I had a few days of planned vacation end of last week and last minute was looking at Hither Hills for some camping by the beach. Of course I should have known that camping+Montauk+Beach+last minute was going to be unrealistic and they were booked. We took a risk and I drove up to Watkins Glen Thursday morning to do some fishing, camping, hiking and whatever trouble we could get in with Sofia and Brandon. A sort-of continuation of our trip to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks this summer; just with less Bears and Snakes (or so we thought!)
We packed up the car rather quickly as we knew there was a Walmart in the town we were headed to pick up a bigger tent, some food to BBQ and a 1-day fishing license – next Summer I’ll get the season license.
On the way up Sofia said she wants to be a butler. Brandon jumped on that and said she could be his butler. That little wise guy, I told Sofia she will never have to serve him and I thought she wanted to be a baby Dr. or a teacher. She said that’s true but being a butler would be ‘the last straw’ 🙂
We hit some traffic with an accident on the Throgs Neck Bridge and later with a disabled truck. As we reached the Delaware Water Gap area in New Jersey we pulled over at an entrance to part of the Appalachian Trail – which is 2186 miles from George to Maine (on the bucket list to complete with Brandon when he graduates high school).
We reached the village of Watkins Glen early afternoon and headed up to the WG State Park to check on walk-up availability for a campsite. I knew there were many State Parks with camping in the area so we had a backup plan. But we really wanted to be near the gorge and its 19 waterfalls.
At the park office Sofia questioned the rule of 1 free CLIF bar and the nice office manager said we could have 2 each. It’s the little things that matter to my eldest daughter!
We picked lot # 264 from a handful that were available. It was in the Tuscarora Village campground area which I had read along with Seneca Village was a great location. There would be a 2am train running pretty close to our site but we knew about it and made the choice.
From Sofia, 7: “We picked #264. We liked that it had more room. We were going to pick 267 but we like 264 better because there was no people camping either side”
All Sofia was talking about was the Olympic size swimming pool at the park and all the playgrounds, while I talked about how we could do those things anytime at home and we should get out on the lake to fish and do some hiking. Of course I gave in and we did everything. I can’t refuse that face 🙂
We got some hot dogs, some snacks and some candy at Walmart, as well as a 4 person tent (our other one is for 2) and it was easy to setup. We grilled dinner on our little Weber charcoal grill (shout out to ‘T’) and then made some Smores before queueing up “Grumpy Old Men” on the iPad in the tent. The kids loved the movie – especially when Jack Lemmon threw the fish in Walter Matthau’s car – and then we went to bed; or at least until the 2am train came by, but only I heard it.
From Brandon, 10: “The hot dogs tasted sooo good! Daddy dropped two of the cooked dogs on the way to the picnic table because it was completely dark outside. That was funny :-)”
We got up somewhat early on Friday and as a team decided to head to the gorge first, then fish.
The centerpiece of Watkins Glen State Park is a 400-foot-deep 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 andwaterfalls wherever there were layers of hard rock. The rocks of the area aresedimentary 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. Oh, and thanks Wikipedia 🙂 Back to our quest!
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.
Along the way the kids got to check out a natural heart-shaped pool at the base of Minnehaha Falls – only visible when the water line is low – and also walk behind and put their hand in the Falls just before reaching Cavern Cascade; a set of stairs leads up to and behind the 50-foot plume of falling water.
have a heart!
From Brandon: “I liked walking the gorge trail and seeing all the pretty waterfalls. It was cool walking through the waterfall and I put my hand in it. All of a sudden we saw a snake on the path – it was tan, grey and green”.
Along the path we saw several worms and Sofia asked if we can add them to the Nightcrawlers we were going to fish with 😉
The kids also noticed a snake just before the gorge trail met up with the Indian Trail. I was trying to zoom in with my iPhone until that snake’s tongue kept hissing and reaching closer to my leg and thought better of it! We stuck to the gorge trail for most of our hike, then hit the Indian Trail to cross a bridge to the other side of the stream and trek back to the start.
