Please note, this blog was planned and written before Hurricane Sandy arrived. The Gorge Trail is currently closed until further notice.
The gorge Watkins Glen State Park has a long history attracting tourists from around the world to the Finger Lakes for 150 years. Starting first as a private enterprise and then as the state park millions of people have seen this creek cut gorge and marveled at its beauty.
I first started visiting Watkins Glen in the mid 1990s, and there have of course been some changes. What was once a major trail has been closed, and the “snack bar” at the lower end has been relocated to what is charitably described as a temporary shelter. These actually were wise choices. All parks are dynamic, ever changing places, and parks that have a geologic component are all the more. While it would certainly be possible to keep some trails along crumbling cliff faces with concrete and effort, it eventually becomes excessively expensive, in addition to the liability issues.
So, with one once major trail closed what remains at Watkins Glen? Plenty of trails, in fact more than most visitors are likely to use in a day. The most popular trail is the Gorge Trail which begins at the lower parking lot and continues about a mile and a half through the gorge. While a mile and a half isn’t a strenuous walk for many of us, remember that many of the visitors will have little or no hiking experience and it does gain between 500 and 600 feet in that distance, all via stone steps. For those who get to the far end of the trail there are three options. One is to return along the same trail you’ve taken up. Another is to hitch a ride on the shuttle that runs between the two lots (I think it costs 3 bucks a person). The third is to take the “Indian Trail” along the northern rim of the gorge. One would think that New York State would have done away with such names, but this is upstate, not some county park down around Rockaway. Sadly there is no way to cross over from the north side of the gorge to the south side at this point. To do that you’ll have to walk back to Mile Point or to the Suspension Bridge.
The South rim trail is special for a few reasons. First of all, it is not as heavily used, at least in my personal experience. This trail is actually a very, very small portion of the Finger Lakes Trail and North Country Trail. These two trails are “long distance” trails. The FLT spans New York’s southern tier and is over 500 miles long. The North Country Trail is even longer. It stretches from North Dakota to Crown Point in New York, more than 4500 miles. Think about that for a moment. You could walk from here to the Dakotas if you wanted.
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Want information on Watkins Glen State Park? Here’s their website. http://nysparks.com/parks/142/details.aspx
If you want a very long walk in the woods Finger Lakes Trail’s website can be found here. http://www.fltconference.org/trails/