I often get stuck in the trap of “I am here for a race weekend!” and don’t get to see much beyond the track itself and where I’m staying. I might make it to the local Denny’s at 1 a.m., but that’s about it. Do not fall into that trap with Watkins Glen. You will regret it and kick yourself until you can go back.
Because a race track is—by definition—a very noisy thing, many of them aren’t in the best places, or they’re often located off out on their own. Watkins Glen is a perfect oddball built before heavy-handed noise restrictions and NIMBY neighbors.
It’s a relatively short drive down the hill to the town itself, and much of what’s in the area is recreational as well: the state park, campgrounds, farmland, vineyards, lakes. All of it is a good time.
This neighboring town geared towards vacationers, track rats and leisure-types absolutely embraces the track and all its shenanigans. Case in point: we ended up at the Echoes of the Glen Bed and Breakfast because most of the more conventional lodging filled up fast. Not only did the B&B hosts move the breakfast times around to accommodate when everyone needed or wanted to get to the track in the morning, but they went to go watch the 6 Hours of the Glen themselves.
It’s what happens in Watkins Glen. It’s what people do. And they’re all glad that you crazy folks are here.
Watkins Glen isn’t the only track that’s next to a lot of cool stuff. Daytona is right near the beach and has all manner of cool inlets and lakes, and it’s where I first saw the Atlantic Ocean. (It does exist!) Laguna Seca is in a state park next to a gun range, which puts it on my must-drive-and-explore list for sure. Circuit of the Americas is right next to Austin, which is, well, where I live. If I was a tourist, though, I’d like to take an extra day or two to sneak onto Harris Hill Road or the Driveway, explore whatever interested me in town, find twisty Hill Country roads or canoe Town Lake. It’s fun being next to a city with plenty of stuff to do.
The Glen, though, has probably been my favorite as a whole town-and-race-track package, though. It’s the kind of place where I tend to ask “Can we just move here?,” then notice a car whose metal bits look more like a chainsmoker’s lung than a structural component, catch myself, and clarify “...for the summer?”
I think it’s because I finally got to hike through the state park.
Watkins Glen State Park is straight out of a Tolkien book.
The hiking trails all center upon a shale gorge where a network of stone staircases, footbridges and winding paths take you over and under the creek itself.
You will walk under waterfalls. It can be muddy and slippery. You’ll probably get wet, but so will everyone else getting dripped on from the ferny ground above. Throw a set of good, preferably waterproof hiking boots in with your stuff, just in case you didn’t already.
The 6 Hours of the Glen was the perfect time to explore the trails because it’s during the long days of summer, and activities at the track ended relatively early.
Tons of other people thought this was a good idea. Well, it is a good idea. You should go.
The water was muddier than usual because the area had just received heavy rains and flooding, but that didn’t seem to matter.
This was one of the most unbelievable trails I’d ever seen.
Because it was the 6 Hours of the Glen weekend, we were surrounded by loads of other folks who were there for the race: fans, team personnel and race staff. At one point, one of the tire PR people rushed past us with a huge camera mounted on a tripod.
Tire people like waterfalls, too, I guess.
Outside the track and the state park, everything about Watkins Glen was enjoyable. The foodie trend hasn’t missed this town, and my local-everything organic burger and microbrew-steamed mussels back at the Wildflower Café was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. Jerlando’s is becoming a must-stop, too, as it’s just really good local Italian food. Likewise, my boyfriend had nothing but praise for Mr. Chicken when he broke away to fetch some stuff from our room and grab lunch. He kept comparing it to a really good Peruvian joint he likes in terms of serving up good, simple, juicy bird.
It’s a shame Formula One doesn’t find a way back to Watkins Glen for something—there are so many local ice cream joints that Kimi would feel right at home.
Then there’s Seneca Lodge—a hotel/restaurant/tavern worthy of being a default side trip in its own right. It’s Watkins Glen’s version of Road America’s Siebkens—smaller, but with the same likelihood of running into everyone who’s participating in a race weekend. It’s one of the closest watering holes to the track itself, and there’s enough stuff donated from teams and other passers-through on the walls to keep you occupied for days. Even I left a Jalopnik sticker to be added to the collection somewhere. We watched Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge teams who were done for the weekend do shots and chatted up one of the marshals while old footage from the Lodge and the track played in the background.
Speaking of track history, one of our side trips was to explore the International Motor Racing Research Center with OppositeLock’s Racing Archivist, who works there and gave us the whole tour. There are all kinds of ridiculous records in there going back to the very genesis of the idea to race a four-wheeled motor vehicle, from programs to trophies and even publications. Even my crapcan 944 is in there, classing up the joint.
Admittedly, my preferences for things to do that don’t involve race cars usually involve long hikes and lasagnas as big as my face, so Watkins Glen checks all the appropriate boxes. I’ve only been there a couple times and I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of cool stuff to do.
So, you’re traveling to go to a race weekend. Great! You should explore the area outside it, too. If you’re already traveling somewhere new for a race, it’s worth it to wander out and experience the whole area, not just one part of it. Track weekends aren’t just a great way to see a new race track—they’re a great opportunity to see the world.
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