Watkins Glen State Park
Watkins Glen, New York

Location: Central Schuyler County, Route 14 (Franklin Street), Village of Watkins

     The waters of Glen Creek have sculptured an incredibly scenic gorge with high cliffs, fantastically carved potholes, sparkling pools, and marvelous waterfalls. It is named after Dr. Samuel Watkins, who came to this area in 1788. Morvalden Ells opened the glen to the public in 1863, after installing trails, stairways, and bridges. It became a state park in 1924, after being purchased by the State of New York in 1906.
     The best way to view the waterfalls in the glen is to hike uphill, along the 1.5 mile long Gorge Trail, from the Main Entrance (sometimes called Lower Entrance) to the Upper Entrance. The trail has over 830 steps and ascends roughly 500 feet. Sections of the trail are often very wet, either from the spray of the waterfalls or from springs. Hiking boots are recommended. To hike back to the Main Entrance you can return along the Gorge Trail or the Indian Trail on the north side of the glen. Another option is to use the park shuttle bus to take you back down to the Main Entrance. Before starting your hike, check at the Main Entrance for the shuttle bus schedule. Guided hikes of the glen are also available. Again, check at the Main Entrance for the schedule.
     The park brochure states there are 19 waterfalls in the glen. They range from vertical drops to twisting cascades confined to narrow chutes. The following description highlights 10 of them.
     Starting from the Main Entrance Parking Lot, walk westwards to the Entrance Tunnel. When you exit the tunnel you will be standing on Sentry Bridge, 52 feet above Glen Creek. To your right (southwest) is Entrance Cascade. It is a 41 foot high twisting cascade with a 6 foot wide crest that faces to the east. The small tunnel to the right (north) of the cascade once supplied water to a mill near the parking lot. In the 1800ís, a dam diverted water through this tunnel and into a wooden flume that lead to the water wheel for the mill.

Minnehaha Falls

     In a short distance there is a side trail to the right (northwest) that descends to a viewing area for Minnehaha Falls. This falls is 21 feet high, 24 feet wide, and has a crest that faces to the east. Cavern Cascade can be seen in the distance.

Cavern Cascade      Continue along the Gorge Trail to a viewing area that is located above the crest of Minnehaha Falls. If the volume of the creek is low during your visit, look for a heart shaped pool at the base of the falls. Cavern Cascade lies a short distance ahead. It faces to the east southeast, is 50 feet high, and has a 6 foot wide crest. The name is misleading, as the waters of Glen Creek fall vertically 38 feet before striking a ledge and cascading into the pool below. Shortly trail will pass behind the falling waters of this overhung waterfall and enter the Spiral Tunnel. When you exit the tunnel you can look down at the crest of Cavern Cascade.
     Soon you will pass under the Suspension Bridge that connects the rim trails. The deck of the bridge is 85 feet above the creek bed. During an extreme flood in 1935, water rose to within 5 feet of it.
     Past the bridge you will enter a part of the glen known as The Vista for its splendid views. Soon you will pass through Vista Tunnel and you will then be able to look down upon Diamond Falls. It has a drop of 12 feet, a crest that is 10 feet wide, and faces to the east.

     Past Diamond Falls the glen widens considerably and you will enter an area known as The Cathedral. It is perhaps 600 feet long with cliffs on either side of the creek that are roughly 200 feet in height. About half way through The Cathedral, just before a long flight of steps, is a viewing area for Central Cascade. It is extremely steep, with a vertical drop of 42 feet. The cascade faces to the east northeast and has a crest that is 4 feet wide. Ascend the steps and you will soon come to Cathedral Tunnel. Shortly after you exit the tunnel you will come to Folly Bridge, which crosses Glen Greek immediately above the crest of Central Cascade.

Rainbow Falls
     Just past Folly Bridge you will enter the Glen of Pools area. Here there is a series of marvelously sculptured pools and potholes. Not many steps past the Glen of Pools is Rainbow Falls. It is found on a tributary of Glen Creek and had a total vertical drop of 95 feet. The falls faces to the north northeast and has a crest that is 3 feet wide. As at Cavern Cascade, the trail passed behind this splendid waterfall. At certain hours of the day, you can see a dazzling rainbow as sunlight filters into the glen and strikes the falling water.

     Just past Rainbow Falls, and under a bridge, is a waterfall known as the Cascade at Rainbow Falls. Here Glen Creek drops 12 feet as it flows over the 15 foot wide crest of this southeast facing cascade. Immediately downstream of this cascade are two smaller cascades. The first is 8 feet high with a 10 foot wide crest. The second is 6 feet high with a 7 foot wide crest. Both of which face to the east.

Pluto Falls      Beyond the bridge at Rainbow Falls is a section of the glen known as Spiral Gorge. This section of the glen is very narrow, has numerous sculptured pools, and springs that drip from the overhanging cliffs. Near the western end of the Spiral Gorge is Pluto Falls. It is 9 feet high, has a 3 foot wide crest, and faces to the east northeast. Because of the extremely narrow gorge and overhanging cliffs, the area around Pluto Falls is always in a gloomy shadow. In Greek mythology, Pluto is the ruler of the underworld.

     Roughly 400 feet past Pluto Falls is Mile Point Falls. It is called this because it is located one mile from the Main Entrance. Mile Point Falls is 12 feet high, has a 4 foot wide crest, faces to the east southeast, and is found just east of Mile Point Bridge.
     At Mile Point Bridge you have several choices about how to continue your hike. You can follow a side trail to the northeast that connects with the Indian Trail and follow it eastwards, back to the Main Entrance. You can follow a side trail to the southeast that connects with the South Rim Trail and follow it eastwards, back to the Main Entrance. Or you can continue westwards on the Gorge Trail.
     If you choose to continue westwards on the Gorge Trail you will enter a section of the glen known as Elfin Gorge. For the next half mile or so Glen Creek flows quietly along, with an occasional rapids and many reflecting pools. At the western end of the Elfin Gorge is a very steep staircase known as Jacob's Ladder. It connects with the Indian Trail and the Upper Entrance parking area.

For a Map Quest map of the area click here.

For a ACME Mapper 2.0 map of the area click here.

Web site: Watkins Glen State Park

For some geological information on the park check out the
Paleontological Research Institution's web site: Watkins Glen State Park

For information on Schuyler County History
visit Schuyler County Historical Society
Copyright © 2007 by Scott A. Ensminger.
This information may not be reproduced without written permission.

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