GPS: North park entrance: (N 43.05983 / W 75.97132)
South park entrance: (N 43.03916 / W 75.96621)
Trailhead between the lakes: (N 43.04925 / W 75.96987)
Area: 65 acres.
Max depth: Round Lake is 180 feet; Green Lake is 195 feet.
Max width: Round Lake is 1,500 feet; Green Lake is 3,800 feet.
Elevation: 500 feet.
Water Quality: not potable
Directions: From I481, take exit 3E. Follow E Genesee St. through Fayetteville and pass Springview Dr. on the right. The park entrance will be the next street on your left (Green Lakes Park Dr.)
Or use Google Directions.
Best time to visit: Fall mornings.
Parking: Several parking lots near the beach (north entrance). Space for hundreds of vehicles.
Pets: Allowed; on leash with proof of inoculation. Not allowed on beach, shore or in water.
Admission: $8 vehicle fee.
Handicap accessibility: Yes, but not for trails or beach.
Swimming: Swimming is allowed in the designated swimming area only. Call for dates/hours (315) 637-6111. Pets should not enter the water at any point.
Boating: Rowboat and paddle-boat rental available. Private boats are not permitted.
Camping: Camping is closed for winters. 137 total sites (nearly half electric); 7 cabins. Book a campsite.
Accommodations: Restrooms; picnic areas; drinking fountains; beach; nature center (near campground); grills; hiking trails; pavilions (2); fishing; showers; playground; snack bar; bike trails; bike rack; boat rentals; guarded swimming beach; bathhouse; disc golf course; golf course.
Green Lakes State Park encompasses over 2,100 acres including two deep pothole lakes. The larger of the two lakes, referred to as Green Lake, has a sandy public beach with swimming access. In summer the beach tends to get crowded, but the network of park trails that surrounds the lake tends to remain peaceful. The other amenities, including the 7 cabins, 137 campsites, playgrounds, and 18-hole golf course make for an excellent extended family stay. The forested area surrounding the lakes is filled with old growth trees and several trails for exploring the natural wonders contained here. For some, the park is a family destination with two recreational lakes. For others, it is a unique geological, and biological wonder.
The centerpieces of the park are the two glacial “green” lakes. Why are they green? The answer is complicated. For one, the lakes are deep. Round Lake is measured at 180 ft deep, while Green Lake reaches 195 ft. Deep lakes tend to appear bluish because the wavelengths of light that can penetrate (and be dispersed at) great depths are those closer to the blue end of the spectrum.
Because of their depth and the high salinity of the basin waters, the lakes are meromictic and do not turn over and intermix waters like many other lakes in this region do. The Green Lake’s cold and dense bottom waters tend to stay separate from the shallower, warmer waters. Because of this, sediment sinks and collects in the bottom and virtually doesn’t decay. Since the sediment is not kicked up by mixing, the lakes do not take on a muddy, turbid appearance like other lakes do. Meromictic lakes also have still, mirror-like waters. The Green Lakes are no exception here. Their tranquil, reflective waters make for great photography.
The Lakes reside in an ancient river basin, carved deeper into the limestone bedrock by the last ice age. Limestone, an easily dissolved sedimentary rock, saturates the lake’s waters with calcium carbonate, a bluish salt solution.
Photosynthetic bacteria contributes to the geology (and to some degree, color) of the lakes by creating reefs of calcium/sulphur below the surface along the shore. You can see these structures, jutting out from the lake basin, just below the surface of the lake. They are most prominent near Dead Man’s Point (see this Bird’s eye photo). Look for sub-surface platforms that look like light-brown rock or sand, extending out from the lake shore and then dropping off suddenly.
Through a combination of their depth, high calcium carbonate concentrations and photosynthetic bacteria, the lakes maintain a bright aquamarine color. Hence the name.
Distance: The park has a network of trails totaling over 10 miles. Here, we are covering the two connected trails that wrap around the lakes. This hike will total about 2.4 miles.
Markings: Blue blaze: Green Lake Trail; Red blaze: Round Lake Trail.
Description: Our recommendation is to hike both the Green Lake Trail and Round Lake Trails at the same time, in a figure 8, which will wrap you around both lakes without any overlap.
Start out at the beach facing the lake and head right (southwest) to enter the Green Lakes Trail. Follow the Blue blazes along this dirt path. Keep the lake on your left.
On the far end of the lake, you will come across an intersection with white blazes. This leads to red blazed Round Lake Trail. Follow this trail to the left and keep Round Lake on your right. You will wrap clockwise around the lake and come back to the white blazed intersection again. Follow this back to Green Lake (blue blazes) and make a right, keeping the lake on your left. The trail will lead around the lake and back to the beach.
View Green Lakes State Park in a larger map
Have you ever seen a green or blue pothole in a creek bed? They are usually found in gullies that have plenty of waterfalls. These potholes are old waterfall plunge pools that have deepened by the erosive powers of the falling water and trapped rocks and sand. Potholes eventually become so deep that they don’t mix well with the creek waters and any sediment that gets in them precipitates to the bottom, keeping the water inside clear. Calcium carbonate from the dissolved limestone gives these holes their characteristic color.
These green lakes are just like those smaller waterfalls potholes, but on a massive scale. A retreating ice age glacier and an ancient river pouring from its melt water once existed here. This river created such a massive torrent of rushing water, that the plunge pool from a gigantic waterfall created the Green Lakes. The river dried up as the glacier disappeared and the lakes continued to dissolve away the limestone, expanding to their current form. Now the Green Lakes’ basins are filled naturally with rain and ground water.
Much of Upstate New York, including the land that is now Green Lakes State Park was part of the Military Tract of the Revolutionary War: land that was surveyed and set aside as payment to servicemen for their participation in the war effort. Much of this land belonged to the Collin family, descendants of which still live adjacent to the park.
In the 1920s / early ’30s Green Lakes was a popular tourist destination for the city of Syracuse and surrounding towns. The Green Lakes Landing stop on the Erie Canal, brought tourists to the northern end of the park by the boatload. Today, the land running along the Canal in Manlius is a park and walking/bike pathway. Follow the trail that leads from the small parking area off of Rt 290, across from the Green Lakes State Park north entrance. It will lead you to a footbridge over the Canal and to the Canalway Trail.
Green Lakes officially became a park in 1928 with the acquisition of 500 acres at the north end of the property. Additional acquisitions throughout the century expanded it beyond 2,100 acres. In 1975, Round Lake was designated a National Natural Landmark by the US Department of the Interior.
Since this lake is meromictic, its surface waters do not mix with salty anoxic (lacking oxygen) waters below. Anything that falls to the bottom will meet a massive collection of debris, and decays so slowly that researchers are able to take core samples and find out what plants and animals inhabited the area thousands of years ago. The lake bottom is like a natural mummification system.
A layer of bacteria-rich water nearly a third of the way down into the lakes is pink rather than green. These reddish bacteria have found the perfect home at these depths and because the lake’s waters do not turn over (mix) seasonally they stay at their optimal depths.
It is difficult to see the bottom of the lake because of its mirror-like surface, but with a polarizing filter for your camera or polarizing sunglasses, you can cut through the glare and get a better view of organic material below.
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