Last time I passed through Watkins Glen, the parking lots were stuffed full of cars and I was towing a trailer, so I didn’t stop and check it out. This year, I planned way better: four nights at the state park campground, giving me plenty of time to wait out the rain and heat (yes, there were both!) and hike the famous Gorge. It was definitely worth the wait.
The one thing I didn’t anticipate was that the trail along the Gorge is basically an endless series of steps: up, down, down, up, as long as you can walk. Which was kind of the problem for me. I had strained my hip flexor a few weeks back and so my spirits kind of sank as I got to the trail and started to realize just how many steps were going to be involved in this hike. I had a hiking pole and I figured I could just go as slowly as I needed and rest whenever I found a bench or flat surface to sit on. With that as the plan, I headed down the first set of stone steps to get down into the Gorge. (There are over 800 steps, not that I counted; I googled it.)
Wow, it was worth every single step, every step of the way! It was not only cooler down there, it was gorgeous! The glaciers long ago and the constant stream of water from the south end of Seneca Lake have carved beauty through the rocks, creating pools and waterfalls and their work was simply stunning. I hadn’t previewed any photos of the place so I had no idea what it would look like. In retrospect, that was a great thing because then I was surprised and delighted at every turn by the beauty of the Gorge.
At one point, near the side trail back to the campground, there’s this double falls, where you get to walk under one falls while you see the other. It was quite fun, although everyone did watch their footing and keep their phones/cameras to the inside. And yes, it really was that green down there, and the contrast of green foliage and dark rocks gave the place a magical air, as if you were walking into a set piece for Lord of the Rings.
There was no way to get down to this pool, but it looked so refreshing on that hot day that I am sure I wasn’t the only one eyeing a path down to it. Alas, there was none, but just imagining myself soaking it it kind of cooled me down.
The photo below shows the hiking trail on the right side, along with one of the main sets of steps on the trail. I went early on a Saturday morning, well before the parking lots filled up, so my hike was relatively uncrowded. There were actually moments when I was the only one in sight, always a lovely experience in nature, especially on popular trails.
In retrospect, I probably could have done the longer version, looping east to the visitor center starting point and then hiking all the way west to the other end and back to the campground. My hip felt OK the next day; I actually think the up and down of the stairs (with pole in hand) helped loosen things up. I want to come back some day and do the whole trail, and I’ll definitely start early to beat the rush. By noon, it was really starting to get thick with groups of hikers and the parking lots were jammed full of cars all afternoon. So that’s my only advice: go early!
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In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.