Green Lakes State Park: A Hidden Gem in Upstate New York

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Nestled in the hills of upstate New York, Green Lakes State Park is a stunning natural wonder. With two glacial lakes, miles of hiking trails, and abundant recreational activities, it is the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts.

Photo of Green Lake State Park.
Green Lakes State Park. Photo credit: Anne Jolly.

Despite all these attractions, Green Lakes State Park remains a hidden gem, mostly unknown outside the immediate area. Here we will take a closer look at what makes this park unique and why it is worth a road trip.

Geological Uniqueness

The landscape of Green Lakes State Park is a remnant of the last glacial period, which ended over 10,000 years ago. As the glaciers that covered the area retreated, they carved out the two deep glacial lakes at the park’s heart. 

These lakes are a rare type of lake known as a meromictic lake. These lakes have distinct layers of water that don’t mix, with the deepest layers containing little to no oxygen.

In most lakes, the water mixes at least once a year, but in meromictic lakes, the layers of water can be undisturbed for years or even centuries. There are only about 30 known meromictic lakes in the world.

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The park has a wide range of activities for visitors to enjoy.


Hiking is one of the most popular activities since the park has over 10 miles of trails. There are loops around Green Lake and Round Lake, which are level paths that are more of a stroll than a hike.

These paths offer stunning views of the lakes and there are many benches for resting and enjoying the scenery. They are very popular with joggers and dog walkers year-round.

If you hike into the rolling hills on the park’s edges, you find more challenging trails and plant and animal life. The park has 20 acres of old-growth forest, with trees up to 400 years old, including sugar maples, hemlock, and tulip trees. 

Pine trees at Green Lakes state park.
Green Lakes State Park. Photo credit: Anne Jolly.


A seasonal swimming beach at one end of Green Lakes is extremely popular during the summer. The beach features diving boards because the lake is unusually deep.


The park features an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, one of the game’s most famous golf course designers. The course has a hilly terrain and deep bunkers, making playing challenging.


Multiple picnic and playground areas are scattered throughout the park and along the beach. The picnic areas on the bluff overlooking the lake have stunning views of the lake and surrounding landscape and are usually much less crowded.

Fishing, Boating, and Camping

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation stocks Green Lake yearly with trout and panfish, making it a popular destination for anglers. No private boats are allowed at the park; you can rent a rowboat or kayak on summer weekends.

The park offers tent and RV camping spots and has a few cabins to rent. The camping loops are on the bluff above the lakes.

water at green lakes state park.
Green Lakes State Park. Photo credit: Anne Jolly.

Natural Features

The unique geology of the lakes leads to rare species. In the case of Green Lakes State Park, the most apparent result of the lack of water mixing is the striking blue-green colored water.

The lakes are extremely deep for their relatively small size, with Green Lake having a depth of 195 feet. The combination of the deep water, lack of water mixing, and high levels of calcium carbonate in the lakes result in the green tint of the water.

In addition to its scenic beauty Green Lakes is an important site for environmental research and conservation. The unique geology makes it an ideal location for scientists to study water quality, ecosystem health, and climate change. 

One of the most unique things in the lakes is a purple sulfur bacterium that lives deep in a layer of Green Lake. When they pull a water sample from this layer, it is pinkish purple and smells like rotten eggs.

In addition, the lowest levels of sediment in the lake are entirely undisturbed because the lack of oxygen means no plants or animals can live there. So taking samples from there helps see how sediment has changed over time and aids in studying climate change. As a result, the park has become a valuable resource for scientists, and it is one of the most studied lakes in the world.

Tips for Visitors

  • The park is open all year round. Summer is the best time for swimming, but hiking is best in the fall when the leaves change colors. In the winter, you can cross-country ski or snowshoe; spring brings migrating birds and wildflowers.
  • Like most meromictic lakes, Green Lake and Round Lake tend to be very still and reflective, leading to stunning photographs. So make sure to bring a camera and take pictures.
  • The park is just a few miles outside Syracuse, NY, near other well-known New York cities like Watkins Glen and Ithaca.
Green Lake in Dewitt NY.
Green Lakes State Park. Photo credit: Anne Jolly.

Green Lakes State Park

Green Lakes State Park is a hidden gem in upstate New York, but it’s a destination worth visiting. With its stunning natural beauty, wide range of activities, and unique geological and ecological features, the park offers something for everyone, whether you want to hike, fish, or soak up the sun.

Anne Jolly is the creator of the food blog Upstate Ramblings. She loves to cook with gadgets like an air fryer, sous vide, or pressure cooker. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, knitting and spending time with her three kids.

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