Watkins Glen Campground is a great home base for exploring New York's Finger Lakes. Here's what to expect from your stay!
The Finger Lakes region of New York is one of those places that seems tailor-made for a vacation.
Scenic overlooks. Fresh air and forests. Wineries! Attractive small towns. It's a lovely region, and there's more to see than you can fit in just one trip.
One approach that worked well for us was to camp at Watkins Glen State Park. This is a good hub that allows for exploration, but doesn't require a huge budget for lodging!
Watkins Glen is located at the southern end of Seneca Lake, the deepest and largest of the Finger Lakes. It's a small village, but it hosts a lot of tourists coming to the state park or the race track.
Here's what you need to know about staying at the Watkins Glen Campground, known as the Six Nations Camping Area.
How Busy Does Watkins Glen Campground Get?
The Six Nations Camping Area is large and very manicured and well-cared for. It has over 300 spots.
You can reserve a campsite up to nine months in advance. If you want to stay for just one night, you'll be allowed to book no further than 7 days in advance. Otherwise, you can book for 2 to 14 nights.
The campground is typically open mid-May through mid-October. This coincides with open season for the Gorge Trail, the only way to see Watkins Glen's stunning 19 waterfalls. (Rim trails are open year-round.)
We stayed mid-week and it was fairly empty, but by Friday night it was getting full. We checked online to see about extending our stay, but the campground was almost fully booked, with only one open spot. (So it does get full even with that many spots!)
There are a few cabins available for booking as well (no electricity or water).
There are six different camp loops named after six native peoples.
The Cayuga and Mohawk loops have electric hookups; the remainder (Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora) do not.
Each loop has a shower house and water spouts.
You may see Iroquois Lodge mentioned as you're browsing the campground: it's a covered picnic table area, not a rooming lodge.
There are also playgrounds, an Olympic size pool, and playing fields.
Other Amenities at Watkins Glen Campground
Ice and firewood are available at the check-in area. We found the firewood prices a little steep ($10 for a small bundle or $25 for 3 bundles, as of 2023), and were able to find local firewood at a roadside stand for $5 a bundle by driving just a few minutes outside the park.
Each of the campsites includes a fire ring and a picnic table. Each site should accommodate two tents, but some sites are definitely more spacious than others.
What to See in the Area
Besides exploring the state park and all its waterfalls and beautiful rock layers, you'll probably also want to do some day trips to check out area wineries.
There are around 30 wineries near Seneca Lake alone, including Wagner Vineyards and its Ginny Lee Cafe, Billsboro Winery, and Lakewood Vineyards, Barnstormer Winery, JR Dill Winery, and Bagley's Poplar Ridge Vineyards.
There are also distilleries, breweries, and great restaurants like Ardenne's Taproom and Kitchen, Finger Lakes Distilling, and Elf in the Oak.
If you venture slightly further afield to the neighboring Keuka Lake, you can find lots of great food and drink in the village of Penn Yan. We loved having frozen custard at Spotted Duck, cider at Wager's Cider Mill, and wine at Fox Run Vineyards.
What are your favorite destinations in the Finger Lakes region? Let us know in the comments!