Are you looking for variety in your next adventure? Would you like to hike waterfalls in the morning, drive a historic race course in the afternoon, and sip wine in the evening? Then this is the destination for you because these and more are all things to do in Watkins Glen, New York!
Watkins Glen is a great destination in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Even though it has a small-town feel with a population of fewer than 2,000 people over less than 2 square miles, the area draws thousands of visitors per year to the many events and attractions of the area.
The town of Watkins Glen is situated on the southernmost tip of the largest Finger Lake, Seneca Lake. It is easy to find activities that involve both the water and the surrounding land. From rustic adventures to upscale elegance, Watkins Glen has something for everyone.
Here are some ideas to jumpstart the planning for your next getaway to Watkins Glen, New York.
1. Hike Watkins Glen State Park
In one of the most popular and well-known state parks in the entire country, the star of Watkins Glen State Park is the Gorge Trail. Begin from the parking area right in town, and hike up from the beginning of the Gorge Trail. On this trail, you’ll see the park’s 19 waterfalls, deep rock walls, and bridges spanning the gorge.
You’ll get to walk under, behind, over, and around the waterfalls along the trail, including the popular and often photographed Rainbow Falls.
This trail is really well built and maintained, so you don’t have to worry about coming close to the edge of a narrow gorge wall. It’s like a wide sidewalk throughout, with plenty of stairs!
The Gorge Trail is only open seasonally during the summer and fall. Ice on stairs and frozen waterfalls make the gorge unsafe in the winter, so it is closed.
This hike in Watkins Glen State Park gets extremely busy on the weekends especially, so if you’d like to explore with fewer people, plan this adventure midweek or very early in the morning.
2. Chase More Waterfalls
The topography around the Finger Lakes with its deep gorges makes perfect conditions for waterfalls. They’re everywhere! You can find plenty of waterfalls within about an hour of Watkins Glen, but a couple of notable ones very close by include:
This is actually the third tallest waterfall in the state of New York, just behind nearby Taughannock and Niagara Falls. Hector Falls (not to be confused with Hector Falls in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania) is a roadside waterfall, but you’ll drive over a bridge where it passes.
Pull off the road after crossing the bridge coming from Watkins Glen to get out and view this waterfall at its fullest.
It can also be seen from Seneca Lake on a kayak tour or from the Seneca Lake cruises when sightseeing.
Located right in the town of Montour Falls, you can catch a glimpse of the top of this 165-footer while driving through the small Main Street in town.
Park on the side of the street and walk over to the small park where you can view this cascade from one of the park benches in this small green area.
You might see people out on bicycles stopping to snap a photo or just enjoy the falls.
Eagle’s Cliff Falls
Just south of Montour Falls, you’ll find Eagle’s Cliff Falls in Havana Glen Park. After a short hike on a narrow path with a steep staircase, you’ll reach the 40-footer.
Havana Glen Park is located on private land managed by the town. Parking costs $2, payable at a booth upon entry to the park. There is also a small, but open, campground and playground facilities in Havana Glen Park.
3. Cruise Seneca Lake
From the Seneca Harbor Station, you can hop on a one-hour, narrated sightseeing cruise around the lake with Captain Bill’s Seneca Lake Cruises. You can see Hector Falls from the lake and learn about the history of the area.
There are also dining cruises available for both lunch and dinner, as well as entertainment cruises with different genres of music and entertainment.
If you want to get out and enjoy the water, this is certainly a great way to do it!
4. Wander Franklin Street
Franklin Street is where you’ll find many of the shops and restaurants in Watkins Glen. It’s the main drag through the town.
Check the weather and pack comfortable walking shoes. You can stroll from the lakefront down to the entrance for Watkins Glen State Park.
Wander in and out of the shops. Stop for a bite to eat or a drink. Just enjoy the atmosphere.
While there are more places to visit on the side streets through town, this is probably the street you’ll find yourself driving down at least once or twice during your visit.
5. Kayak The Waterways
Whether you bring your own or rent one from a place like Summit to Stream Adventures, there are many opportunities to paddle along the waterways near Watkins Glen.
You can plan a guided kayaking tour or set out paddling on your own. Guided tour options include heading down the canal to Catherine Creek Marsh and Seneca Lake to Hector Falls.
Rental options are available by the hour. Call ahead at (607) 535-2701 to check conditions and availability, and make a reservation.
6. Sip Your Way Along The Wine Trail
The Seneca Lake Wine Trail includes over 25 member wineries. It is the largest and most active wine trail in the Finger Lakes! There is no shortage of beautiful views from many of the outdoor patios in the summer.
According to the trail association, there are over 600 different wine varieties offered at the member wineries, so surely something for almost every wine enthusiast can be found here.
