Picture the cool mist spraying from the waterfalls, the screech of a car racing around a bend, and the smooth bite of a dry riesling on your pallet; this is Watkins Glen. Watkins Glen lies on the Southern tip of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Let your senses be overwhelmed in this small town as you explore its many facets. There are plenty of things to do in Watkins Glen New York that could keep you busy for a weekend getaway. Watkins Glen also serves as a wonderful base to explore the Seneca Wine Trail or the Southern Finger Lakes region.
You May Also Be Interested In:
Things To Do In Watkins Glen New York
Watkins Glen State Park
Watkins Glen State Park can not be missed on a trip to the Finger Lakes. With 19 waterfalls, a flowing glen, and steep cliffs, a trip to Watkins Glen State Park is a dream. This is by far one of my favorite things to do in Watkins Glen. Begin your journey through Watkins Glen at the main entrance. The main entrance starts at the base of the gorge and you will need to work your way up several sets of stairs throughout the park. As you hike up through the park, the waterfalls and views will be in front of you. Waterfalls and beautiful views will beckon you to continue your upward climb.
Watkins Glen State Park becomes increasingly more beautiful as the hike progresses. Take the Gorge Trail, approximately a mile-long hike through the park. The hike is moderate yet the stairs can be a bit daunting. Take your time with the stairs by enjoying the beautiful surroundings. I was so focused on the views, I barely noticed we were climbing stairs
The mile trek is worth the views. Don’t stop until you reach Rainbow Falls, the iconic spot in Watkins Glen. The view of the waterfalls cascading beneath the stone bridge is truly magnificent.
While Watkins Glen State Park is the most renowned collection of waterfalls, there are many other waterfalls to be found in and around Watkins Glen. Spend some time waterfall hopping in Montour Falls, a small village a few miles from Watkins Glen. When looking for what to do in Watkins Glen aside from the state park, visiting other waterfalls in a great way to spend your time.
Shequaga Falls is tucked away between a row of houses in the town of Montour Falls. To whoever the lucky people are who have this waterfall in their backyard, I envy you! The waterfall cascades beautifully and with ease down the rock wall.
Eagle Cliff Falls
Eagle Cliff Falls is a truly stunning waterfall in Montour Falls, New York. Set between two rock walls, flows the 40-foot high Eagle Cliff Falls. This waterfall is very picturesque and well worth a stop.
Hector Falls is the most unique waterfall in Watkins Glen due to the fact that it flows under a road. On top of that, you can even see Hector Falls from a boat on Seneca Lake!
Aunt Sarah’s Falls
Aunt Sarah’s Falls is a stunning roadside waterfall with a total drop of 90 ft. This waterfall starts thin at the top and gradually fans out.
Experience Wine Country
It is not a proper trip to the Finger Lakes without touring the wineries this region is known for. Watkins Glen is a great starting point to tour the wineries around Seneca Lake. The Seneca Lake Wine Trail encompasses over 30 member wineries. With many options, it’s hard to choose which winery or wineries to visit.
We opted for Atwater Winery on the Eastern side of Seneca Lake. Atwater Winery is ideally located only 7 miles outside of Watkins Glen. This winery appears small yet don’t let the quaint exterior fool you. Atwater has over 80 acres of farmland planted with 17 varieties of grapevines.
Atwater Winery had a warm feeling within its compact facilities. We enjoyed the cozy atmosphere in the tasting room/ shop while sipping on our samples of wine. We tried the Riesling which the region is famous for as well as a delightful pinot grigio. Towards the end of our tasting, we cheered to a successful day touring Watkins Glen with a glass of Blanc de Blancs, the house champagne.
The best drink for a cool day wine tasting is mulled wine. During the Fall and Winter, Atwater Winery serves up Mandy’s Magical Mulled Wine, which had a perfect balance of spicy and sweet. Spend some time lingering on the deck enjoying your wine and the panoramic views of Seneca Lake below.
Finger Lakes Distilling
When you think about drinking in the Finger Lakes, the first thing that comes to mind is wine. But there are plenty of things to do in Watkins Glen and much more to taste in this region aside from wine. The Finger Lakes region is home to wineries, breweries, and distilleries. We stopped at Finger lakes Distilling to experience what lies beyond wine country. From its exterior, Finger lakes Distilling appears to look like many of the wineries along Seneca Lake equip with a vineyard and lake views.
Visiting Finger Lakes Distilling is a great way to break up a wine tour. The smells, the tastes, and the atmosphere were unique to the distillery. Although we were smelling whiskey and sipping vodka right from the barrel, I still felt that we were in wine country. The vineyard full of concord grapes leading up to Finger Lakes Distilling made me question whether we were headed to a winery or a distillery.
After touring the property and learning about the distilling process, we headed to the tasting room. A large window in the tasting room overlooks the grounds of this NYS Farm Distillery. Brian McKenzie, the president of Finger Lakes Distilling led the tasting. Each liquor I sampled had a robust flavor yet was smooth on the palate. After sampling the rum and vodka, I focused my attention on the liqueurs. The Mapplejack Liqueur was my favorite from the tasting with its sweet maple syrup notes. Since the years that I visited Finger Lakes Distilling, it has become a staple in the region! A must visit if you’re looking to taste something other than wine.
Unwind at the Seneca Harbor. Whether you choose to linger on the pier, have a lakeside dinner, or hit the water; you are sure to have a relaxing time by the lake. I opted to experience Seneca Harbor in as many ways as possible. I loved the atmosphere at Seneca Harbor so much that after an evening spent sailing, I woke up early the next day to linger longer by the harbor. Sailboats line the shore of Seneca Harbor, swaying in the breeze.
