Exploring Watkins Glen State Park with Plant-Smart Living

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One of the most beautiful and easy to miss natural wonders on the East Coast of the United States is Watkins Glen State Park. A member of our Plant Smart Living team took two trips up to see the beautiful gorge within the span of a few months, and brought back a few stories and photographs to share.

First, a brief intro of what you can expect from this unique national park according to NY State Parks:

“Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks, with a reputation for leaving visitors spellbound. Within two miles, the glen’s stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls along its course. The gorge path winds over and under waterfalls and through the spray of Cavern Cascade. Rim trails overlook the gorge. Campers and day-visitors can enjoy the Olympic-size pool, scheduled summer tours through the gorge, tent and trailer campsites, picnic facilities and excellent fishing in nearby Seneca Lake or Catherine Creek, which is renowned for it’s annual spring run of rainbow trout. In 2015, the park was chosen from more than 6,000 state parks across the nation as a nominee in the USA Today Readers’ Choice Poll for Best State Park in the United States, and won third place.”

Rarely do places we visit live up to the hype. As I overheard from some other folks visiting Watkins Glen, many were on their way up to Canada to see the always famous Niagara Falls. In short, many families take the trip through upstate New York as a part of the “waterfall tour” as some would call it. There are many water falls located throughout NY, which may be overlooked easily if you didn’t bother to do a little bit of research.

A view of the entrance to Watkins Glen!

A view of the entrance to Watkins Glen!

Aside from the gorge, a quick 30 minute car ride over to Ithaca gives you a great view of some larger water falls hidden away. While there is an implication that Watkins Glen is heavily traveled, most of the time is doesn’t feel to overcrowded (unlike Niagara!). If you go in the middle of the summer (as we did our first time), there will be quite a few people, but I don’t think it will spoil your experience. We returned in late August and found there were few people around. One of the unique and standout features of Watkins Glen is that it seemed to renew my childish senses. While burdened with stress from my job and every day life, this mini-vacation helped renew my mind and gave me pleasure in nature which is so often overlooked during a 40+ hour work week.

My immediate thought upon entering the parking lot and seeing the from view of the gorge, a giant rock wall carved away by years of erosion and a lower water level, was that this felt like a page right out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The sheer scale of the place is something that I stood back and felt awe as a result of.

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Watkins Glen turned out to be one of the few places where the artificial, man-made touches actually complimented the otherwise organically created scenery. While the stunning entryway was massive in scale, upon walking up the first flight of stairs and getting the first full view of the place, in it’s serenity and natural sounds, I instantly was reminded of the mythical fantasy city of Rivendell (also from Lord of the Rings, can you sense a trend to my experience?). The rock walls were cut by a once flowing river of water creating the unique appearance, and this is complimented by the small pools of water and 19 waterfalls that mark the glens’ territory.

Please bare in mind that because of the constant streams of water, this is not always the safest walk for those who are not the most steady on their feet. We saw quite a few people struggling with the stairs (of which there are many), and oddly enough parents carrying small children. While it’s a beautiful place, let’s all use some common sense before thinking to explore it.

Some scenery in the wooded hiking area at Watkins Glen!

Some scenery in the wooded hiking area at Watkins Glen!

The actual walk is about a mile in length to see the 19 waterfalls. There is additional area to walk along where it is very level, but there are not many unique features outside of this mile area. With that said, given the constant flow of stairs and people, it will likely feel like you are walking more than a mile.

We captured quite a few great photos to show off the scenery. Truly, no amount of words I write could really capture the scale of this place and the visceral feeling I had while standing inside of it. I am always attracted to places where I feel small relative to everything around me, and this is no exception. Hopefully these pictures help you feel like you have been pulled into the fantasy world like I was.

The difference in the landscape was substantial between the middle of summer and fall. The foliage is much more vibrant during the summer and appears to really encompass the gorge, while during fall (at least the point where I went), many leaves had fallen off the trees already and left the gorge feeling somewhat barren. Still beautiful, but I’d have to recommend going during the summer months for the best experience!

A quick glimpse of the storm clouds we ran into on the way home. We got stuck in the eye of the storm, but it was quite a beautiful thing in retrospect!

A quick glimpse of the storm clouds we ran into on the way home. We got stuck in the eye of the storm, but it was quite a beautiful thing in retrospect!