Watkins Glen State Park

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Coordinates: 42°22′37″N 76°52′18″W / 42.377059°N 76.871687°W / 42.377059; -76.871687

Watkins Glen
State Park
Watkins Glen Rainbow Bridge and Falls David Sullivan cropped.jpg
Rainbow Bridge and Falls
Name origin: Samuel Watkins
Country United States
State New York
Region Finger Lakes
Counties Schuyler
City Watkins Glen
Landmark Rainbow Bridge and Falls
River Glen creek
Management New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Owner State of New York
For public yes
Easiest access car
Website: http://nysparks.com/parks/142/details.aspx]

Watkins Glen State Park is located outside the village of Watkins Glen, New York, south of Seneca Lake in Schuyler County in the Finger Lakes region. The park's lower part is near the village, while the upper part is open woodland. It was opened to the public in 1863 and was privately run as a tourist resort until 1906, when it was purchased by New York State. Since 1924, it has been managed by the Finger Lakes Region of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.[1]

Jacob's Ladder, near the upper entrance to the park, has 180 stone steps, part of the 832 total on the trails

The centerpiece of the park is a 400-foot-deep (120 m) narrow gorge cut through rock by a stream – Glen Creek – that was left hanging when glaciers of the Ice age deepened the Seneca valley, increasing the tributary stream gradient to create rapids and waterfalls wherever there were layers of hard rock. The rocks of the area are sedimentary of Devonian age that are part of a dissected plateau that was uplifted with little faulting or distortion. They consist mostly of soft shales, with some layers of harder sandstone and limestone.

The park features three trails – open mid-May to early November – by which one can climb or descend the gorge. The Southern Rim and Indian Trails run along the wooded rim of the gorge, while the Gorge Trail is closest to the stream and runs over, under and along the park's 19 waterfalls by way of stone bridges and more than 800 stone steps. The trails connect to the Finger Lakes Trail, an 800-mile (1280 km) system of trails throughout New York state.[1]

Activities and services[edit]

The park has comfortable camping sites, as well as picnic tables and pavilions, food, playground, a gift shop, pool, dump stations, showers, recreation programs, tent and trailer sites, fishing, hiking, hunting and cross-county skiing. The entrance fee for a day picnic is $8 per car. The park is open year-round, but not all facilities are available at all times.[1]


Pleistocene Ice Map
Pleistocene north ice map

During the Pleistocene era, a vast area was covered by ice during the maximum extent of glacial ice in the north polar area.[2] This is important because of the role glaciers played in the creation of the Finger Lakes region. The Watkins Glen area is a small part of the Finger Lakes region, a region shaped by glaciation during the movement of the Laurentide and Wisconsin ice sheets. The area and process of its formation is best described as seen on the Finger Lakes Wiki under the Geology section, which reads as follows:

"The lakes originated as a series of northward-flowing streams. Around two million years ago the first of many continental glaciers of the Laurentide Ice Sheet moved southward from the Hudson Bay area, initiating the Pleistocene glaciation. These glaciers widened, deepened and accentuated the existing river valleys. The glacial debris, possibly terminal moraine, left behind by the receding ice, acted as dams, allowing lakes to form. Despite the deep erosion of the valleys, the surrounding uplands show little evidence of glaciation, suggesting that the ice was thin, or at least unable to cause much erosion at these higher altitudes. The deep cutting by the ice left some tributaries hanging high above the lakes—both Seneca and Cayuga have tributaries hanging as much as 120 m above the valley floors."[3]

Watkins Glen State Park is a prime example of the effects of this glaciation, as glaciers moved through this region the Finger Lakes were carved out of the surrounding land. As a direct result of glacial melting widening and deepening the streams in these areas the surrounding lands eroded, leaving low lying valley lakes with surrounding streams that still run into these valleys. Over time the streams running into these valleys eroded the land that they ran over, sending sediment downstream and digging down into the harder rock layers of the land. This erosion was not a uniform process, as the different layers of rock were eroded they created increased stream gradient and many unique erosional features. The results of this erosion are areas such as Watkins Glen State Park, this area was turned into a tourist attraction in 1863 based upon the erosional features of the area. Watkins Glen state park boasts nineteen waterfalls spaced along a trail roughly two miles long, these waterfalls would not be possible in this area if it were not for the glacial and erosional history of the area.[4] The 1,000 acre park consists of mostly shale, limestone, and sandstone, these types of rock erode at different speeds, leaving behind waterfalls and pools of water. According to a glacial erosion study completed in 2011 sandstone erodes more quickly than limestone, thus the sandstone in this area must have eroded first, leaving the limestone base.[5]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c "Watkins Glen State Park", visitor's guide, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Finger Lakes Region (2012)
  2. ^ Schlee, J. (2000, 02 15). "Our changing continent"
  3. ^ Sam, E. (02, 2014 24). "Finger lakes"
  4. ^ "Watkins Glen State Park" Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance, n.d. Retrieved: February 20, 2014
  5. ^ Krabbendam, M., & Glasser, N. F. (2011). Glacial erosion and bedrock properties in NW Scotland: Abrasion and plucking, hardness and joint spacing. Geomorphology, 130(3-4), 374–383. doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2011.04.022

External links[edit]