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Green Lakes State Park in New York State’s Finger Lakes region is a place like no other. Located a short drive from Rochester, the park is home to two lakes that date back to the Ice Age. The park offers fishing, kayaking, hiking and more recreational activities for the whole family. And the scenery is stunning.
The lakes at Green Lakes State Park are meromictic. That means the layers of water do not intermix. These lakes are remnants of the ice ages and exemplify some of the most unusual geology in the USA. To put that uniqueness in perspective, there are only 36 known meromictic lakes in the world!
This natural wonder is only about four hours north of New York City.
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The Wonder of Green Lakes State Park
I visited many outstanding state parks in New York, but I can honestly say that Green Lakes is in a category of its own. The captivating beauty of the two glacial lakes combined with the enchanted old-growth forest force you to slow down and take a deep breath. With every step, you will find new features challenging your senses.
Of course, the first thing that catches your eye is the green water, especially vibrant in the fall when framed with a colorful carpet of leaves. Apart from the lakes, the trees will capture your attention with their twisted dramatic shapes reflecting the long struggle to survive. Any nature enthusiast will fall in love with the park.
Green Lakes State Park’s Outstanding Features
Green Lakes State Park’s outstanding features are its two glacial lakes surrounded by upland forest and separated from each other by a small wetland. Both lakes are meromictic, which means that there is no mixing of surface and bottom waters. Such lakes have a high potential for evidence of ancient plant and animal life. The lakes are unusual, not only for their geologic setting but also for their water characteristics which have attracted the attention of limnologists for decades. (Those are the people who study the biological, chemical, physical, and geological characteristics and functions of inland waters.) In fact, limnologically, Green Lake is one of the best-studied lakes in the world.
Why Are the Lakes Green?
The truth is that they are more turquoise than green, but eye-catching nevertheless. The lakes’ green color is due to their great depth and the calcium carbonate dissolved from the surrounding limestone cliffs. Calcium carbonate reflects the green wavelength, giving Green Lake its distinctive green color.
At a depth of 195 feet, Green Lake is the deepest of the two. It was most likely formed by retreating glaciers during the last Ice Age that vanished between 14,000 to 10,000 years ago. The rocks surrounding the lake are rich in natural salts that leach into the water and create a layer of brine on the lake floor. The lake is oxygen-poor and the corrosive environment is inhospitable to fish or plants.
Round Lake is the shallower of the two, measuring 180 feet deep, although early settlers and local Native American tribes believed it to be bottomless. It was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1975.
The Old Growth Forest
Another outstanding feature of the park is its old-growth forest. Nearly half the park’s area preserves the largest stand of old-growth forest in Central New York. It includes many large specimens of tulip trees, sugar maples, beech, basswood, hemlock, and white cedars. The old-growth is defined by at least 10 characteristics that describe the trees, understory, and terrain. In short, it is a forest that has attained great age without significant disturbance and thereby exhibits unique ecological features.
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Things to Do in Green Lakes State Park
Due to the sensitive nature of both Green and Round Lakes, no private boats, kayaks, or canoes are allowed. But you and rent boats and kayaks there! Rentals are available Memorial Day-Labor Day at the Boat House, weather permitting.
Because of the anoxic (no oxygen) conditions at and below the chemocline, all fish in the lake concentrate in the upper 60 feet of water. Rainbow trout are usually caught in early spring shortly after they’re stocked. Other fish include largemouth bass, bluegill, and rock bass.
Green Lakes State Park offers a large beach with multiple swimming areas, all facilities, concessions, and picnic areas nearby. The facilities are updated and well maintained.
Hiking in Green Lakes State Park
An extensive network of hiking trails, mostly easy to moderate, awaits hikers in the park. The development of the lake area is mostly contained at its northern end. The western shoreline of Green Lake is undeveloped, and the Round Lake trail is primarily in the wilderness.
The most popular hike in the park is around Green Lake (2.3 miles). Add a 0.8 mile loop to see Round Lake as well. The main feature of the trail is the striking color of the water, but fallen twisted trees certainly add another layer of engagement. Children love it!
Camping at Green Lakes State Park
The park’s campgrounds have excellent paved roads and new modern bathhouses with individual rooms enclosing an infant changing table, a toilet, and a shower. Most areas are wooded except for a new section in the Pinewoods loop that has pull-through full hookup sites. Most campsites are spacious, and all come with picnic tables and a fire ring. A few camping cabins are also available. Make your reservations way in advance.
State Park Golf
The park has an 18-hole golf course designed in 1935 by Robert Trent Jones, an English-American golf course architect who designed or redesigned more than 500 golf courses in 45 U.S. states and 35 countries.
Dogs in the Park
Dogs are allowed in the park, including campgrounds and hiking trails.
Seasons in Green Lakes State Park
Fall in the park is my favorite season. I visit it at least every two years during that season. On weekdays, I practically have a park to myself. Weekends can get crowded on sunny days.
Spring and Summer
Expect increased popularity during the warm months. Camping is solid booked months in advance and day-trippers flock to the beach to cool off.
Winter visitors enjoy snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on 15 miles of trails.
Discover the Finger Lakes Region
The park is close to Syracuse with museums, sports, great spots to eat, and other recreational and educational opportunities. You can also use it as a base to visit other nearby fantastic New York’s state parks. For a mature audience, wine tasting is very popular at scenic wineries of the region.
Green Lakes State Park Information
Green Lakes State Park is located just east of the city of Syracuse, in upstate New York.
Green Lake State Park
7900 Green Lakes Road
Fayetteville, NY 13066
Phone Number: Project Office: (315)637-6111