Road Trip Destination: Watkins Glen – It’s A Magical Place

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The Village of Watkins Glen is well known for its auto racing history, hosting the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen rock festival back in 1973 (setting a world record with it’s 600,000 person attendance) and it’s uniquely beautiful and photogenic State Park.

Watkins Glen - It's A Magical Place

Village of Watkins Glen Waterfront area

Situated at the south end of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, Watkins Glen is an easy 5 or so hour drive from Toronto that takes you through some of the historic (War of 1812) towns, villages and hamlets of that can be found in Upper New York State.

Sunrise over Seneca Lake

Seneca Lake Sunrise – Watkins Glen Waterfront

Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen Parking Lot and Main Entrance

Main Parking Area and Entrance to the Gorge

The 778-acre State Park, located along the main street, just south of the Village’s downtown area was first opened to the public in 1863 as a private tourist resort before being purchased by New York in 1906 and receiving its designation as a State Park.

The main draw for visitors (especially photographers) is the narrow, 400-foot-deep gorge that features 19 different waterfalls, as well as various chutes and potholes created by the Glen Creek.

Watkins Glen State Park Sentry BridgeWhen you first enter the park through the parking lot, you’ll have to decide which of the three different hiking trails you’ll follow.

The Southern Rim and Indian Trails will take you up through the wooded area and along the rim of the gorge.

The Gorge Trail however, takes you alongside Glen Creek at the bottom of the gorge and is the probably the most popular and visually appealing of the three.

The trails are accessed via the parking lot at the main entrance, by walking up a set of stairs that were hand-cut through the rock in the early 1900’s to reach the Sentry Bridge.

Built in the 1930’s, Sentry bridge is the gateway to the rest of the park and your first taste as to the magical atmosphere that you’ll encounter along the rest of the trail.

The Gorge Trail

Cascade Cavern Waterfall at Watkins Glen

Cavern Cascade WaterfallCanon 5D MK II & EF 24-105 ISO 100 at f/18 (with tripod)

Leaving the Sentry Bridge behind, it doesn’t take long before you’ll encounter one of two waterfalls that you can walk behind known as the Cavern Cascade.

The trail continues to wind along the river surrounded by the slate, limestone and sandstone walls of the gorge with the creek bed changing shape multiple times, from narrow to wide, shallow to deep.

Photo Opportunities

There are tons of amazing photo opportunities along the entire length of the trail, although, in the summer, it’s tough to find a patch of trail without people on it.

The climate along the trail also changes a little bit as you walk. In the heat of the summer, you’ll experience cooler temperatures with a higher level of humidity so keep that in mind when planning your photo ops.

In terms of gear, keep in mind that the trail is well shaded in areas, so you’ll want to make sure that you have a lens that will allow you to capture images in lower light situations or take a tripod/monopod to give some extra stability in the less lit areas.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls – Canon 5D MK II w/ EF 24-105mm ISO 100 f/16 (with tripod)

Favourite Photo Spots

As mentioned, there isn’t really a bad spot along the trail to capture beautiful, ethereal looking images, but I do have a few favourite spots to share.

  • Cavern Cascade: The first waterfall along the trail (also I believe the 2nd highest)
  • The Narrows: Cool and humid, if you wait for the right moment, you can capture rays of sunlight coming through the narrow gap between the gorge walls
  • Central Cascade and Glen of Pools: Here, you’ll find the highest waterfall in the park plunging more that 60 feet to the creek bed below
  • Rainbow Falls:  Easily my favourite area of the park reminding me of the entrance to Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings novels

Watkins Glen State Park

The Narrows Waterfall

The Narrows – Canon 5D MK II w/ EF 40mm ISO 400 f/2.8 (Handheld)

Distance from Toronto: 5 hours (389 kms)
Open year round – $8.00 USD vehicle entry fee

Vehicle Entrance Fee

  • $8 per vehicle (includes pool)

Collected at Main Entrance –

  • Mid-May – 6/16: 9 AM – 5:30 PM, daily
  • 6/17- 9/4: 8:30 AM – 7 PM, daily
  • 9/5- 11/1: 9 AM – 5:30 PM, daily


  • $18-$30
  • Out of state resident fee for camping, per night: $5


  • Rustic Cabins (3 night minimum)
  • Base Rate: $58.00 per night
  • Out of State Fee: $7.00 per night

If you don’t want to camp at the park, there are several in town hotel and B&B options for you to choose from.

This has been the first in a series of articles highlighting road trip destinations that we think will provide you with unique photographic opportunities.

Image Credits: © Woodrow Walden