The village of Watkins Glen, about one and a half hours southeast of Rochester at the southern tip of Seneca Lake, is an ideal day-trip destination. Watkins Glen State Park‘s 1.5-mile-long gorge is at the heart of the village, a truly breathtaking and awe-inspiring showcase of nature’s beauty.
While the park features a well-maintained walking path through the gorge, it is neither a leisurely stroll nor ADA-accessible. The journey through the glen encompasses a 520-foot elevation change navigable by 800 stone steps, bridges, tunnels, and straightaways, often wet with spray from 19 waterfalls.
Three parking areas are available: the Main, South, and Upper Lots. The Main Lot, on North Franklin Street, is home to the visitor center and located at the bottom of the glen. The South Lot, which I consider the “middle” lot, is where you can find the swimming pool. And the Upper Lot is at the top of the gorge.
A $6 per person cash-only shuttle serves all three parking lots on weekends from Memorial Day to Independence Day, then daily until Labor Day, and then again on weekends until mid-October.
No matter where you park, you can still choose whether to walk up the steps through the gorge or down. Follow the rim trail or take the shuttle to reach your optimal gorge trail starting point. And if you decide not to walk end-to-end (three miles round trip), you can exit the gorge at any of the three lots and take the shuttle or rim trails back to your car.
I suggest parking in the Main Lot, then walking up through the gorge and assessing how you feel when you reach Cascade Cavern, about one-third of the way through the gorge. You can exit the trail at the Suspension Bridge or at Mile Point bridge to reach the South Lot, or continue to the Upper Lot.
Plan Your Day Trip to Watkins Glen
If you arrive at Watkins Glen State Park early, you should be able to find parking in the Main Lot. The gorge is cool and refreshing on hot days, and there are a few areas where you can put your hand (or even your head!) under a waterfall. However, swimming is not allowed in the gorge. Instead, an Olympic-sized swimming pool near the Middle Lot is open from mid-June to Labor Day for those looking to cool off.
There are dozens of places to dine in the village. North Franklin Street is a great place to start your search, or you can try some of our top picks, like Nickel’s Pit BBQ, Rooster Fish Brewing Pub, and El Rancho Mexican Restaurant.
Captain Bill’s on Seneca Lake offers a 50-minute sightseeing cruise onboard the Seneca Spirit. After the cruise, head to Graft Wine + Cider Bar, Upstate Brewing Company, or Seneca Cheese Company for a tasting. While exploring the area, check out the historical marker across from the Schuyler County Courthouse that marks the start/finish line of the revived 1948 American road race. Grab a sweet treat from Colonial Inn and Creamery or Great Escape Ice Cream Parlor.
Fun fact, on days when the racetrack is open to the public, visitors can Drive the Glen in their own car or truck for two laps around the 3.4-mile Grand Prix circuit behind a paced vehicle and take a photo at the finish line.
Seneca Harbor Park is a beautiful place to enjoy a sunset stroll. You can take a leisurely walk down the pier for a photo in front of the iconic Seneca Lake sign.
Opening Weekend at The Glen
Drive your own vehicle on the track and experience one of the most iconic circuits in the world. Proceeds benefit the RACE Foundation.
This free, family-friendly event takes place the Saturday before Father’s Day and features a parade of creative cardboard boats, live music, delicious food, and shopping in the park.
Finger Lakes Wine Festival
With nearly 100 New York State wineries represented, this event is an excellent opportunity to taste and purchase a variety of wines. Besides wine tasting, the showcase also features entertainment, shopping, wine seminars, and culinary classes.
Grand Prix Festival
Celebrate Watkins Glen’s rich racing history throughout this annual street festival. Featuring over 600 vintage cars alongside vendors and musicians, enjoy a late-afternoon reenactment of America’s first post–World War II road race that sparked a new passion for auto racing.
Google Map of Locations
Day Trips Around Rochester, New York: The Book!
paperback • ebook • audiobook
You may also enjoy:
Where are your favorite places to visit in Watkins Glen?
Your insights and experiences are valuable. Please share them in the comments.