Visit Watkins Glen, NY with Kids

Family travel to Watkins Glen

In September 2021, our family of 3 went to Watkins Glen, NY. Lyra was 2.5 years old and I was 6 months pregnant. I’ve been to Watkins Glen multiple times, but it had been over 20 years since my last visit, so I was definitely overdue.

Our main reason for choosing Watkins Glen as a vacation spot (aside from it only being 4 hours away) was the hiking. The gorge trail at Watkins Glen Park is a huge tourist attraction in that area for a reason. It is simply gorgeous!

Where We Stayed

There is a really beautiful hotel right on the water—walking distance to all of the shops and restaurants on the main strip downtown—but we wanted to get off the beaten path a little. Instead, we rented a one-room cabin situated a stone’s-throw from a babbling creek for two nights.

Catherine’s Cottages is a set of four identical cabins lined up along Catherine Creek in Montour Falls, which is just down the road from Watkins Glen. Although they are pet-friendly, we left Banjo at home for this trip.

The cabins are basically a studio apartment. You have a reasonably sized bathroom, and an L-shaped room with a double bed and a futon. There’s a mini fridge, microwave, Keurig, and a little dinner table. The cabin has an A/C unit and a covered porch with comfortable chairs, looking out over the creek. There’s also nice fire pits, a gazebo, and a big yard to play in. It was a perfect spot for a small family that doesn’t mind close quarters.

Traveling to Watkins Glen, NY with kids

What We Did

Watkins Glen has a bunch of trails around the main gorge. It has parking at the top and bottom, as well as a welcome center with information, souvenirs, and a café. When we went, the stone trail was very wet from rain the day before. Glen Creek, which runs through the gorge in magnificent waterfalls, was brown and frothy from the storms.

Don’t expect much personal space when you visit the trail. It is one of the main reasons people visit the area. The trails are bustling with tourists and you will inevitably photobomb at least one family portrait, whether you mean to or not.

Lyra managed the walk herself, reveling in the independence of the hike. She splashed in the puddles, scrambled up the stairs, and smiled at all of the strangers she passed. At the midway point of our hike—which happened to be the Upper Entrance—we took a break. There were picnic tables, restrooms, vending machines, and a large parking lot for visitors accessing the trail. While we rested, an older nearby couple called us to their picnic table to show Lyra the baby chipmunk that had befriended them. It was a fearless little bundle who tried climbing up Ivan’s pant leg more than once. Before departing, we gave it a morsel of food—a bite of an apple-mango bar.

Baby chipmunk wildlife found at Watkins Glen State Park

Because the hike didn’t eat up our entire day, we also took a drive to Ithaca and through Cornell University. We stopped by Trader Joe’s, something that is a treat for those of us who don’t have one in our hometown. Then we ended our day playing Frisbee and kicking a ball around the yard at our rental.

Where We Ate

We had dinner at El Rancho Mexican restaurant downtown. It was a small spot on the main strip that was family-friendly and had fast service. We also stopped by the Ben and Jerry’s scoop shop just down the road, because of course we did! We used to visit the Ben and Jerry’s scoop shop in Connecticut all the time, but there isn’t one in our hometown, so we pounced on the opportunity.

On our way out of Watkins Glen, we stopped by Tobey’s Donut Shop for some coffee and donuts for the road.

Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream in Watkins Glen, NY

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