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Exploring the Unique Green Lakes State Park near Syracuse

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Did you know that there are two lakes in New York that look like they are filled with water from the Caribbean?

Having hiked many incredible places in New York and beyond, I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that one of the most beautiful and unusual spots I’ve ever visited is Green Lakes State Park near Syracuse.

Green Lakes State Park is located in Fayetteville, New York, about 10 miles east of downtown Syracuse. This 2,000-acre state park is centered around two of the most beautiful and unusual lakes you’ll find anywhere in the country.

Green Lake near Syracuse, New York in the fall
The waters in Green Lakes State Park are an incredible shade of bluish-green.

These lakes, known as Green Lake and Round Lake, are meromictic lakes. This means that the lakes have layers that do not ever mix. This creates a lake that preserves things incredibly well at the bottom and has a very bluish-green hue in the top layer that is nearly crystal clear. (Note that I did not alter the color of the water in any of the photos in this article).

The nearby lake at Clark Reservation State Park is another example of this type of lake.

Log below the water in Green Lake near Syracuse New York
The water in the lakes is incredibly clear and has a very unique color.

In fact, the hue is such a unique color that it really looks like you are walking around the beautiful waters of the Caribbean and not through a forest in Upstate New York.

The best way to see these two beautiful lakes is to hike along the trails that encircle both lakes. Since nearly all of the infrastructure along the lakes is located on the northern half of Green Lakes, this is where you’ll start your hike.

Green Lake Trail in Green Lakes State Park
The Green Lake Trail is quite beautiful.

The trails around the park’s lakes are, for the most part, quite flat and wide. In fact, you’re likely to see more joggers here than walkers, especially if you visit on a weekday evening. There are also benches along the trail for those wanting to take a break to enjoy the beauty of the park’s two lakes.

The northern end of the lake is not only home to parking lots for the hike, but also to the park’s beach.

Beach at Green Lakes State Park in Onondaga County NY
Overlooking the beach at the northern end of Green Lake.

This wide and expansive sandy beach looks like it would be an excellent spot for a swim, and I’ll definitely have to visit again in the future to spend a bit of time relaxing in the park.

Near this beach, there is also a place to rent canoes and kayaks from Memorial Day through Labor Day. There are even glass-bottom boats that you can rent that are sure to give you an incredible view of the lake.

It’s worth noting that, because of the sensitive nature of the lakes, outside boats are not permitted in the park.

Hiking Around the Lakes at Green Lakes State Park

Trail in Green Lakes State Park in the Finger Lakes
Another view of the trail around Green Lake.

Since the Green Lake Trail encircles the entirety of the larger lake, you can pick it up from anywhere around the beach area (or from trails that lead to it from the other parking areas in the park).

The Green Lake Trail is 1.9 miles and offers incredible views of this beautiful lake. Both times I’ve walked on this trail, I’ve done the trail in a clockwise direction.

If you are doing the entire loop, it doesn’t matter which direction you walk. However, if you only have time to do part of the trail, I definitely recommend doing it in a clockwise direction from the beach area as this will get you most quickly to the reef area, which is one of the highlights of the hike.

Blue water in Green Lakes State Park in Syracuse NY
The water here reminded me of the Caribbean.

As you hike the trail, there are periodic signs that offer a wealth of information about this unique landscape and the history of the area. In fact, I almost enjoy learning about the lake as much as I enjoyed the beauty of the hike.

It is said that Green Lake is 195 feet deep, which is quite deep for a lake of this size. This depth was created because a waterfall nearly twice the size of Niagara Falls was located here thousands of years ago. Believe it or not, both of the lakes in the park are the plunge pool remnants of these giant waterfalls.

While the entire walk around the lake is quite stunning, Deadman’s Point is one of the real highlights of the path around Green Lake.

Reef at Green Lakes State Park in Upstate New York
Deadman’s Point is home to a unique reef.

This area at the spot where the lake widens is home to a submerged reef. Made of calcium carbonate, this is a very unique and beautiful spot. Make sure to take some time to read the sign nearby that offers a nice overview of the reef.

