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Finger Lakes Trail

NCT-Watkins Glen State Park


Our 2010 Hikes - April 27

Finger Lakes Trail

North Country Trail

Watkins Glen State Park Section


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Date:  April 27, 2010

Length of hike 4.4 miles round trip

Location:  Watkins Glen, NY

Trailhead:  Off White Hollows Road

Trailhead Coordinates:  N42 21.837 W76 54.636

Name of Trails:  Finger Lakes Trail, North Country Trail

Hike Difficulty:  Moderate

Hike Elevation Gain:  758 feet

Trail Conditions:  Well maintained trails

Features:  Gorge, waterfalls, scenic lake, old picnic grounds, cliff side trail

Links: NCT-Watkins Glen State Park

On Tuesday we looked at the weather forecasts and radar before deciding to travel to Watkins Glen for a hike along the Finger Lakes Trail / North Country Trail.  We thought we'd miss the snow and rain that was hitting us.  It poured for most of our drive on the Thruway to Geneva, with even some snow flakes.  We never really escaped the weather by the time we arrived in Watkins Glen as the snow flakes were flying.  I kept telling myself that snow was better than pouring rain.  My car said it was a balmy 35 degrees at the trailhead.  It was 45 when we left Liverpool.  So much for a sunny hike.

Following an old park road in Watkins Glen State Park

We had decided to do a great section of the Finger Lakes Trail / North Country Trail through Watkins Glen State Park starting from Whites Hollow Road.  There is a large grassy area for parking near where the trail turns onto the road from the west.  We decided to park along the old park road that the trail follows without blocking the road or any gates.  There is no fee to enter the state park from here.

The FLT/NCT leaving the old park road on the left

The hike begins as a pleasant walk along this old park road.  Your following the white blazes of the FLT/NCT for most of this hike.  At 0.3 miles the trail turns left off the old park road and now follows along a gorge.  You may hear Glen Creek below you.  Soon after crossing under power lines the trail passes by a nice waterfall below you at 0.4 miles.

FLT/NCT passing a waterfall

The trail continues to descend as you make your way along Glen Creek towards a beautiful old large park pavilion with a huge fireplace and large tables at 0.65 miles.  This scenic spot is made even better by its location next to Punch Bowl Lake (see panorama above).  Most visitors to Watkins Glen State Park never see this scenic place or even know its here.  The main FLT/NCT skirts the pavilion, however we went over to explore this majestic place and walked along the edge of the lake until we hooked back up with the main trail again.  After we took a pleasant short break on one of the large tables.

The old park pavilion near Punch Bowl Lake

The grand fireplace inside the old park pavilion

The trail continues to follow along the edge of the lake and makes its way toward the dam for the lake, which creates a nice waterfall at 0.9 miles.  Watch your step in this area!  The trail now has many nice views through the trees of a gorge that most visitors to the state park never see.  Most visitors to the park hike the Gorge Trail and the eastern section of the park.  We haven't even reached the Gorge Trail area yet!

Waterfall and dam for Punch Bowl Lake

Views of the gorge from the FLT/NCT

At 1.25 miles you reach the amazing Norfolk Southern Railroad bridge that spans the gorge.  This is an active railroad and there are posted signs meant to keep people of the bridge.  Scrappy wanted to explore the bridge, however I knew better and with the snow really flying we continued on. 

The Norfolk Southern Railroad Bridge

Snowing at the railroad bridge on April 27th

At 1.6 miles we reached the stone steps access trail that leads to the main Gorge Trail.  For those who want to join the throngs of visitors can turn left here for the gorge trail.  We continued on and soon passed an old lean to shelter on our right.  There is no camping allowed along the trail in the state park.  Thru hikers must camp in the campground, however I believe most get lodging in the village and enjoy a "zero day".

Access to the Gorge Trail from the FLT/NCT

Old park lean to shelter along the FLT/NCT

At 1.9 miles the trail reaches a junction of trail that leads to the South Park Entrance and the park campground.  The trail veers left at this junction and descends steeply into an old picnic area.  Check out how they constructed the picnic tables and the nice old grills.  There is an old rest room facility on the left that is closed.  The trail is hard to follow through here as the trail heads toward a park maintenance road.

The FLT/NCT passing through an old picnic area

At 2.15 miles you reach an open area with a pond toward your right, the south pavilion on a hill on your right and a stone display on your left.  The display talks about the trails in the area and the old park.  The FLT/NCT continues straight here toward NY 329 and the village.  We turned left and followed a trail to the suspension bridge at 2.2 miles.  From this point my options were very limited as all the trails in this area had signs stating NO DOGS ALLOWED.  Poor Scrappy.

Looking down into gorge from suspension bridge

Your options in exploring the park from here are endless (if you don't bring your dog).  At the suspension bridge you have access to the South Rim Trail, Indian Trail and Lovers Lane.  Or maybe you decided to hike the Gorge Trail from the first access further up and now are hiking back via the FLT/NCT.  Either way, this is a great section of the Finger Lakes Trail / North Country Trail to explore.

Suspension Bridge in Watkins Glen State Park

From the suspension bridge we simply retraced our steps back to our vehicle for a moderate 4.4 mile round trip hike.  If you've never done this section of the FLT/NCT before, it will give you a different perspective of Watkins Glen State Park.  There is a map and video below of this hike.


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