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.
Things To Do
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 an ethereal dream. 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 from the Main Entrance, the waterfalls and views will be in front of you. Waterfalls and beautiful views will beckon you to continue your upward climb.
Upon entering the park, the views were immediately breathtaking. The glen cut through the center of the cliffs in a small stream. The water flowed smoothly, cascading over the cliffs. 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 Schuyler County. Spend some time waterfall hopping in Montour Falls, a small village a few miles from Watkins Glen.
We stopped at Shequaga Falls, tucked away between a row of houses in the town of Montour Falls. The waterfall cascaded down the rock wall. I couldn’t imagine having a waterfall as my backyard view.
I made the stop to Havana Glen Park on my way home from the Finger Lakes. There is a $2 parking fee per car. Yet this small fee is so worth it to see this magnificent waterfall. After parking, I took the short walk up a set of stairs to Eagle Cliff Falls. In no time, I came to a clearing and was facing Eagle Cliff Falls. The view of this waterfall left me breathless.
Experience Wine Country + Beyond
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 some many options, its 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 its quaint exterior fool you. Atwater has over 80 acres of farm land planted with 17 varieties of grapevines.
Atwater Winery had a warm feel 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 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. Mandy’s Magical Mulled Wine had the perfect balance or spicy and sweet. I lingered on the deck enjoying my mulled wine and the panoramic views of Seneca Lake below.
When you think about drinking in the Finger Lakes, the first thing that comes to mind is wine. But there is so much more to see and 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 was 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 were 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.
Unwind at the Seneca Harbor. Whether you choose to linger on the pier, have a lake side dinner or hit the water; you are sure to have a relaxing time by the lake. I opted to experience Seneca Harbor is as many ways as possible. I loved the atmosphere at Seneca Harbor so much that after an evening spent sailing, I had to come back the next morning… and made a return trip a few days later.
Sailboats lined 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.
Sailing Seneca Lake
To further experience Seneca Lake, go sailing on the Schooner True Love. There are various sailing options to choose from yet I would suggest the sunset sail. The sunset sail was equal parts relaxing and invigorating. I loved being out on the water, experiencing the lake as it swayed 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 sail boat 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.
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. 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 water colored racing murals painting on the sides of buildings.
Where To Eat
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
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, it 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.