Next up on our adventure was a few minute drive to the harbor at Seneca Lake; the largest of the Finger Lakes. We went to the end of a pier and climbed across these large rocks to a nice spot. We had some nibbles from perch and smallmouth bass. Brandon has fished with me before but this was Sofia’s first time casting and she did quite well. She was eager and just started casting her line with little more than me telling her where to put her hands and where to release the line. As I leaned over to help her at one point I heard sounds of something sliding down those large rocks and thought it was the other fishing rod or my Nikon; it was my iPhone and it was down in shallow water with no way to free it and bring it back up. We gave it a healthy try for 20 minutes. This really stunk as I try to take good care of the phone and had secured it pretty well (so I thought) but I wasn’t going to let it ruin our trip.
From Sofia: “I got to fish but we didn’t catch any but they were biting on the worms but they didn’t take the worms off all the way. So we climbed across these big rocks but there were spaces between them so we went slow. But I didn’t really go that slow, I wasn’t scared! Well, just a little scared. Well, Daddy’s phone was in his pocket and then it wasn’t. Oops”
I knew we were close by a raceway that Nascar uses for Nationwide and Spring Cup events annually. Actually just 2 weeks earlier Kyle Busch, who I love to hate, won the Sunday race at Watkins Glen. Don’t laugh – while NASCAR isn’t huge on Long Island, it wasn’t hard to learn about and become a somewhat fan of while living down in North Carolina – the birthplace and ‘home’ of NASCAR – for 6 years.
We got to the track in about 10 minutes and the attendance said that there were 50-100 Ferraris racing all afternoon. We got a spot at the top of the stands so we could see over the fence and watched the Ferrari’s race, as well as Porches, BMWs, lots of ‘Vettes and even a Smart Car. The kids had a blast and they even were able to climb in and mess around with the gears and knobs in an old race car!
From Brandon: “We got to sit in a Nascar show car and watch about 50 different Ferraris and also streetcars and a F1 race car. It would be about 5 minutes before each race car would come around the track again because the track was so big!”
By the way, it wasn’t by design but with the hiking, fishing and race car watching this day it cost a total of 0 dollars (except the fish bait). We had the Empire Pass so didn’t have to pay to park at the gorge lot. After our trip to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks we knew this would have to be an inexpensive camping trip but I have to encourage anyone who wants to explore nature, camp and the rest of these outdoor activities to give Watkins Glen a try!
We had some time before dinner so next the kids played on a really large and complex set of playground sets in the center of our camp village. They had a lot of fun until Sofia banged her head, but it’s a hard head and her face lit up when I said ‘Let’s go swimming’.
The pool is really big and there were 3 lifeguards on duty. Brandon and Sofia had fun jumping in the water and a little while later I joined them.
Ok, dinner time! We grilled some burgers, followed that with more Smores 🙂 …and then watched Goonies – a family favorite – in our tent which eating a veggie platter (c’mon, to even out all the chocolate, marshmallows and candy). Brandon can’t believe that little kid ended up being ‘Sam’ in Lord of the Rings.
We slept better this 2nd night and Saturday morning we could tell there wasn’t great weather on the horizon. We headed home; which took a little longer since we had no phone (no gps), just a small compass we had purchased for Yellowstone so that helped until we reached Rte 80 East. Along the way we stopped at Cracker Barrell for an early lunch and then tried to find music on the radio (again, no phone) but had nothing until we reached Jersey and picked up 102.3, 104.3 and the Yankee game.
From Sofia: “I was glad that we went away on our camping trip. My favorite parts were the pool and the playground. Well, and fishing!”
All in all, a great spur-of-the-moment camping trip with kids I love to spend time with away from the ‘day to day’. We hope you like this post! Leave comments for us!!!
Fees for Watkins Glen State Park camping vary, check here:
3530 State Route 419 Watkins Glen, NY 14891
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