There are organized events on the trail at various times of the year, especially during the shoulder seasons. Tours are available, either by hiring a driver to take you in your own vehicle or reserving a shuttle.
Some of the wineries do require reservations for groups, even as small as 4-6 people. If you reserve a shuttle, most companies will make reservations for you.
7. …and Play a round of Disc Golf Along the Way
At Castel Grish, a winery just 5 minutes from the Watkins Glen town center, you can grab a glass of wine or beer, check-in at the tasting room, and then head out to the course!
The 18-hole course weaves among the wooded grounds, with some views of Seneca Lake, too!
Play the full course or just 9 holes. If you’re new to disc golf, plan to play the front 9. The holes are a little shorter than those on the back 9.
Castel Grish Winery is a great place to sample a couple of wines but also take a break from the wine trail, get a few steps out on the disc golf course, and take in the breathtaking views of the vineyards and Seneca Lake.
8. Don’t Forget to try Other Local Craft Beverages
While Seneca Lake definitely began as a wine lovers’ destination, the area has definitely upped its game when it comes to other adult beverages like craft beer, ciders, and spirits.
There are plenty of craft breweries popping up in the area, so keep an eye out for new ones. The scene is ever-changing, and the variety is unmatched for anything in the area. From sours to IPAs to a traditional English-style pub, the Watkins Glen area has it all.
Some of our favorites include Tin Barn FLX for their sours, Two Goats Brewing for their gorgeous views on the patio, Lucky Hare for the rustic vibes, and Big aLICe FLX for their great to-go selection.
Distilleries are popping up more often, too, and they’re getting bolder with their offerings. Doesn’t fresh lavender vodka sound lovely?
The cider scene around Watkins Glen and Seneca Lake is also booming, with fresh ingredients available so readily in the area. We’re not big cider fans, though, so you’ll just have to try it for yourself if you are!
9. Drive the historic Grand Prix Course
If you’d rather go for a (nearly) free way to explore motorsports history around Watkins Glen, then explore the historic road Grand Prix course. At your own pace, this 6.6-mile road course begins and ends right in front of the Schuyler County Court House in town.
The only cost is that of the gas in your vehicle.
This Grand Prix course is where the first road race was held after World War II in 1948. Historical signs along the road mark the course, which follows public roads. Follow the signs or study the map ahead of time.
As you’re driving along the course, imagine the energy and excitement that was present in 1948.
10. …or Check Out Watkins Glen International
If you’re looking for a current and modern motorsports destination, look no further than Watkins Glen International. Nestled in the heart of New York’s Finger Lakes region just up over the hill from the heart of the town, Watkins Glen International is home to some of the best racing in the country. The track has hosted everything from NASCAR and IndyCar races to sports car events and festivals.
There’s plenty to do at Watkins Glen International even when there isn’t a race happening. While visiting, plan to “drive the glen.” It is quite the fan experience! For $30, you can drive a few laps around the speedway in your own car while following the pace car.
While you won’t be traveling at the top speeds NASCAR drivers do, you still get to experience the views and the history from the same asphalt as the professionals.
11. Take in Racing History at the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC)
Located right in downtown Watkins Glen, just a short few blocks from the state park is a hub for motorsports history. The hub is typically open during the week from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, except for federal holidays.
The best part is that this center is free to visit! You can come and explore the displays of trophies and historical artifacts.
The IMRRC is also home to an extensive library of books, magazines, and photography. You can find all sorts of historical artifacts here. This place is a race historian’s heaven.
If you have any interest in motorsports, this place is worth a stop.
12. Shop Local at the Farmers Markets
On Friday afternoons during the summer, typically from Memorial Day through October, plan to make a stop at Lafayette Park.
From 3:00-6:00, you can possibly find fresh fruits and vegetables, maple products, eggs… whatever is in season and available at the time!
On Thursdays from 4:00-7:00, you can also find a market in the village of Montour Falls. Find this one right on Main Street!
These farmer’s markets are a great way to get some healthy, fresh snacks and treats!
13. … or Pick your own Fruit, Right From the Tree or Shrub
If you’re looking for a fun way to spend a few hours outdoors, consider picking your own fruit at a local farm near Watkins Glen. There are several farms in the area that offer this unique experience, which is perfect for families or groups of friends. Most of these farms also have other activities available throughout the year, so be sure to look before you go for any special events that may be happening!
Some of the best fruit farms near Watkins Glen include Wickham’s Tango Oaks Farm, Silver Queen Farm, and Apples and Moore. All three farms are open during the growing seasons, and they offer a variety of fruits to choose from, some including apples, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries.
