Nestled in the center of New York state are two glacial lakes that share a unique and unexpected feature: brilliantly vivid turquoise water. These bright blue beauties are the highlight of Green Lakes State Park in Manlius, NY.
Green Lake and Round Lake are meromictic lakes as opposed to dimictic lakes. The water in dimictic lakes mixes in the spring and fall due to strong winds and varying temperatures, whereas meromictic lakes have distinct surface waters and bottom waters that do not mix seasonally.
The lack of mixing results in crystal clear water instead of the muddier appearance lakes often have.
Additionally, Green Lake and Round Lake are especially deep, at 195 feet and 170 feet respectively.
When you look at an object, you see the color of light the object reflects. Informational signs at the park use leaves and apples as examples. “Leaves are green because they reflect green wavelengths while they absorb all the others. Apples reflect red wavelengths.”
While water tends to reflect blue wavelengths, most freshwater lakes are not deep enough or clear enough to appear blue. Meanwhile at Green Lake and Round Lake, the deep and crystal clear water allows sunlight to reflect blue wavelengths of light.
Then, as naturally occurring cyanobacteria in the water collect calcium, they scatter green wavelengths. This produces the beautiful teal shade the lakes are known for.
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Preserving Ancient History
The top layer of water in both Green Lake and Round Lake has some oxygen due to mixing within the layer. It’s home to fish and freshwater reefs.
The lower layer of water, remaining undisturbed by the top layer, has no oxygen and is home to bacteria instead of fish. Signs at the park explain that this layer “mimics Earth’s ancient atmosphere, as well as the unexplored depths of modern oceans. Scientists study this layer to learn about life in extreme environments.”
The lakes’ bottom sediment has not been disturbed by the other layers and has therefore been able to collect, virtually undisturbed, over thousands of years. This offers important insight into the evolving environment and climate in Central New York.
Round Lake was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1973. The program is run by the National Park Service, “recognizing and encouraging the conservation of sites that contain outstanding biological and geological resources.” There are currently 28 national natural landmarks in New York state.
Green Lakes State Park is home to an impressive variety of trees. Some of these include the Eastern Hemlock (some of the oldest trees in Onondaga County at 400+ years), the Tuliptree (reaching more than 140 feet in height), and the Northern White Cedar (lining the lake shores).
Visiting Green Lakes State Park
The park is open daily year-round from dawn until dusk. Swimming dates vary from each year, running in 2020 from mid-June through Labor Day.
There are no outside boats or watercraft allowed on the lakes. The park usually offers kayak and rowboat rentals, but these are unavailable until further notice due to Covid-19.
My favorite part of the park is walking the trail that circles Green Lake and Round Lake. This largely flat and shady lakeside trail is a 3.5 mile loop.
Other park amenities include a Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course, a nature center, playgrounds, picnic areas, frisbee golf, pavilion rentals, fishing (allowed on Green Lake only), bird watching, camping, cabins, and trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and mountain biking.
Find full park details here.
A Hippocampe Beach/All Terrain wheelchair is available at the park to access the beach and trails. The wheelchair is available for free on a first-come, first-served basis from 11 am until 7 pm daily. Check in with the lifeguards at the beach for more information.
Most New York state parks cost between $5 and $10 per vehicle for day use. If you’re planning on visiting parks on a regular basis, you can purchase an Empire Pass for $80, allowing unlimited access for a year. This pass can be shared with other members of your family as it’s not assigned to just one vehicle. Click here for more details.
Alternatively, you can ask your local library if they have an Empire Pass you can borrow for a few days!
More to See and Do Nearby
- Grab a coffee at Soleil Café (~6 minute drive)
- Visit the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park (~6 minute drive)
- Enjoy more great views at Chittenango Falls State Park (~15 minute drive)
- Have lunch at Mello Velo Bicycle Shop & Cafe (~13 minute drive)
- Check out another meromictic lake at Clark Reservation State Park
Green Lakes State Park is located just outside of Syracuse. It’s 50 minutes from Utica, an hour and 15 minutes from Ithaca, an hour and 20 minutes from Binghamton, an hour and a half from Rochester, two hours and 15 minutes from Albany, and two and a half hours from Buffalo.
Respect Your Mother (Earth)
Green Lakes State Park is not only a beautiful place to visit but an extremely important natural ecosystem. Certain parts of the park are more fragile than others. Please be respectful and do not swim near or climb on Deadman’s Point. This area is home to an ancient freshwater reef that is alive and growing. Each time I’m at the park, I see visitors ignoring warning signs and standing on the reef, and it breaks my heart a little.
Protecting and respecting natural treasures is the only way we can keep them safe and allow future generations to enjoy them the way we’ve been able to. A good rule of thumb to remember: leave it better than you found it.
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