The Good: Beautiful scenery, Clean air and water, Well-maintained trails, Safe, Absolutely beautiful.
The Bad: Parking is a bit expensive (for my tastes!)
The Basics: The perfect place to go to commune with nature, Green Lakes State Park is affordable clean swimming in summer and something better in autumn and winter!
Destinations are a real weird thing to try to review because why people go to different places is remarkably subjective. Even within myself, there are places I go for entirely different reasons. So, there are a number of historical parks and national monuments that I have rated rather low because they aren't all they are cracked up to be, like Mount Rushmore National Monument (reviewed here!). I know I rated that one pretty low because there is not much to do, parking is fairly expensive and it's not like it is in the pictures (there's a pretty significant gorge separating tourists from the heads and they are up much higher than you'd think). So, if I pan a place like Mount Rushmore, how can I say that a place like Green Lakes State Park in New York is a perfect place to go?
It's simple: Green Lakes State Park is one of the most beautiful and simple places on Earth. It is (generally) quiet, easy to get around and for the most part there is nothing to do there but enjoy nature. And I'm not even recommending it for camping or swimming on a hot day when there are people around. After Labor Day until May 1 when the park opens for the season are the best times to go to Green Lakes. Yes, autumn when the leaves are turning, the deer walk on the road beside your car and there are no children or people at Green Lakes is the perfect time to go, spend a day and to remember just what it is like to live simply and be in nature. There is no better place I can imagine to go do that than Green Lakes State Park.
Green Lakes State Park is located near Syracuse, NY. There are two entrances to it, one from local route 290, the other from Route 5 (a major arterial through New York State). Technically, Green Lakes is closest to Fayetteville, but that's essentially a suburb of Syracuse, so if you're looking at a big map of the state Syracuse puts you in the right neck of the woods. Internet mapping sites use 7900 Green Lakes Road, Fayetteville, NY 13066 as the address for the park and using that seems to give good directions.
Green Lakes State Park is marked well enough for those looking for the little brown signs, but for both ends of the park, there are no giant signs or stop lights to announce the presence of the park. As a result, if one misses Green Lakes Road, they miss the park. In other words, Green Lakes State Park has one entrance, one exit and is essentially one long road perpendicular to the two access streets. If you miss it, you miss it, but once you find the road, it's all the park and it's impossible to get lost!
Ease Of Local Transport/Parking
As stated, internet mapping sites are good about finding Green Lakes State Park and the local traffic on Route 5 or Route 290 is only bad around rush hour time. "Bad traffic" in Fayetteville is a line of about ten cars and considering both 5 and 290 are 55 mph roads, we're not talking a huge traffic jam ever! Inside the park, outside peak summer season days, traffic is minimal and moves rather consistently. In the summer, Green Lakes State Park has the cleanest, most beautiful swimming area and interestingly some of the coolest water, so people flock to it. Traffic can get backed up for about ten minutes at the main gates during the peak hours in summer.
The expense at Green Lakes State Park for everyone who visits it comes in the form of parking. From May 1 to Memorial Day, cars entering the park have to pay $6.00 to park and from Memorial Day to Labor Day that goes up a buck. For the off season, though, you can drive in, park, walk around all for free. Yeah, that's the best price. Arguably when the park is free is the best time to go; in autumn it is easily one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
There is no purpose to Green Lakes State Park and there is virtually nothing to do and that is what makes it so wonderful. Green Lakes State Park is a massive deciduous forest with tall maples that turn from green to gold in the Fall and it has hills with trails that can be wandered through. There is the green lake and the water at Green Lakes is blue-green! I'm not talking blue-green like a child's perception of sea water, I mean that the water has a glowing blue color that is almost the precise shade of blueberry Jell-O. It varies between that surreal blue when one is driving above it on the way into the park to a richer forest green when one is in front of it. It's not like the lake is packed with algae or something either, the water is a surreal green on its own. It's actually remarkably photogenic and quite distinct.
So the purpose of Green Lakes State Park is to preserve nature and to allow people to experience nature for free or a low parking fee. That is, ideally, what this place is best at and for and that is why I recommend it and declare it one of the most beautiful places on earth. There is no pollution, there are twenty miles of winding trails up and down hills through forests, around the lake, making it ideal for wandering and nature hikes.
But there are crabby, annoying people who wanted more than that, I suppose, so now there are things to do in Green Lakes. First, there is a golf course. I don't golf, so I've no idea if it is any good. But driving in to look around once more for my review the other day, I couldn't help but notice on the opposite side of the road from all of the things I like is a golf course, club house and people zipping around in golf carts. It appeared nice rom the road, but again, I don't golf.
In the park, there is camping. There are almost 140 camp sites, most of which are places one can set up a tent or hitch a trailer up. There are about ten cabins that hold four people each and the fees vary with the seasons. The New York State park site allows one easy access to a list of reservation fees for the various camp sites and the cabins are nice, but I'm not sure why anyone would cabin camp at such an expense in summer. If it's warm enough to sleep out under the stars, there seems little point in going to a place like Green Lakes State Park only to sleep in a cabin. The camp sites I looked at were small, but spaced well enough so one's neighbors aren't breathing down one's neck. For those who like to go get frisky in the woods, though, the trails are much better for that. I, however, recommend being very careful about such things as Green Lakes is remarkably well-patrolled and that seems to be what most people make the news for coming out of Green Lakes State Park. Sigh.
So, there's golf and camping and swimming in the summer for those who want things to do other than just wandering the nature trails and getting lost among the leaves and hills. Seriously, if you've ever wanted to go somewhere where you didn't have to DO anything but enjoy nature, Green Lakes State Park is it!
Also in the summer, I've learned, there are boat rentals. One can row out on Green Lake for $5.00/hr. but of course one will want to confirm that as this listing ages. Swimming, rowing, photographing, hiking, ahem-ing, golfing and camping, there is plenty to do at Green Lakes State Park.
There is nowhere to eat in Green Lakes State Park; the food you bring in is what is available to you. Cabins have cooking areas and there are grills on the beach next to the lake. As well, each campsite has a place for a fire, so cooking fires can be made. There might well be food in the golf clubhouse, but having avoided it in favor of the beauty and simplicity of nature, I've no idea if there is food there and/or how expensive it is.
There is no shopping in Green Lakes State Park, save renting boats, booking campsites and whatever the new golf shop has. For shoppers, Green Lakes State Park is less than ten miles away from Shoppingtown Mall and one's shopping needs can be met there. Green Lakes State Park is a wonderful place to get away from capitalism for a while.
Never have I thought so highly of a place where there is so little to do. In all honesty, autumn in Green Lakes State Park is what makes America worth visiting or living in. It is a gift to be simple and this is simply one of the most beautiful junctions of water, land and sky one may experience. Who needs something more?
For other park or destination reviews, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Hoover Dam National Park
For other travel reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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