance, it’ll cost you $8.00. I thought, “Yeah, no way. Call me a cheapo.” Especially, because across the street is a residential area where there’s plenty of spots, and get this my city dwellers, no alternate side parking!
Now, aside from Watkins Glen State Park, Seneca Lake is also a local attraction, with its marina, multiple seafood restaurants, lake cruises and kayaking. I had read about an area where people can go swimming. Due to time constraints of our stay, I thought we could at least swim a bit at some point. Since it was only a few minutes from the park, we decided to do some more recon. To our disappointment, we saw the Beach Closed sign. Oh well, better make the most of this then. There was a pier-like path made of huge flat rocks jutting into the lake. We sat at the end of it, dipping our feet into the cool waters and watched the glorious sunset. Not a bad way to end the day.
Alright! After scarfing down breakfast, off we went to the park – armed with my camera, some water and a couple oranges. Looking at the trail map, I was a little intimidated that the main Gorge trail (1.6 miles) was marked for “moderate” level hikers, considering I haven’t done any kind of exercise in months! Ah, we’ll see how it goes…
The Gorge Trail
It was sunny and hot that day but the trail provided many shady spots for relief. Thank goodness because there were many steps to get to the top of the glen, 832 steps! At least that’s what my souvenir magnet told me. How hard could it be? Families with small kids were doing it. Speaking of families, we were surprised to see so many show up. From our initial quick-look the day before, we thought this site is not too well known or visited. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to wear our masks most of the time and maintain social distance but yeah, that was not happening.
The trail, perfectly built into the gorge, using presumably local stones for the walls, gave the appearance as if nature herself had put it there. (Also providing photo ops that even this amateur can pull off). It led to our first waterfall at Cavern Cascade where the path led underneath the falls itself. Hooray! I got to touch the falls! Let me tell you, after feeling cooped up for months in a city setting, this little contact with natural energy felt awesome . Feeling energized and refreshed after the first waterfall, I couldn’t wait to see the rest of this place. 832 steps in this place? Let’s go!
And here’s Rainbow Falls, a popular photo op for all who pass through. Seems it was named so, when someone noticed how the rocks at the bottom of the falls reflected all sorts of colors and subsequently made an oil painting of it ( The artist name escapes me but it can be found on one of the panels at the entrance of the park ).
The trail is actually not so bad. Yes there are many steps but it’s not continuous, with intermittent flat areas to take it easy. I’ve read that there are 19 waterfalls to admire along the way. From what I could tell the Cavern Cascade and the Rainbow Falls are the most prominent, with the rest of them being of variously smaller sizes.
As with other trails we’ve been on, we came across several prayer stone tributes.
After this point it was mostly downhill, which made things easy-peasy. The trail took us about 2.5 hours, walking at a comfortable pace. Not bad for novice hikers. Having conquered our mission, we treated ourselves at the local ice cream parlor with its suitable name.
After having dinner at the Village Marina (which included some of the greasiest sweet potatoes and onions ever), we then set off we for Seneca Lake to take in another sunset. We took our spot at the end of the stone pier.
After a little while, a few teens came by…to go swim in the lake. Guess the Beach Closed sign doesn’t mean much around here. Oh, to be young and carefree…And it’s no wonder. They waded about 20 feet off the pier into the water and the water was still at waist level! So risk of drowning was slim to none. Ok, noted for next time.
Watkins Glen is a wonderful little getaway from the city. With easy access to the natural beauty of the park and waterfalls as well as Seneca Lake, I felt refreshed and recharged for the coming work week. There’s so much more do here. Perhaps next time, we’ll go kayaking or take one of the lake cruises. Good to know this New York gem is only a few hours away.