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Photography Hikes: Watkins Glen State Park

people walking on a path between rocky cliffs

When people think about New York, it seems they always think about New York City. We’re guilty of this too.

It’s hard not to align the name ‘New York’ with the image of the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, or One World Trade Center, but New York is so much more than just a city. The state itself is home to many more tourist hotspots, including several hikes that can offer some of the best views in the country.

All the more to love for a photographer then! If your New Year’s resolution was to explore and take more photographs, then New York could be a great destination to add to the list. Specifically, the Watkins Glen State Park, which is located in upstate New York, around 250 miles from the city itself.

The Hiking Trail: Watkins Glen State Park

One of the best hiking trails in Watkins Glen State Park is known as the ‘Gorge Trail’, which is a natural wonder complete with waterfalls, cliffs, and a whole lot of wildlife. We have to admit, we’ve chosen this trail mainly for its aesthetic beauty, rather than its hiking conditions. 

For anyone who is really into fitness, this isn’t a strenuous or even a long hike, so you might have more enjoyment at Cascade Mountain or the Appalachian Trail – which is one of the most famous long-distance hikes in the US. For those who care more about their Facebook pictures or a Facebook photo book, then this is the hike for you!

Why It’s Good

The Watkins Glen State Park is a great destination for many reasons, not least the fairytale-esque paths full of waterfalls, ancient stone steps, and the incredible Cavern Cascade, which plunges a straight 52 feet out of the narrows. The trail is also around a mile and a half long, so if you’re trying to get your kids interested in photography, you can bring them too – without any complaints about sore feet! You should note, however, that the trail closed completely for the 2023 season, and will reopen around May, so book it into your calendar!

What to Look Out For

Even though it’s only a mile-and-a-half, for wildlife photographers, there’s plenty to capture. In the summer, especially, the gorge trail is frequented by animals including:

  •  Virginia Opossums
  • American Red Squirrels
  • Eastern Chipmunks
  • American Beavers
  • Groundhogs
  • White-Tailed Deers
  • Downy Woodpeckers
  • Bald Eagles

Photography Tips

We mentioned that there are a lot of waterfalls – nineteen in total! – so to capture them properly, you’re going to need to remember a few things.

  • Shutter Speeds and Focal Points

To eradicate the blur you can get with cascading waterfalls, it’s important to go into your camera settings and slow down the shutter speed. This will make the water act like a constant stream, creating an almost silky effect. You should also change your ISO to the lowest setting, and pick a focal point to create depth – perhaps a rock, a log, or one of the American Bullfrogs that are known to hang around the caverns!

  • Reducing Glare

One of the issues you might come across along the gorge trail is glare coming off the wet rocks. This is a nuisance, especially if you’re looking to get that clean, silky shot from the waterfalls. Reducing the glare isn’t too tricky, however. All you need to do is adjust the camera’s focus and exposure, dragging the sunny symbol up or down while tapping the screen to focus the image. To lock it manually, touch and hold until you see AE/AF Lock.

Photography Challenges

It’s already going to be a bit of a challenge to capture that waterfall shot, but if you’re looking for that perfect crop to upload to our photo book maker, here are a few more!

  • Sentry Bridge

Once you emerge from the entrance tunnel, you’ll come across the historic Sentry Bridge. This is a gorgeous, curved piece of architecture that travels from one cliff to the other, with a small cascading waterfall just beneath it. It’s also going to challenge your vertical photography, as you’re going to try to get four layers into the photograph. At the bottom should be the river, then the water, then the bridge, and at the very top should be the sky – ideally a healthy, beautiful blue! It might sound easy, but this is harder than it looks, especially when shooting in landscape mode. Remember, portrait mode is cheating!

  • Spiral Tunnel

Immediately past Glen Creek Falls, you’ll travel through an ascent known as ‘Spiral Tunnel’. This is a spiralling, rocky staircase that takes you up into the sky and past – yep, you guessed it – another waterfall! It’s also a great spot to photograph, as the tunnel twists a full 270 degrees around and on top of itself. If you stand near the bottom and angle your phone to the left – almost immediately after entering – you should be able to snap a pretty dizzying image. Just try not to get too wet!


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