48 Hours in Watkins Glen, NY

This week we embark on our annual Labor Day weekend trip to the Finger Lakes region of New York. We’ll be staying on the east side of Seneca Lake again this year (east side is a must to see the gorgeous sunsets!), in a small cabin just down the road from where we stayed last year. The nearest town is about 20 minutes away. Watkins Glen is home to an international raceway used on the NASCAR circuit, a stunning state park full of waterfalls… & not much else. But that’s why I love this little town: the streets & waterfront are perfect for strolling. So here are my recommendations for a lovely 48 hours in Watkins Glen, NY.

How to get there

The southern Finger Lakes are an easy drive from many places on the east coast: 5.5 hours from DC, 4.5 hours from NYC & Philadelphia, 6 hours from Boston. You can also fly into Elmira-Corning Regional Airport, which offers daily service to Detroit, Philadelphia & Chicago. But you’re definitely going to need a car for this trip, so road tripping is probably the best.

Where to stay
Most people stay in vacation rentals during their visit to the Finger Lakes. We’ve always had good luck with HomeAway.com & VRBO.com. If you’re picky on your accommodations, be sure & book early for the best selection, as homes do fill up quickly.

Finger Lakes sunset

sunset view from our cabin
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Watkins Glen is also home to the only luxury hotel in the southern Finger Lakes, the Harbor Hotel. During our very first visit to the town, we stayed here for a night & it was absolutely lovely. Many of their rooms have balconies that overlook Seneca Lake & the on-site restaurant’s fire pit seemed to be the hottest place in town.

finger lakes watkins glen

Harbor Hotel
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

What to do

The most popular attraction in town is gorgeous Watkins Glen State Park. Even though we’ve hiked the trials before, B & I always make it a point to get back here every trip because it’s just that beautiful. The Gorge Trail is a well maintained trail & an easy hike that rewards you with 19 Gorge-ous (hehehe) waterfalls. This year, we’re going to head to the backside of the park & hike some of the upper trails, but I likely won’t be able to resist at least a little time on the Gorge Trail, gawking at waterfalls.

Finger Lakes Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen State Park
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Finger Lakes Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen State Park
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Finger Lakes Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen State Park
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

If you’re coming to the Finger Lakes region, you will definitely want to find time to spend time actually on Seneca Lake. You can take a leisurely afternoon ride on True Love sailboat, a restored historic sailboat; rent a kayak & paddle up to Hector Falls; or just enjoy a stroll along the rocks which provide protection for the harbor.

Finger Lakes Watkins Glen

True Love sailboat
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

finger lakes watkins glen

strolling along the harbor rocks
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Back on land, the Finger Lakes region is known for their excellent white wine growing environment. A number of wineries line the shores of all the lakes & it would take several visits to the area to sample them all. Some of our favorites on Seneca Lake include Atwater Winery, which has a beautiful view from their back deck; J.R. Dill, a small winery that has live music on their front lawn in the evening; SIlverthread Winery, a quaint winery down a winding road that makes a killer riesling; Wagner Vineyards, a huge winery & brewery which has live music in the evenings & fireworks on Labor Day weekend; & a tasting room for our all-time favorite Finger Lakes winery, Heron Hill. Also on our agenda for this trip? Two Goats Brewing, a brewery which is rumored to make killer roast beef sandwiches.

wine finger lakes

Silver Thread winery
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Finger Lakes wine

Atwater Vineyard
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Our favorite evening activity is sitting out on the dock, enjoying a bottle of local wine & watching the sun dip behind the horizon.

Finger Lakes sunset

a gorgeous sunset on the lake
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

finger lakes wine sunset

cheers to you, Seneca Lake
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Where to Eat

For such a small town, there are a number of great places to eat around Watkins Glen. In the town itself, we love Nickel’s Pit BBQ (part of Rooster Fish Brewing) for awesome, authentic BBQ smoked right there on-site. Glen Mountain Market Bakery & Deli makes delicious breakfast sandwiches & serves coffee that was roasted just a few miles down the road. Outside of Watkins Glen, on the east side of the lake, is an awesome bistro called Stonecat Cafe. Make sure to snag a seat on their back deck & be rewarded with sunset views over the vineyards (note: while they don’t have a view of the lake, the food & atmosphere make it worth a stop anyway).

10348275666_69b147089b_z

lots of choices on tap
photo provided by Nickels Pit BBQ

8173101009_e1c6465e85_z

all the noms
photo provided by Nickels Pit BBQ

945964_574156235978971_1680169433_n

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

1940010_673366569391270_1187121974_n

reason enough to stop at Glen Mountain Bakery!
photo provided by Glen Mountain Bakery

Got an extra day?

There are 11 lakes in the Finger Lakes region, each with their own personality. They’re all within a few hours drive of each other, meaning if you have an extra day, it’s the perfect time to explore a new lake. Keuka Lake, anchored by the towns of Hammondsport & Penn Yan, is a clam, Y-shaped lake perfect for water sports. Cayuga Lake is anchored by the walkable town of Ithaca, home to a ton of waterfalls & Cornell University. All around the Finger Lakes are wineries that excel in making beautiful white wines & trails just waiting to be hiked.

Finger Lakes waterfall

Taughannock Falls
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

finger lakes keuka

kayaking on Keuka Lake
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Share Button

About christina

Christina is a 30-something D.I.N.K. travel writer & photographer who travels the world often wedged into the middle seat. Follow her on Twitter & Facebook.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply