New York Camping

New York's Best Campsite: The Watkins Glen State Park

New York camping - entrance to the trail of the Watkins Glen State park

Where do I even start to describe the versatility of New York? New York City is like a picture of a place torn from various lifestyle books then glued together. The city is like no other town in the world. It’s an image of a modern, busy city with restaurants and dreamy cafes dotted all over the place. It’s a picture of nature displayed through its spotless parks and campsites, and lastly, it’s a perfect view of a bustling nightlife. You should go to NY once in your lives to see and feel what I mean.

You really can’t go wrong with living in this city, especially if you’re an avid outdoor enthusiast. There’s a place for all outdoor activities especially for camping, though you might have to drive an hour or two away from central New York. There’s around 20 or so New York camping sites and campgrounds. Camping is the best therapy for stressed individuals (New Yorkers, especially) and people looking for a quick escape from reality.

So pack your tent, get your sleeping bag out, bring some food because we’re heading to one of the best near New York camping sites, the Watkins Glen State Park. We also reviewed another nice campsite for camping minimalists and avid hikers, the Minnewaska State Park Preserve. You might put that into your campground bucket list too.

But before anything else, let’s see the directions first.

How To Get To Watkins Glen State Park

From New York City, traverse the I- 81 N road all the way to Thruway.

From the Thruway, take exit 42 (Geneva/Lyons) and follow Rt 14 south, through Geneva, and continue south along Seneca Lake for 33 miles to the village of Watkins Glen.

The park entrance is in the middle of the village, to your right.

Best Time To Camp

New York camping at Watkins Glen State Park

The Park is one of the most toured state parks by locals and visitors.

The best time to visit would be during the spring season because it’s not peak season for tourists yet, thus a slim chance of traffic. Also, the foliage is in full bloom in this season thus a better landscape.

Another good time to visit would be in the fall season where the weather is mild, and the landscape gives off a warm autumny feeling.

Camping At The Park

Camping New York

Camping at the park is an excellent way to internalize the nature-y vibe of the place. A well-maintained campground for tents and RVs are located on the lower park, near the entrance of the trail. Families mostly prefer this campground because of its proximity to the pool and food stands. You better hike the long trail first before permitting your kids to the pool because they might stay there all day! (based on experience).

Other campgrounds are located near the Seneca Loop and the Seneca Village. There are 238 camping sites around the park, even in the trail cliffs, so you won’t run out of a place to camp.

The only thing you need to consider is your camp’s proximity to the amenities of the park. They also offer cabins for convenience. You don’t have to worry about restrooms because they’re dotted all over the park.If you don’t feel like camping, you can opt to stay in the hotels and other cozy accommodations in the Watkins Glen village.

If you’re given a chance to flee New York or your local place for a day, I suggest you head to the Watkins Glen State Park. All your stress and problems will go away for a day, I promise. The majestic sceneries and landscapes will just overwhelm you with a feeling of bliss and will awaken the outdoor spirit in every person. The serenity of the place really is very therapeutic for the body and soul. Why go to another country to do some “soul searching” when there’s this stunning peaceful park in America? Boy, the first time I went there, I never wanted to leave the place!

The Watkins Glen State Park

The Watkins Glen State Park, NY is one of the most scenic campsites that I’ve ever been to. The gorges, waterfalls and walk paths are just overwhelming! Did I also mention how beautiful the Seneca Lake is?  I’ve been in this campsite for a couple of times with my family, and my little boys certainly enjoyed our stay.

The Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks. You can choose how to tour the Park - from top to bottom and vice versa, where you’ll be treated to a spectacle of 200-foot cliffs and 19 waterfalls. Oh! You’ll also see the famous Rim Trail overlooking small canyons on the trail.

One of the small canyons you’ll see along the trail

The Path to The Park

The Watkins Glen State Park welcomes its visitors in the massive parking lot lined with towering limestone cliffs near the Watkins Glen village. From this point, you’d have to leave your car and walk to the upper park.  You can also start from the upper park and descend your way to the parking lot. A shuttle is provided to move visitors from the upper park to their cars in the parking lot.

