The town of Watkins Glen, NY is best known for 2 things; Watkins Glen State Park and their connection to auto racing.
First settled in 1791, the village was later named in honor of Dr. Samuel Watkins. The state purchased the land around the gorge in 1906 and formally took over its development as a tourist destination in 1911. The State of New York considers Watkins Glen State Park a “flagship” park.
In 1948 Watkins Glen revived American road racing by holding the first post-WWII road race in the United States. Watkins Glen is now home to the famous Watkins Glen International, one of the premier automobile road racing tracks in the United States, and the International Motor Racing Research Center.
Things to do
- Watkins Glen State Park – ($10/car). The main attraction of this 778-acre park is a walk through a 400’ deep narrow gorge featuring 19 waterfalls over a span of less than two miles. The 2.4 mile loop includes 800’ elevation, mostly in stairs. The carved stone and waterfalls create a magical environment. This park gets extremely busy so you may want to get there early. Don’t forget to download your trail map early and plan ahead.
- Eagle’s Cliff Falls, Havana Glen Park – Montour Falls, NY. ($2/parking). Just a short walk to the falls (0.3 mile out and back, 29′ elevation) and an amazing little box canyon. Think of it as a “Mini Watkins Glen”.
- Shequaga Falls, Montour Falls, NY – A micro park with a 165’ tall waterfall just a few blocks from the heart Watkins Glen.
- Clute Park, Watkins Glen, NY – A 35 acre park along Lake Seneca, one of the Finger Lakes. We enjoyed the views and ate a very windy picnic dinner here.
- Taughannock Falls State Park, Trumansburg, NY – This park has a huge area along Lake Cayuga with playgrounds, picnic areas and lots of room to spread out. The drive from Watkins Glen passes through beautiful farmland and the drive back to town gives you some impressive long range views. We did the Taughannock Falls Trail (1.5 total out and back, 183’ elevation) which follows the river along a tree-lined path and ends at an overlook facing the 215’ falls. Part of the way in they let you walk along the stone river bed which gives you an amazing view of the 400’ walls above. It’s a beautiful spot to spend a bit of time. This is a very popular trail. We went early evening and the crowd did seem to be thinning out.
- Watkins Glen International Speedway, Watkins Glen, NY – On a whim we asked if we could go in and see the racetrack. To our surprise the man at the gate let us into the stands to watch the cars zoom by on a “Track Day”. We were the only spectators there. The sound of those cars zooming by is something else! What an incredible experience.
- International Motor Racing Research Center – A professional archive of motorsports history that aims to preserve and share the history of motorsports around the world. Open year-round, the Center charges no admission and has a staff eager to share their passion for racing. They have books, displays, archives, a model car, racing art, photography collections and a film on the early history of racing on the streets of Watkins Glen and the local track. Throughout the race season, the Center features a notable race car in a rotating display in the main hall.
Where to eat
- Jerlando’s Ristorante and Pizza Co. – Serving delicious Italian & American Cuisine for over twenty years. I cannot say enough about the smell walking into this place!
- El Rancho Mexican Restaurant – El Rancho brings traditional Mexican cuisine to Watkins Glen. They’re known for their large portions, charming staff and the best margaritas in the area.
- Scuteri’s Cannoli Connection – Family owned and operated Scuteri’s Cannoli Connection has been offering freshly filled cannoli, tiramisu, rum cakes, Italian cookies, and many other heavenly baked goods (and pizza and wings). We just missed eating there but they’re top of our list for our next visit.
- Colonial Inn and Creamery – Homemade, artisanal ice cream with 32 luscious flavors.
Where to stay
- The Falls Motel, Montour Falls, NY – ($350/2 nights). We stayed at this older motel to keep costs down when the surrounding hotels were much higher priced. My impression was that they were maintaining it as cheaply as they could but the bed was very comfortable and we slept well.
- Colonial Inn and Creamery, Watkins Glen, NY – The Colonial Inn first opened in 1837 and the mystique, charm and history of the Inn has been maintained for nearly two centuries. This Inn is the closest to the village shops and restaurants and Watkins Glen State Park is just a short walk away. We haven’t stayed there but I just checked, and off-season at least, the prices are pretty reasonable. Also, the handmade ice cream is right there, so…