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NY-Watkins Glen State Park Campground

Campground Review- Summer 2022

During our trip to Indiana to participate in an annual Silver Avion Fellowship (SAF) rally we made plans to stay at Watkins Glen State Park Campground for 4 nights.

Our Overall Rating: Watkins Glen State Park & Campground

3 Campfires our of potential 5


I had booked site #1 (back 6 mo ago) specifically because it was (1) in one of the two loops that have electricity at the sites and (2) from the site map it appeared that the site was at an intersection of campground roads thereby providing some ease of manuevering backing into the site.

WRONG! Although Site #1 was listed as good for trailers up to 40′ long…Mother Nature and the park has seen to have 3 trees strategically placed at the opening edges and corner of the site–making angling into the site from ANY direction virtually impossible for our 32 foot long trailer (60 ft overall with our truck)

After several valiant but unsuccessful attempts Kevin managed to back it in on the side of the site where obviously others had also parked their rig but was clearly intended to be your “yard”. We also, due to our clearance height, backed overtop of the cement fire pit in order to fit. (we use our own portable LP fire bowl anyway if we want a campfire). I decided to call the office and discuss the matter. The campground director said she was going to send down the Assistant Manager to check things out. As the dust settled, he showed up within about 10 minutes and immediately agreed there was no way we were getting our rig into this site with the trees in the way. I requested to move diagonally across the road to site #39. Mind you, #39 is NOT on the list of reservable sites, it is their unofficial/official overflow or VIP lot. He said, no problem and we easily slipped into Site 39 which is by far one of the best sites in the park, with electricity and total privacy of woods on our curbside patio side. Perfect customer service, perfect site, plenty of back in room. We were “happy campers”! Kudos to decisive actions on the part of management.

So this above is leading up to the fact, I cannot actually give you a normal review of our Site #39 since you will not even see it show up on plot maps as it is not rentable. BUT as we often do, we did do a walk around and have noted in this review sites that we feel are really nice ones and ones that if you have a long set up like us—you will or should not have too much trouble getting in and out of those sites. Enjoy!

CAMPGROUND FACILITIES: This campground sits on the top of a very steep road just off the main drag of downtown Watkins Glen. When you enter the park ($10 to enter without a camping reservation) you will see a large swimming pavillion on the right.

Campground Roadways: most are easily navigated especially those with electric sites (Cayuga and Mohawk). As you get further into the park the upper loops clearly have more tight turns, most are all used for tenting sites. There is a dump station in one of the loops which was in very good condition and easy access in and out. There are a few sites that back onto the large lawn area (group camping) on the left of the road where there is a large playground. I do not believe those open grass sites have any electricity so would be dry camping. These would be nice for families with children but they are pretty much in open sun. ALL other sites in this state park are in wooded, shady or partly shady areas. Nice for summer!

THE OLYMPIC POOL IS GORGEOUS!! This is a huge Olympic pool which was truthfully one of the most beautiful pools, sparkling clean and well maintained we have ever seen in our lives. Sadly, their hours of operation stink. 11:30 to 6:45 PM daily. Best parking if you have a large vehicle is in the lower lot before the pool building and walk up the stairs to the lawn. Snack bar is closed, you have to walk through the gender specific bath house/bathroom/shower/change rooms on either side in order to get into the pool area proper. Yes, very odd- seems very old school and strange like some Coney Island flashback. Not enough benches or chairs for everyone so you may wish to bring your own-but the pool is worth it. Great ADA steps with railing to get in, 2 legit diving boards where there is a designated lifeguard and depth of pool is 16 feet! Water temp was perfect. Lifeguards are on duty during open hours and depending on staffing some sections of the pool may be closed off. There was plenty open for our needs and we were there on a Sunday and anticipated the pool would be full- gladly the crowds were really not that bad at all. Many of the cars in the parking lot were obviously there to take the trail to the gorge trail…not for swimming! There is no charge for campers to use the pool.

CAMPGROUND BATH HOUSES:  Each campground loop has bathroom facilities.  The bath houses in the two electric loops: Cayuga and Mohawk appear newer and were in very good repair and clean.  We wish they had put the large tub sink outside like at other state campgrounds though.  It is inside and with no shelves for doing dishes, folks tend to use all of the shelving and other sinks-hogging a bit.  The handicap shower is best to use since has some hooks and fold down bench to sit, otherwise, plan to bring your own stool or bench to set your towel, toiletries and garments on.  It was a little bit of a walk from our site to the bath house.  There is a dumpster near bath house and also another behind the main entry ranger booth which was closer to our site. The bath house below was in our Cayuga Loop.