For a more inclusive list, check out the pickyourown.farm directory. It has tons of information! Also, be sure to check their websites or call ahead before you go to confirm hours of operation and what fruits are available.
14. Plan a Fall Visit to Apples and Moore
Previously Reisinger’s Apple Country, this orchard has everything you could hope for in an apple orchard.
You can purchase apples by the bag or pick them right off the tree.
A bakery onsite sells fresh apple cider donuts on the weekends, a delicious treat if you’ve never tried one. Jams, jellies, and butters are also sold in the onsite store.
Other fruits are also grown seasonally on the Apples and Moore property, including plums, blueberries, fall raspberries, and pears. These are not available for pick your own, though.
The typical season begins sometime in the middle of August and runs into November. Be sure to check social media or call the orchard to ensure availability. They’re usually open every day during the harvest season from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
15. Visit the Farm Sanctuary
Get up close and personal on a tour of this 175-acre home to hundreds of rescued farm animals. This is one of only 3 farm sanctuaries in the country.
You can take a tour of the property with one of the guides, and they’ll teach you about the history and some of the animals’ stories. These tours are offered from May through October and typically last about one hour.
The primary focus is education and advocacy, in addition to providing space for these cows, pigs, sheep, and other animals to grow and live.
On-site, there are also cabins and cottages where you can spend the night on the sanctuary grounds.
16. Get Lost in the Finger Lakes National Forest
On the east side of Seneca Lake, you can find the only National Forest in the state of New York. The Finger Lakes National Forest, made up of 16,259 acres of Seneca and Schuyler counties, has over 30 miles of trails for hiking and exploring.
There are trails for both short, quick hikes and multi-day adventures. Trailheads are typically easy to find, but you’ll want to download maps and locations ahead of time. It’s difficult to find cell phone service!
Take the steep trail down to Seneca Lake and Caywood Point where you can enjoy the lakefront and learn about the historic women’s camp that stood on the grounds. Many who fought for women’s rights gathered here, and this type of space was very unusual for its time.
There are plenty of camping opportunities in the Finger Lakes National Forest, too. Plan to spend the night at one of three campgrounds or at one of the many campsites along the trails.
17. Go Horseback Riding
If you’re looking for a unique way to experience the natural beauty of Watkins Glen, consider one of the horseback riding tours. Painted Bar Stables offers multiple options from beginner to advanced in difficulty level over different terrains. You’ll get to see the sights and sounds of the Finger Lakes region in a whole new way.
Since they offer tours of different levels of difficulty, you can choose a ride that’s appropriate for your experience and skill level. If you’re a beginner, there are plenty of gentle trails to explore. More experienced riders can take on more challenging routes.
No matter what route you choose, you’re sure to enjoy the stunning scenery of Watkins Glen, Seneca Lake, and the surrounding area.
So if you’re looking for an exciting outdoor activity, be sure to check out horseback riding tours near Watkins Glen!
18. Picnic at Seneca Harbor Park
Just on the other side of the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, there is a small park with picnic tables and green space.
Use this space to gather and enjoy some of the produce and fresh finds from the farmer’s market during a picnic.
You’ll be able to enjoy views of the lake and the harbor, with boats coming and going from their slips.
This is a great free activity to enjoy while you visit Watkins Glen.
19. Enjoy Ice Cream Fresh from the Cow
Do you love ice cream? Well, there are plenty of places to get the good stuff in and around Watkins Glen! There are multiple shops on the main strip through town selling their ice cream varieties.
From soft-serve to hand-dipped, there are varieties for every ice cream lover.
For a little more unique experience, head up the west side of the lake to the Shtayburne Farm Creamery. Less than 10 minutes from downtown Watkins Glen, you can sample homemade ice cream varieties in an ice cream “flight”!
Choose some of your favorites to try, and then you can grab a pint to take back home with you.
20. Sample Locally Made Cheeses
In addition to great local ice creams, the Finger Lakes are known for their cheeses. Shtayburne Farm is just one of the spots where you can taste the delicious cheeses made on site. You can also create a “flight” with a combination of ice creams and cheeses.
There are other spots to go for cheeses, too. Sunset View Creamery, just a short drive southeast of Watkins Glen, also has a little shop with cheeses, jams, and other locally made treats.
The Lively Run Goat Dairy is less than 30 minutes from Watkins Glen, and it is a perfect spot for goat cheese lovers to visit. Head north and over towards Cayuga Lake to find fresh goat products.
If you’d like to get a sampling of all the local spots, stop at the Seneca Cheese Company right on Franklin Street. They have an outdoor area to sit and enjoy a cheese board and a drink. They also have a small menu, if you’re hungrier.
