The Best Watkins Glen State Park Family Guide

If you’re looking for a fun, mesmerizing nature experience for your family to enjoy, then Watkins Glen State Park is the place. You’ll find yourself surrounded by amazing rock formations and numerous gorgeous waterfalls. So check out this guide now and find out how our family enjoyed the park and how you can too.

This post may contain affiliate links and I may earn a small commission when you purchase from the links at no additional cost to you.


Watkins Glen State Park is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York state. It can be accessed from state route 14 which runs north and south. From Interstate 86 you can take either state route 414 up to 14 or 14 directly into Watkins Glen and the main entrance.

You could also take 414 to 16 to 17 to enter from the south entrance.

If you’re coming in from the north then State Route 14 will take you to the main entrance. From 14 you could also take Old Corning Road which will bring you around to the south entrance.


There are a couple of options for parking. Near the main entrance are the main lots off of North Franklin Street. There is also a lot near the upper entrance off of 409 and there is a south entrance. There are restroom facilities and picnic areas near the upper and south entrances as well as a swimming pool at the south entrance.


The hike isn’t especially challenging so bringing the basics will be good enough.

Good shoes. There are 19 waterfalls so the mist from the falls keeps the trail wet in some spots. If you visit after a rainfall, there will be plenty of puddles so wear something that doesn’t slip and has a good sole.

Hiking boots. Depending on the time of year, you may go with boots. The Gorge Trail path is paved stone so boots aren’t necessary there, but you may want them for other trails in the park. 

You don’t have to worry much about extreme cold because the Gorge Trail is only open from May to November.

Hoodie. It can be cool at times in the gorge especially if you come early in the day or during spring and fall.

Backpack. Traveling with a family means that you always need to be prepared, but being able to carry some basic supplies and snacks is helpful

Water bottle. Once you’re on the trail, there are no facilities available so you need to bring what you need. Even though the trail wasn’t exceptionally long, we did a lot of stopping and enjoying the scenery. Make sure you have enough water to last.

For a detailed packing list for your visit to Watkins Glen State Park, click here.


Gorge Trail

The Gorge Trail is 1.5 miles of pure beauty. The trail starts near the main entrance to the park and goes all the way to the Upper Entrance at the Jacob’s Ladder staircase at the west end of the park. 

As you make your way through the trail you’ll encounter 19 waterfalls of varying sizes and heights. Some of these waterfalls you will be able to walk behind. 

The entire trail is paved stone so you don’t have to worry about getting too muddy, however, there are several stairs and some parts are uneven. 

Though there are stairs (a total of 800) and a couple of long staircases they’re spread out so that as you’re walking and stopping you won’t notice how many there are.

The trail is suitable for people who aren’t used to hiking as well as children. 

There are restroom facilities at the entrances, but once you’re out on the trail, there is nothing there. So you’ll want to be completely sure that you use the facilities upon the start of your hike. 

It’s also a good idea to make sure that you have sufficient water and some snacks.

The trail is both covered by the walls of the gorge and open to sunlight in parts. You’ll be traversing staircases, open walkways, going through tunnels, and crossing bridges all the while surrounded by the magnificent gorge while walking alongside Glen Creek.

Some of the highlights include Cavern Cascade where you can walk behind the waterfall, Central Cascade, and Rainbow Falls.

Other Trails in the Park

Even though the Gorge Trail is the main event, there are other trails within the park. The South Rim trail extends the length of the Gorge Trail just above the gorge. There are a few points when you access the Gorge Trail including the suspension bridge (which takes you over to the Indian Trail) and Couches Staircase.

The North Rim Trail also known as the Indian Trail is a dirt trail that also follows the gorge and is 1.1 miles long. It stretches from the upper entrance down to the main entrance and stays on the north side of the creek. This trail doesn’t provide views of the gorge but is less crowded and will take you along the woods.

Park/Picnic Area

Both the upper entrance and the south entrance have picnic areas as well as a playground. These are nice areas and great for families. Getting something to eat right before you head out on the trail is good so that you’ll have fewer snacks to carry for the family. 

Our family was happy to take advantage of this area and had a nice relaxing picnic in a shaded area before we completed the Gorge Trail.


Near the playground and picnic area of the south entrance is the Olympic-sized swimming pool. There were several attentive lifeguards on duty as well a large well marked shallow end for less experienced swimmers to enjoy. Next to the main pool is a small kiddie pool for kids to play in. 

There are full changing rooms with lockers, showers, and restroom facilities. One for men and one for women. You can conveniently walk right from the changing area into the pool area.

We found that going for a nice swim was an excellent way to cap our day of hiking the trails and enjoying the sites. 


There are several places to stay within the town of Watkins Glen, but they are all smaller local motels and bed and breakfasts. If you want more familiar brands you’ll have to branch out to towns just south of the park like Corning, Painted Post, or Elmira.

They’re all about 30 minutes away and offer more traditional name-brand hotels like Hilton, Holiday Inn, Radisson, and Hampton Inn.

It’s fairly easy to reach the park from either of those towns. Depending on what town you’re in, you’ll take either 414 or 14 and it’s pretty much a straight shot.

We got a good deal on a Holiday Inn in Painted Post that included free breakfast, a swimming pool, and a room with a microwave and fridge. It was a great deal for a family.

There are also home sharing options nearby like VRBO and Airbnb. We find that they provide a bit more space for families. They allow for flexibility in the types of accommodations offered and can save money. Be sure to be prepared for your stay if you choose that option.


The best time to visit Watkins Glen State Park is on a weekday morning, preferably in the spring or fall. The weekends and summer can get busy.

Watkins Glen State Park is a major tourist attraction in a very popular part of New York State. People come from all over the country to enjoy the park so naturally, it can get quite crowded. This especially true on the Gorge Trail.

We visited on a Sunday morning in August and while it was crowded in spots (especially near the front) it didn’t detract from our experience. The most crowded it got was down the staircase through the tunnel to Cavern Cascade. There was a line and a wait to get through, but it wasn’t bad at all.

For the rest of the trail, we had no problems and the crowd thinned out quite a bit the further west we went, some stretches with almost no people at all.


Watkins Glen State Park is one of the most spectacular natural spots that I’ve ever visited. Our family was completely blown away by the natural beauty throughout the trail. But before you visit, make sure that you have what you need. Check out this article for some amazing backpacks to bring on your visit to Watkins Glen State Park.


  • Jeremiah Pittmon

    Jeremiah Pittmon is a published travel writer and photographer from Cleveland, Ohio. Passionate about exploring the world with his family, he finds inspiration in all types of travel. Through his blog,, and social media channels, he shares captivating experiences and valuable tips for families who love to travel.

    View all posts
The Best Watkins Glen State Park Family Guide
Scroll to Top