Waterfalls at Watkins Glen State Park
There are some hidden gems in New York and when you think of Watkins Glen you might think of racing without even knowing there's 19 waterfalls nearby. But right in the middle of the village there's a path leading through a 400-foot deep gorge past many waterfalls. The stone paths and bridges are very unique and merge nature and architecture quite nicely.
There are many things you can do at Watkins Glen State Park, but I'm going to focus on what brought me here: waterfalls and the Gorge Trail.
How do you get here?
First and foremost, I want to make sure that you know how to get here so that you can see it yourself.
There are a few different places you can choose to start your hike to the waterfalls, but I started at the Main Entrance. That is where I'm going to direct you.
You can actually see the bottom of the gorge from the main road before you turn into the park. You'll be parking near the Sentry Bridge that's pictured above.
Click THIS LINK to open a map to the Main Entrance. This will show you exactly where you want to go and you can even enter your address to get directions to the state park from your house.
Other Hikes in New York
See the Falls in Action
Now you can chose to read the text below and look at the pictures first or you can "hike" the Gorge Trail and Indian Trail through the video to the right.
Go ahead and park your car and walk past the snack bar and bathrooms to the other end of the parking lot. The Sentry Bridge, Entrance Cascade and Entrance Tunnel will soon come into view.
I'm sure you'll want to pause and soak up the scenery before you head into the tunnel and start your journey on the Gorge Trail.
You'll walk through the tunnel, up some stairs and find yourself on top of the Sentry Bridge.
Here you can look down at the 41 foot high Entrance Cascade as it crashes down below.
As you're standing on the Sentry Bridge, look to your right and you should see a hole in the rock across from you.
In the mid 1800's, there was a dam here and water passed through that hole, down a wooden trough and over a waterwheel for a flour mill near the main entrance.
As you continue on the path you can take a left up Couch's Staircase if you like (to go to the South Entrance and South Rim Trail) but I stayed on the Gorge Trail.
The path may be wet and narrow at some points but, other than walking up some steps, it's really not that difficult of a trail.
As you round the corner and continue walking, the next waterfall will start to come into view.
This 21 foot high waterfall is called Minnehaha Falls.
You can walk down some steps to get a closer look at the falls or continue on the path to view the crest from another set of steps.
At the latter position you should see the next waterfall in the distance.
The next waterfall you come to is unique because the path actually goes behind/under the waterfall.
So you can reach out and touch the water as it pours over if you want.
The Cavern Cascade seems to be one of the favorite waterfalls to take a picture of, so don't be surprised if you get a little held up here.
If it does happen to be crowded, you may start to wish you had come earlier in the day or on a weekday.
It really is quite the experience to walk behind a 50 foot high waterfall with a path so safely constructed behind it.
After you walk under the Cavern Cascade you'll come to a set of steps called Spiral Tunnel (they're spiral steps).
When you get to the top of the steps there's going to be a path to the right that we didn't take; this leads you up to the Point Lookout on Lover's Lane via the Cliff Path.
You can explore that on your way back, which is what we did. So just stay on the path when you get to the top of the stairs if you want to see the rest of the waterfalls.
As you continue walking you'll find yourself in a spot on the path they call The Narrows. The path doesn't get any narrower but the gorge definitely does. There's a nice shady, cool and wet micro-climate in this section of the gorge.
As you continue on the Gorge Trail you'll come to what they call the Glen Cathedral area.
This is where the gorge gets a lot wider and the climate dries back up.
Soon you'll make it to the highest waterfall in the gorge: Central Cascade.
This waterfall is over 60 feet high and the path crosses over the waterfall at its crest.
As you cross the nicely built stone bridge, you may want to stop to peer over the edge at the waterfall.
Or you can look on the other side of the bridge at the Glen of Pools; an area with many deep rounded out pools of water.
As you come to the end of the Glen of Pools, the water will start to deepen. As you round the corner, two waterfalls will come into view: Rainbow Falls and the Cascade at Rainbow Falls.
Rainbow Falls has a total drop of 95 feet and, like the Cavern Cascade, you can walk behind this waterfall too. They say on sunny days you can see rainbows reflected off the falls, but I didn't notice any the day I was there.
But don't let that waterfall distract you from the Cascade at Rainbow Falls. It's a 26 foot high photogenic waterfall that flows under one of the many stone bridges.
These two waterfalls, coupled together with the deep pools beneath, make for a prime spot to take a picture. From what I've seen, this is the most commonly photographed spot at Watkins Glen State Park.
Stick your hand out and feel the steady trickle of Rainbow Falls as you pass beneath it.
As you walk up the stairs and cross the bridge past Rainbow Falls, look back and you can see the water pouring down the moss covered rocks.
Continue forward on the path and you'll soon be in a part of the gorge they call Spiral Gorge.
It's most likely named this because of all the narrow twists and turns and sculptured pools in this part of the gorge.
As you come to the end of Spiral Gorge you'll see a small but picturesque waterfall called Pluto Falls.
It's only 9 feet high, but it's size doesn't take away from it's beauty.
Pause and take in the scenery at the falls before going up the steps.
As you continue on the Gorge Trail you'll soon come to the Mile Point Bridge. You have a few choices you can make at this point.
- You can continue forward to finish the gorge trail, as the stream gets a lot quieter, and head toward the Upper Entrance.
- You can take a right onto the Indian Trail to head toward the Upper Entrance or back to the Main Entrance.
- Or, you can take a left onto the South Rim Trail to head toward the South or Main Entrances.
I chose to take a right onto the Indian Trail and then another right to head back to the Main Entrance where my car was. This trail is very calm and quiet with a few lookout points for you to look down on the gorge below.
If the Gorge Trail was crowded for you, this will be a pleasant escape as you walk back.
You'll pass a trail shelter and a cemetery on your left before coming to the suspension bridge. Here you can walk across the gorge and see how deep it really is from a different perspective.
If you continue on the Indian Trail you'll come to the Point Lookout and a set of steps that will take you back down to the Gorge Trail right before the Spiral Tunnel. You should be able to find your way back out to the Main Entrance from here.
Been here before?
What's your favorite waterfall at Watkins Glen?
What else is there to do at Watkins Glen State Park?
If the gorge and its waterfalls don't interest you, there's a lot more you can do at Watkins Glen.
There are campgrounds with picnic areas, playgrounds and bathrooms.
I've heard that there's good fishing in nearby bodies of water (Seneca Lake & Catherine Creek) and there's even a swimming pool near the South Entrance!
It doesn't matter what brings you to the area, whether it's racing, nature or just passing through, I think you'd benefit from a hike up the Gorge Trail.
So whenever you get a chance, head to Watkins Glen State Park and enjoy the greener side of New York.