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Gorge Trail/Indian Trail Loop

Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Watkins Glen State Park, one of the premier destinations in New York’s Finger Lakes Region, provides hikers with an intimate look at the dark, moisture laden hanging valley that has been twisted and carved by Glen Creek—stone and dirt trails, cavernous tunnels, and hundreds of stone steps wander above the gorge, along the creek, and past at least 19 waterfalls.

Glen Creek, descending nearly 400 feet within the 2 mile constrains of the glen’s 300-ft cliffs, has excavated New York’s finest example of a pothole gorge—rapidly descending water, carrying stones and gravel, wear against the soft sedimentary layers, boring potholes and kettles into the bedrock. Cascades, deep pools, and waterfalls complete the beautiful scenery—the entire glen is a feast for the senses.

Hikers of the Gorge Trail start their exploration of Watkins Glen from the parking area at the Main Entrance—visible from the car park is Sentry Bridge, built by the CCC, the stone walkway spans the flowing water of Entrance Cascade 52-feet below and is the gateway to the serenity of Glen Alpha.

Glen Alpha, a micro-climate of moss-covered stone and cascading water, transports the hiker into a different world—one far removed from the sights and sounds of the city that is just steps away. Climbing the trail past delightful scenes such as Minnehaha Falls and the Heart-shaped Pool, you soon arrive at Cavern Cascade—a set of stairs leads up to and behind the 50-foot plume of falling water. During a summer day you will be hard-pressed to photograph Cavern Cascade without a throng of other hikers in your shot—just go with the flow, no pun intended, and take your time (while you wait, kids will enjoy searching for snails and salamanders that bask in the spray of the falls).

The Gorge Trail, after leading the hiker behind the curtain of water that is Cavern Cascade, continues its journey into the glen via a Spiral Tunnel—the dark, twisting staircase emerges into the light of Glen Obscura, a world of skyward-stretching cliffs and narrow passage ways.

Continue your trek, now on the north side of Glen Creek, passing Whispering Falls and the Suspension Bridge—bypass the bridge and enter another tunnel leading to Diamond Falls. The upcoming portion of the gorge is known as The Narrows—reminiscent of a slot canyon, the walls of the glen close, causing the flowing water to increase its speed of descent through the glen.

Eventually the walls of the glen begin to widen into an area known as Glen Cathedral—this dry, sunny area of the gorge supports plants unlike the others found in the moist, rainforest-like sections. On a clear day, you will encounter a micro-climate more like a desert—sundried cliffs support drought-resistant grasses, wildflowers and shrubs typical of a dry field.

Climbing ever higher into Watkins Glen, you find yourself above Central Cascade at Folly Bridge, the gateway to the Glen of Pools—plunge pools, potholes, Triple Cascade, and Rainbow Falls dominate the scene.

At Rainbow Falls the trail, once again, allows the hiker to pass behind a waterfall—pass behind the wall of water, feel the spray from the plume, and emerge to climb a set of stairs and cross yet another bridge spanning the creek.

Beyond the bridge above Rainbow Falls, enter the dark and narrow world of Spiral Gorge—Pluto Falls, The Pool of Nymphs, and the Pillar of Beauty are standouts in this section, also known as Glen Arcadia.

The Gorge Trail now meets up with Mile Point Bridge, marking the intersection with the South Rim Trail and the Indian Trail—we opted to hike back along the Indian Trail to return to the Main Entrance.

Hiking back along the Indian Trail is pretty uneventful, except for a diversion to the trailside graves and Winter Crypt (once used to house the dead during the winter months) of St. Mary’s and Glenwood Cemeteries—further along the trail the Rainbow Overlook, and the Central Cascade Overlook grant a bird’s eye view of two of the main waterfalls.


 
 
 
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