Day Trip: Watkins Glen

At the southern end of Seneca Lake, one of the NY state Finger Lakes, is Watkins Glen.

Watkins Glen is a small town in New York state. Small as in the census population claims just over 2000 people. However, many people know of Watkins Glen for it’s racing track.

The Watkins Glen Sports Car Grand Prix used to be held right on the town streets in the 1950s (you can still drive over the finish line!). Since then, the town has since erected a stadium for road races. It’s famous because it’s one of the few NASCAR races not performed on an oval raceway. (I don’t know if I’m using the proper terminology. I’ve never watched NASCAR in my life.)

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Regardless, driving by the stadium is quite the sight! It is this huge stadium literally in the middle of cow fields. I thought it was pretty funny. We were able to watch a few test drivers going around the track.

Watkins Glen is also famous because in 1973 there was a huge rock concert there called the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. 600,000 people attended making it the largest number of people at a music festival of it’s time (yes, it was larger than Woodstock).

Oddly enough, my Dad grew up not too far from Watkins Glen and was able to watch the parade of people coming into town. The weekend of the festival he said all the hippies were riding on top of their cars naked and took showers in the car wash right next to his house! Oh to be growing up in the 70s.

Anyways, the real reason Watkins Glen is worth a pit stop is the state park. It’s absolutely beautiful!

I used to go here frequently as a kid, but I hadn’t been here for at least 10 years.

The park is just stunning. Carved out of the earth by glaciers, the gorge is 400 feet deep into the earth.

There are many waterfalls to walk through and the gorges are a vision. On weekends during the summer they have a laser show in the gorge. Definitely wear sneakers. And plan to get a little wet if it has been raining lately. The waterfall areas can get quite wet.

There is no admittance fee, but you will need to pay for parking. I wish I had gotten more photos, but my camera battery died. I kept saying “I feel like I’m in Fern Gully!” (Anyone else remember loving that movie?)

Once you reach the bottom of the gorge, there is an ice cream parlor within walking distance. It’s called the Great Escape and worth a visit!

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I always get “Crazy Vanilla”.  It’s just vanilla ice cream but it’s rainbow colored. As a kid I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. As usual, I sampled all the desserts of my family and can attest that the soft serve, smoothies and Oatmeal Cookie ice cream were also delicious! (Yes, I’m that person.)

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There is also a marina where you can walk out onto a pier in the lake. There was a mini-golf course here when I was a kid, but now it’s a new hotel. In town there are a few fun shops. This area of NY is pretty crunchy granola feeling.

Watkins Glen is definitely worth a stop if you are ever driving through western NY state. (Unlikely, but a possibility nonetheless.)

Have you been to Watkins Glen? Do you watch NASCAR? Is there something I’m missing there?

3 comments

  1. I have driven through Watkins Glen. I went to college at SUNY Oswego. If you get a chance to get up to Oswego, it is beautiful (a couple hours drive from watkins glen though). There is a light house walk that is really wonderful. Also, closer to Watkins Glen than Oswego, is Chittenango Falls http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/130/details.aspx . Southern New York also has The Corning Museum of Glass which is a WONDERFUL place to visit!! I grew up in the Saratoga area so if you need a few ideas of places to visit up that way Im full of suggestions 🙂

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