21. Visit the Windmill Farm and Craft Market
The Windmill Farm and Craft Market is a must-see destination for anyone visiting the Watkins Glen area. Situated between Watkins Glen and Penn Yan, which are towns just a short distance apart, these two villages offer plenty of things to do, but the Windmill Farm is a hidden gem that is definitely worth the trip.
The farm and craft market features a large variety of craft shops and food vendors. It’s the perfect place to buy gifts for friends and family, or to simply enjoy some time outdoors. There are over 175 vendors selling their goods on Saturdays from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM.
If you’re looking for something to do on a warm day, the Windmill Farm and Craft Market is definitely worth checking out. You can spend hours browsing through the various shops and exhibits, or simply enjoy a walk around the property. Entry to the market is also free, so if you’d just like to wander and peruse the crafts, it’s a very affordable activity!
22. Get Blown Away with a Demonstration at the Corning Museum of Glass
To get away from the busy streets of Watkins Glen for a while, plan an afternoon trip over to the small town of Corning to check out the Corning Museum of Glass. With exhibits for those of all ages, this museum is all about glass art.
You can see various glassblowing demonstrations throughout the day, so be sure to check the events schedule for those that you’d like to see. Truly, this is a museum that everyone can enjoy.
Bring a pair of headphones to attach to your phone and you can use their app to take a guided tour at your own pace to get a little more out of the visit.
Tickets for entrance for adults are $22. Purchase them online ahead of time and tickets are actually valid for 2 consecutive days. You may come and go as you please with this option.
23. Take a Day Trip to Ithaca
Ithaca boasts a great deal of history and culture. It is home to not one but two college campuses in Ithaca College and Cornell University. With a vibrant arts scene, plenty of dining options for just about any taste, and outdoor activities to explore, it is certainly worth a day trip.
Three beautiful state parks are within a 15 minutes drive of downtown, including Taughannock Falls State Park which is home to the tallest waterfall in the state of New York. It’s even taller than Niagara Falls!
Similar to Watkins Glen, Ithaca is also located on the southern tip of one of the Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake.
Don’t miss exploring the Cascadilla Gorge Trail, part of the Cornell Botanical Gardens. It is a gorge waterfall trail all its own. This is just one of the spots in Ithaca where you can find waterfalls, but there are plenty of things to fill a day of exploring in Ithaca.
Where to Stay in Watkins Glen
There are plenty of motels, bed & breakfasts, and campgrounds to stay in and around Watkins Glen.
For a great view right in the heart of the action, stay at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel.
Be sure to request a room with a harbor view! The hotel also has a patio with outdoor firepits to enjoy the sunrise or sunset over the lake. It’s hard to beat the location of the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel.
If you want to do a complete 180 and “rough it,” the Watkins Glen State Park campground is also a great place to stay. Campsites are nestled in lightly wooded areas, and many of the sites have a little more room to roam. You shouldn’t have to feel like you are on top of other campers at most of the sites here.
The downside is that the bathhouse facilities are a little limited, but they are there! It just takes a little strategy to get a shower stall whenever the campground is busy, like on holiday weekends.
Where to Eat in and near Watkins Glen
This is not an all-inclusive list. There are many options for dining in and around Watkins Glen. From lakefront dining to enjoying a bite on a picnic table outdoors, you can be sure to find something to suit your tastebuds.
- Seneca Harbor Station
- Nickel’s Pit BBQ
- Colonial Pizza & Grille
- Tobey’s Donut Shop
- Seneca Sunrise Coffee
- FLX Wienery
- Grist Iron Brewing Company
Best Time to Visit Watkins Glen
For these activities, the best time to visit Watkins Glen is during the summer and fall. The Watkins Glen Gorge Trail does not open until all of the snow and ice is melted, so if visiting during the winter and spring, you’ll miss one of the stars of the show!
While the views of the vineyards and the lake look beautiful covered in snow, many of the attractions and businesses either have limited hours or close entirely during the winter.
Just be sure to do your research if you plan to visit during the “offseason” to make sure that you can visit all of the things you wish to do. You don’t want to make the trip to Watkins Glen to find out that your planned destinations are closed for the week, month, or season!
If you want to explore more of the area, there are so many other great state parks, small towns, lakes, gorges… you name it! A few of our favorites include Letchworth, Taughannock Falls, and Buttermilk Falls.
Also, don’t be afraid to veer off and check out the other Finger Lakes like Cayuga, Keuka, and Canandaigua.
Watkins Glen itself, though, is a beautiful and fun-filled destination in the Finger Lakes region of New York. There are plenty of things to do, including wine trails, hiking adventures, and motorsports history. So be sure to add Watkins Glen to your list of places to visit on your next trip to New York!