The car park will definitely give you an oddly satisfying eerie feeling because it’s so quiet and shady down there.  From the lot, you’ll see the narrow Sentry Bridge and the first waterfall running below the bridge, the Entrance Cascade. The Entrance Cascade hints of the alluring waterfalls to follow. I bet you’ll be amazed by the fairy-tale like view. You need to cross carefully because the bridge has no hand rails. Moving along the cascade will lead you to the Gorge Trail.

The Sentry Bridge and the Entrance Cascade

The Waterfalls

The park features 19 waterfalls of all shapes and sizes that run along the Gorge Trail. It comes in all shapes and sizes – there are staircase waterfalls, cascading ones, plunging ones, and dripping curtains.

One of the 19 falls, the Rainbow Falls

The Gorge Trail and The Gorge Creek

A portion of the Gorge Trail

The Gorge Trail serves to be the centerpiece of the park since time immemorial. The trail’s starting point is the bridge. It’s a 1.5 mile-long ascending trail that leads to the upper park. The Gorge Creek is an elevated stream that created the natural waterfalls of the area. The creek runs from the village and empties into the Seneca Lake.

The bottom of the Gorge Creek in Autumn

The Gorge Trail will surely test your stamina and lungs because it’s a long way up, so it’d be helpful to bring a lot of drinking water on the way.

Upon ascending, take a minute to gaze up and see the natural wonders that are waiting for you. The entire place will give you a sense of inner peace and overwhelming gratefulness for the place. You’ll really consider yourself lucky to have found a place so serene and pleasant you wouldn’t want to go back to your city life.

A pathway of tunnels and bridges guides visitors of the park. Expect to cross dozens of tunnels and brick stone bridges on the Gorge Trail. Small mammals such as lizards, salamanders, and caterpillars will also walk with you on the trail so be nice to them – never step over those little forest guards!

camping New York in stunning Watkins Glen State Park

Also, wear dry-fit or waterproof clothes because the way up is cold due to the increasing altitude and it’s inevitable to get splashed (occasionally) with droplets from the falls as you’ll need to cross under them some of them. Climbing further into the trail, you’ll come across the delightful Minnehaha Falls and a heart-shaped pool.

The heart-shaped pool of the park

The Cave Cascade is another pathway that will literally wow you. It’s a set of stairs that runs behind a 50-ft waterfall. It’s magnificent! This is one scene you shouldn’t miss to photograph.

the magnificent Cave Cascade!

After the Cavern Cascade, you’ll pass through the spiral tunnels, Whispering Falls, Suspension Bridge, Diamond Falls, and The Narrows. The Narrows is where the walls of the park “narrows,” causing water rush. Eventually, it opens up to the Glen Cathedral, a meadow inhabited by wild shrubs and flowers.

camping New York 

Climbing ever higher into the trail, you’ll find yourself crossing the Folly Bridge, Rainbow Falls,  Spiral Gorge, and the Glen Arcadia. All of these consist the upper park. You’ll mostly see pristine pools and waterfalls while climbing to the upper park.

Finally, you’ll get (hopefully) to the end of the trail which is the Mile Point Bridge.

The trail is a magnificent natural wonder. All the cliffs and water forms are sculpted naturally by external and internal phenomena. The view is like a landscape painting that came to life –very breath-taking.

The Southern Rim and Indian Trails

If you are itching for a real hiking experience, you better move away from the Gorge Trail and try the Southern Rim and Indian Trails. Both trails run along the wooded trail of the gorge, in contrast with the Gorge Trail which runs along the creek.

New York state camping

The South Rim Trail is a 3-mile hike while the Indian Trail is a faster hike. The two trails cut across the gorge but offer little view of the waterfalls. Both paths will intersect at the Mile Point Bridge, just above the Gorge Trail.

Guest Post by Cindy at Hunt and Lunch:  Cindy is an avid outdoor enthusiast who shares her knowledge, experiences, and wildlife survival tips gained through the years in her blog, Hunt And Lunch. She’s now busy being a mother to two wonderful kids. She finds time to write about her passion and experiences in the hopes of helping her fellow outdoor enthusiasts and to relive the joy of being outdoors.

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