A short distance after the reef, you’ll come to a trail split for the short walk to Round Lake. Even if you only intend to hike around Green Lake, I highly recommend taking a short detour to see the second lake in the park.

Round Lake in Green Lakes State Park near Syracuse New York
Round Lake is even more beautiful than Green Lake, so make sure you don’t miss it.

While Green Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in all of New York, Round Lake is even more striking. This nearly perfectly round lake plunges to a rather surprising depth of 170 feet and features the same brilliant colors as Green Lake.

Unlike Green Lake, this lake was made a National Natural Landmark in 1973 for its uniqueness and beauty, as well as for the many old-growth trees that line its shores. Because there is nearly no infrastructure within sight of the lake, it feels much more isolated and natural than Green Lake.

Bench on Round Lake in Green Lakes State Park in New York
Another scene on the shores of Round Lake.

A 0.9-mile trail loops around the lake, offering you the chance to fully enjoy the beauty of this lake. This combines with the trail around Green Lake and the short connector trails between them to create a roughly four-mile hike around both lakes.

If you’d rather no go all the way around the lake, if you turn right when you reach the lake (assuming you are hiking around Green Lake in a clockwise direction), you’ll soon come to another trail that heads to the right and back towards the main lake. When you return to the shores of Green Lake, turn left to continue your hike around it.

Tree overhanging a lake in Green Lakes State Park in Onondaga County New York
The color of the water can change depending on the angle of the sun.

One interesting aspect of the lakes in Green Lakes State Park is how the color changes based on the amount of light and the angle of the sun.

If possible, hike here on a sunny day as it seems the colors are more brilliant when the sun is hitting the lake. While it’s still nice on a cloudy day, you tend to see less of the bluish-green color of the water.

The angle of the sun can also change the color of the water. That’s part of the reason why doing a full circle of the lakes is so great; you can see all the myriad of shades that the light can bring out in the water.

Fall in Green Lakes State Park
Fall is a beautiful time to visit Green Lakes State Park.

Other Things to Do in Green Lakes State Park

In addition to the hike around the lakes, there are more than 16 miles of other trails throughout the park. Many of these offer a bigger challenge than the hikes around the lakes. You can also add some of these trails to your hike around the lakes if you want to add more mileage to your hike.

Green Lakes State Park is also home to an 18-hole golf course designed by famed designer Robert Trent Jones. For those wanting to stay the night, the park features a large campground.

Unfortunately, during my visit, I only had a chance to explore the incredible trails around Green Lake and Round Lake. While I definitely want to go back in the future to see more of the park, I can say, without a shadow of a doubt that Green Lakes State Park is well worth visiting.

In fact, I was so impressed when I first visited by myself, that I took my wife back so that she could see it just a few months later.

If you love the outdoors and find yourself near Syracuse and the eastern Finger Lakes, this is definitely a hike you won’t want to miss.

How to Get to the Hiking Trails at Green Lakes State Park

Green Lake Trail near Syracuse, New York
Another shot of the trail around Green Lake.

Green Lakes State Park is located about 10 miles east of Syracuse in Onondaga County, New York.

While the trails around the lakes at Green Lakes State Park can be accessed from several places, the best parking lots are those near the beach as they provide quick and easy access to the trail.

These lots can be found at the following coordinates within the park: 43.055753, -75.960658.

This trail is quite easy, and while I can’t say definitively that it can be done entirely in a wheelchair, it is at least partially accessible. I also saw people walking on the trail with strollers.

Looking for more things to do nearby? Check out the Matilda Joselyn Gage House, Chittenango Falls, and the best breweries in Syracuse.

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3 thoughts on “Exploring the Unique Green Lakes State Park near Syracuse”

  1. I use a walker and wondered if it would be possible for me to do the green lake walk. As long as it is not rocky it would be doable I would think. Would appreciate your input.

    • For the most part it’s very flat. I didn’t look at every spot thinking about accessibility, but I’d say that it should more or less be fine. If you have any specific questions about that, contacting Green Lakes State Park directly would likely be your best bet.


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