People are seen moseying on the Seneca Lake Pier and waking hand in hand along the break wall. I idled about, simply enjoying the view. I highly suggest visiting Seneca Harbor during sunrise or sunset (or both)! This is the perfect place to relax and watch as the sun rises or lowers over the horizon.
To truly experience Seneca Harbor, stay at the beautiful Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, which is located at Seneca Harbor. I loved having a cup of coffee on my lake-front balcony overlooking Seneca Harbor.
Sailing Seneca Lake
To further experience Seneca Lake, one of the best things to do is to go sailing on the Schooner True Love. Unless you have your own boat, this is the next best thing. There are various sailing options to choose from yet I would suggest the sunset sail. The sunset sail is the perfect way to end your day in Watkins Glen; being out on the water, experiencing the lake as the sailboat sways in the wind.
The views from the sailboat were outstanding. Seneca Harbor shrunk into the distance as we ventured into the lake. We saw Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel towering over the boats that were docked.
I watched as the crew maneuver the sails with ease and the captain steered the boat through the lake. Once the sailboat was on the water, the crew came around with snacks and beverages. The local Finger Lakes cheese is the perfect touch to the sunset sail.
Watching the sunset from the sailboat was magical. The sail cast a shadow on the golden cliffside as the water shimmered under the setting sun. When the sun dipped closer to the horizon, the captain sailed the boat back towards shore. This experience allowed the destination to truly set in.
Experience Watkins Glen International
There is quite a bit of racing history in Watkins Glen. Watkins Glen was the home of the Formula One United States Grand Prix for twenty consecutive years. I didn’t get a chance to visit Watkins Glen international on this trip yet I did get a glimpse of the impact racing has in this community. Racing is part of the fiber of Watkins Glen.
Watch a NASCAR Race
For those who are super into NASCAR, or would like to experience watching a car race, check out the racing schedule to make sure you are in Watkins Glen during a race.
Drive the Glen + Pace Car Experience
What’s better than watching fast cars? Being in them! A few years ago, I had the opportunity to ride in a pace car at an event at Watkins Glen Itinerational. It was so cool sitting back as the driver zoomed around the track. I felt like I was in Fast and the Furious. The experience at Watkins Glen International has since been changed to Drive the Glen, where you drive your own car on the track. In this experience, you follow the pace car and are get to experience being in the driver’s seat on the track. While I have not done this updated experience, it still sounds like one of the most unique things to do in Watkins Glen, New York.
Find the Racing Murals in Town
Watkins Glen pays homage to its racing history throughout town; by the racing flags across N Franklin Street indicating the starting point of the historical street races and the watercolored racing murals painting on the sides of buildings.
Best time to Visit Watkins Glen
The best time to visit Watkins Glen NY is from mid-May to mid-October. During these months, the weather is moderate to warm and most activities will be available. Watkins Glen State Park Gorge Trail is not open during the Winter. You want to make sure to visit when you can hike the Gorge Trail as this is the best thing to do in Watkins Glen. Additionally, if you want to be out on the water, you will want to visit when it’s warm.
How Much Time Do you Need in Watkins Glen
Ideally, to do everything on this Watkins Glen travel guide you will want to spend at least two days in Watkins Glen. I would suggest spending two nights in Watkins Glen to ensure you have two full days to explore.
PS the more time you spend in this region, the more waterfalls and wineries you get to explore! You may want to consider a longer trip to the Finger Lakes region and stay in Watkins Glen as your base.
Where To Eat in Watkins Glen
Wildflower Cafe is an icon in Watkins Glen. After one meal here, I could see why. The atmosphere was low-key yet vibrant during our late lunch. A cheerful chatter flooded onto the streets as a group of women left the cafe, exclaiming “We are the wildflowers”. They told us that they have been meeting at the Wildflower Cafe since it opened in 1990. This is the type of establishment Wildflower Cafe is, an establishment with loyal costumers.
The food was simple yet sensational. We started our meal with a round of cocktails. Typically I’m not a mid-day cocktail drinker yet the I couldn’t resist the cocktails inspired by leading ladies. I went with Mother of Dragons, a Game of Thrones-inspired spicy tequila cocktail. It certainly had a kick to it. I stuck with a spicy theme ordering the Mushroom Báhn Mi. The Mushroom Báhn Mi was spiced up with fresh jalapeños, cilantro, and Sriracha mayo.
Blue Pointe Grille
The Blue Pointe Grille is the harbor front restaurant at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel. This is not your average hotel restaurant. Dinner service is where the Blue Pointe Grille shines. If the weather is cooperative, eat at the patio. We lucked out with a beautiful evening and were able to eat dinner outside by the roaring fire pit. We enjoyed glasses of local Finger Lakes wine and our bread basket while waiting for our entrée. Everything on the menu looked divine. I went with the Seafood Scampi, which had lobster, shrimp, and scallops in a wine butter sauce. I went to bed full and satisfied that night.
Where To Stay in Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel
The Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel is the place to stay in Watkins Glen. Located at the Seneca Lake Harbor, the lake is only steps away from the hotel. Not only does the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel have amazing views of the lake, but it also has easy access to the boating activities found at Seneca Pier and is walking distance to Watkins Glen State Park. Aside from its prime location, Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel offers great accommodations, food, and amenities.
Read Next: Corning Glen Travel Guide