The funny thing about road trips is that you end up spending a lot of time behind the wheel of your car. There’s always another city to get to, asphalt to be consumed, another waypoint to hit. So by the time I pulled into Watkins Glen, a small town in New York’s Finger Lakes region, I was ready to get out and stretch my legs.
Fortunately, the village is home to one of the coolest state parks in New York, hidden in plain sight, right off the main drag.
Watkins Glen State Park is home to a “staircase of waterfalls” that cascade down through innumerable layers of shale and sandstone, guarded by towering cliff faces from which heavy drops of condensation fall, splashing on hikers’ heads. It’s a Lost World here, with electric green ferns dangling, water whooshing over ledges and swirling in natural Jacuzzis, mist hanging heavily in the air and amateur naturalists armed with telescoping aluminum walking sticks and floppy, broad-brimmed hats. (Another secret of the park is that the pathway along Glen Creek, while sometimes slippery, is hardly a technical hike.)
The park is a verdant escape, a place for a one-hour break from reality, planted right in the heart of a town best known as a car-racing capital, the home to Watkins Glen International, one of the country’s most storied road tracks. There’s no doubt the park gets crowded on the weekends, but during my Wednesday morning visit? I was happy to have my time outside the car to myself.