BONUS!!!! ACCESS TO THE MAIN GORGE TRAIL IS DIRECT FROM THE CAMPGROUND!  A particularly great feature of this campground is that as a camper, you have a direct trail that is marked and leads to the main public gorge trail.  You have to walk to the end of that campsite loop, go through a gate and down a steep trail to a set of steps that then takes you over one of several stone arch bridges over the gorge.  Your decision is to go up, north to the end of the trail and (1) take the North parking lot shuttle down to the bottom and hike back up the rest of the gorge trail to intersect again with your campground trail or (2) take a right over the arch bridge and hike downhill on the main gorge trail.  This is what we chose to do.  We started our hike from the campground trail at about 8:30 AM to beat the bulk of the traffic on the main gorge trail which we definitely did!  It still was busy but by the time we got to the bottom (about 1.5 hours after pausing for photo ops, short rests) the crowds at the bottom visitor center were really getting large. Once at the bottom, you then can take the shuttle back up to the North parking lot and walk downhill to pick up your stone arch bridge trail back to the parking lot.  This works quite well and gives you the ability to do the whole gorge but  not have to deal with parking your vehicle in downtown (which will cost you $10 if you can even find a space!)  Do not forget your backpack with water and snacks, walking sticks and a hat! Quick virtual tour!

THE GORGE IS GORGEOUS!  This is the reason you come right??  yes!  This gorge and its waterfalls (some you can walk behind) is dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the East” and aptly so!  It is beautiful from so many angles as you traverse the stone staircases, walk over stone bridges and navigate through some cut winding grottos with staircases (one forged in 1908!)  We were here in mid-July and to be honest, the water levels were fairly low so some of the waterfalls were not as grand as they would have been in late spring.  NOTE- sometimes the trail is closed if water levels are too high so double check their website for alerts.  Nevertheless, being there on a sultry July day we enjoyed the cool misty atmosphere of the gorge itself.  Temps dropped easily by 20 degrees and the mist from some areas was a welcomed surreal bath.  I am sure the gorge in the fall is beautiful but note, much of it is rock so to see fall foliage you are going to need to be looking up more than around.  Do only wear closed, sturdy shoes!  The steps are stone, wet and uneven at times.  We wore our hiking shoes and were just fine. There are several staircases that shoot off and up to the top edge of the eastern side of the gorge.  We did not take any of these but we understand one leads to an old cemetery with grave markers of original settlers to the area and others lead to other more overarching overlooks of the gorge.  These could be fantastic with fall foliage in full swing and give you views of the surrounding lake area of Seneca lake itself. 

Here are photos we took along our gorge trail hike.  Every turn, every level met with OOHs and AHHs from us and everyone!  Pictures really do not do it justice so please plan to take a visit yourself!

TIP: I personally think that doing the trail downhill is more splendid and you can focus more on the views than trudging  up hill and looking at the backside of the person in front of you (just sayin’).

DOWNTOWN WATKINS GLEN:  to be sure, this is a tourist town!  WG sits at the southern foot of Seneca Lake, one of NY’s famous Finger Lakes.  A leisurely drive around the entire lake on the roadways that sit high above on the plateau is worth the time if you have it. There are tons of vineyards and breweries, quaint little towns some with nice boutiques and restaurants (not a lot of gas stations though so plan accordingly).  There is a WalMart just to the east edge of downtown- easy in and out with your RV to get grocery, ice, etc.

Watkins Glen is packed on the weekends and whenever there are special events (lots of them) and racing going on at the venerable car race track about 3 miles as the crow flies from the campground.  Yes, when the wind was blowing just right on Saturday we could hear the dull drone of the cars racing around the track- but it was not a biggie or obtrusive really.  In downtown proper you will see some nice boutiques, ice cream joints, various restaurants of all price points.  We visited the outdoor store (Famous Brands Outlet)  that sells all sorts of hiking and outdoor wear, shoes and gear- nice selection, a little pricey.  We treated ourselves to lunch on Main Street after our gorge hike- and enjoyed the food and ambiance at elrancho-ny.com/.  We ate breakfast our last morning at Tobey’s Donut Shop which is a local fav.  The bagel sandwiches were good but a tad greasy and not the best we have ever (had though some claim they are).  Their donuts are very good and especially the sour cream batter ones!  We bought 6 and they stayed very fresh for days. When they sell out, they close for the day so get there early!

IN SUMMARY: will we go back?  most likely yes, and hopefully bring our grandsons to see this breathtaking natural marvel.  Will we stay at the state campground, yes, definitely but only in a loop with electricity as the sites are better suited for RV travel.

Why did we give this campground a 3 Campfire rating rather than higher?  a few reasons….pool hours are too limited, poor cell service, no campground Wifi, only electric hook ups available, no laundry facilities, tight campsites for modern RVs with minimal gravel base-could get muddy with heavy rains.  Additionally downtown WG has some issues…. traffic in downtown is very heavy, quite a few shops in downtown still closed or very limited hours/days open and not recovered after pandemic levels, limited close access to other areas or attractions- it is kind of out in middle of nowhere.

Let us know if you have visited and camped at the Watkins Glen State Park Campground!  We welcome your feedback to help our readers!

Have Safe travels and joy-filled moments!

Kevin & Luise