These National Natural Landmarks, recognized for their outstanding biological and geological resources, are all within a two-hour drive of Rochester, NY.
1. Mendon Ponds
National Natural Landmark est. 1967 – 2,462 acres
Mendon Ponds Park contains a unique complex of glacial features including kames, eskers, esker fans, kettle holes, erratics, bogs, and ponds.
Mendon Ponds Park is the largest Monroe County Park with 2,500 acres of woodlands, ponds, wetlands and glacially created landforms, including Devil’s Bathtub, a meromictic lake like Green and Round Lakes.
2. Hart’s Woods
National Natural Landmark est. 1972 – 14 acres
Hart’s Woods is a rare remnant of the original beech-maple forest in Perinton that once occupied a large glaciated area extending from southeastern Wisconsin to north-central New York.
It contains a pristine stand of beech-maple forest which covered 47% of Perinton prior to settlement. This type of forest with two dominant tree species thrives in areas of glacial till.
If an imaginary line is drawn from East Rochester to the southeast corner of the Town, the beech-maple forest dominates the area north of that line.
One peculiarity: beech reproduce best in the shade of a maple, and maple best in the shade of a beech. As a result, which of the two is dominant in a given forest oscillates from generation to generation.
3. Bergen-Byron Swamp
National Natural Landmark est. 1964 – 2,000 acres
The Bergen-Byron Swamp encompasses diverse forest and wetland habitats that is unusually rich in plant and animal life.
The Bergen Swamp is a 10,000 year old natural ecological succession following the retreat of the glaciers. The lichens were the first organisms to grow on the barren rock left by the retreating glaciers. And yet, lichens are still found in the Bergen Swamp climax communities, long after the pioneer stage of natural succession.
It is the first ever private environmental land trust in the United States chartered as a New York State living museum, and the first such site to be designated a National Natural Landmark.
4. Fossil Coral Reef
Natural National Landmark est. 1967 – 50 acres
Get Directions to the steam shovel. The quarry is private.
Fossil Coral Reef (private property), also known locally as Bradbury Quarry or Le Roy Quarry, is an abandoned limestone quarry in Le Roy, New York, and is an exposed fossil site.
The reef is the finest display of Devonian coral reef in New York, and includes core, flanking, and off-reef deposits, with rare tabulate and rugose corals, crinoids, gastropods, and trilobites.
Fun fact about the Marion Steam Shovel pictured above, it is the last Marion Steam Shovel known to exist in the world. This shovel was rumored to actually have been used in the digging of the Panama Canal. It may also have been the inspiration for Mary Ann in the book, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.
5. Zurich Bog
National Natural Landmark est. 1973 – 490 acres
Zurich Bog is a good example of northern sphagnum bog and bog forest vegetation, both of which are uncommon in north-central New York.
The Zurich Bog is a large, moderately acidic, wetland trapped between large drumlins. Such wetlands were never common in this portion of the Great Lakes plain, but have become increasingly rare since European settlement due to drainage, filling, and pollution. Thus such a bog, particularly one of such size, is a rare treasure in this area.
6. Oak Orchard Creek Marsh
Natural National Landmark est. 1973 – 600 acres
Get Directions to the visitor center
Located within Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Orchard Creek Marsh is a relatively undisturbed marsh, an ecosystem that is rare for this part of New York.
The refuge serves primarily as a nesting, feeding, resting and staging areas for migratory waterfowl. The varied habitats support approximately 266 species of birds, 42 species of mammals, plus reptiles, fish, amphibians and insects.
7. Fall Brook Gorge
National Natural Landmark est. 1970 – 102 acres
Get Directions – There is not an easy path to view the fall from the gorge; expect a challenging decent with a rope to assist. Others have suggested walking in from Route 20.
Fall Brook Gorge in Geneseo represents one of the nation’s finest exposures of Upper and Middle Devonian Age strata with significant fossil remains and a cap-rock waterfall.
The gorge possesses a series of ecological communities in a small area that illustrate the response of plant and animal life to sharply contrasting microclimates.
8. Montezuma Marshes
National Natural Landmark est. 1973 – 2,100 acres
Get Directions to the main pool (Black Lake) entrance and visitor center
Montezuma Marshes, located within the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, is a marsh dominated by broad-leaved cattail. A small, 100-acre area within the site is one of the best examples of undisturbed swamp woodlands in New York or New England.
The Refuge provides over 9,000 acres of protected lands and managed wetlands for wildlife. Sixteen shallow-water impoundments provide more than 4,700 acres of freshwater wetlands. Adjacent uplands, which include grasslands, shrub fields and forested tracts, are also actively managed for wildlife.
9. Round Lake
National Natural Landscape est. 1973 – 100 acres
Get Directions to the state park entrance
Round Lake, located within Green Lakes State Park, is one of 11 meromictic lakes reported in the United States. The site also contains about 20 acres of outstanding virgin mesophytic forest adjoining the lake.
Both Round and Green Lakes are meromictic lakes, which means that there is no fall and spring mixing of surface and bottom waters. Such lakes have a high potential for evidence of ancient plant and animal life.
10. Moss Lake Bog
National Natural Landmark est. 1973 – 84 acres
Moss Lake Bog is a classic example of a postglacial sphagnum bog invading and filling a small kettle lake. The various stages of bog succession are well illustrated here.
Moss Lake Preserve is managed by The Nature Conservancy.
11. Deer Lick Nature Sanctuary
National Natural Landmark est. 1967 – 410 acres
Deer Lick Nature Sanctuary, located in Zoar Valley, contains a gorge that clearly illustrates exposed stratifications of the Onondaga escarpment. The site also supports a mature northern hardwood forest.
Deer Lick offers a variety of forests types to experience, from meadow edge pioneer species to old-growth hemlock-northern hardwoods. Catch glimpses of striking shale canyon walls during your hike.
Deer Lick Conservation Area is managed by The Nature Conservancy.
More information about National Natural Landmarks
The National Natural Landmarks Program recognizes and encourages the conservation of sites that contain outstanding biological and geological resources.
Sites are designated by the Secretary of the Interior for their condition, illustrative character, rarity, diversity, and value to science and education. The National Park Service administers the program and works cooperatively with landowners, managers and partners to promote conservation and appreciation of our nation’s natural heritage.
Rather than an escape, I prefer to think of these as transcending places that encourage us to transcend space, time, and state of mind.
Have you visited any of our National Natural Landmarks?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments. Your insight and experience is invaluable!