With nearly 20 miles of trails, old-growth forests, two pristine lakes, boat rentals, 137 camp sites, a sandy swimming beach, and even golf courses (traditional and disc versions), there are numerous ways to get outside and enjoy Green Lakes State Park.
At the heart of the 1,955-acre park, literally and figuratively, are two meromictic lakes — a unique condition where surface waters and deeper waters do not intermix. Formed during the last ice age nearly fifteen thousand years ago, the two lakes are essentially giant plunge pools. Great waterfalls flowing off the receding edge of the glaciers scooped out nearly 500 feet of rock to form deep, steep-sided lakes that are incongruous with the present day landscape. Smaller versions of this process can be seen at plunge pools within the many gorges and waterfalls for which the Finger Lakes region is famous, such as Buttermilk Falls State Park.
The deep nature of these lakes — Green Lake is estimated to be 195 feet deep and Round Lake to be 180 feet deep — and their unique water chemistry create conditions that prevent the layers of water from intermixing. The minerals and salts, mostly calcium carbonate, that leech into the lake from the ground water also account for the lakes’ green appearance.
During late May to early June, the lakes undergo an annual “whiting” event where the calcium carbonate precipitates out of the water and settles to form reef-like structures — yet another spectacle only observable at this park. The most striking “reef” is found at Deadman’s Point, but other examples are observable at numerous points around the flat lakeside trails. These trails are heavily traveled, constantly maintained, well developed, feature numerous benches, and see steady traffic from a mix of walkers and joggers.
The natural wonders don’t stop with the lakes. The gorge, with steep slopes over 150 feet high, and surrounding area feature old growth forest as well. The peculiar nature of the lakes and the old growth forest were all contributing factors when Round Lake was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1973. Old growth forests, a rare circumstance in the northeast, feature multi-layered canopies and large diameter trees measured here in feet, not inches, as seen in most New York forests. Several of the trees towering here were mature by today’s standard well before the American Revolution began.
The trails through this forest can be reached at the western edge of Round Lake and are less frequented by most of the park’s visitors. Indeed, the trail network above the lake is more extensive than around the lake (approximately 13 miles of trails), and a little distance is always a sure way to find a bit more solitude. The west section trails weave between woodlands and open fields and feature mowed trails and most of the mixed-use/biking trails as well.
Summer is when the vast majority of visitors frequent the park, but it remains open year round and has equally stunning scenery and outdoor activities in other seasons. Multicolored leaves emblazoned around the blue-green lakes make for a particularly striking setting in the fall. In the winter, snowshoeing and extensive cross country skiing trails (10 miles of groomed trails) expand the list of available activities even further.