By Car: Croton Gorge Park - Take Route 9 north or south to Route 129. From Municipal Place turn left onto Maple St. Continue north on Maple St. (Rt. 129) merging with Grand St. and eventually becoming Yorktown Rd. Turn right at sign for Croton Gorge Park (fee). Park at the far end of the parking lot to access trail. Limited parking can also be found along several streets where the trail crosses the road.
By Train: Easily accessible by public transportation and it's proximity to New York City makes Croton Aqueduct Trail the perfect day trip. Bring your bike along for the ride on The Metro North Hudson Line. It provides train service to towns all along the trailway from Grand Central Station in NYC.
On one of those “not a cloud in the sky” summer days in 2009, we headed north out of New York City for a mountain bike ride on the northern section of the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park Aqueduct Trailway. Created in 1968, this National Historic linear park runs about 26 miles along the Aqueduct and its right-of-way, from Croton Gorge County Park near Croton-Harmon in Westchester County to the Yonkers - New York City line at Van Cortlandt Park. For over 165 years, the trailway path has linked communities and historic sites along the lower Hudson River. It actually runs atop the buried masonry water tunnel known as the Old Croton Aqueduct that brought clean water from the Croton Reservoir to New York City.
Our featured mountain bike ride begins at the spectacular New Croton Dam and Croton Gorge Park and travels 5 miles (one-way) to the historic Hudson River town of Ossining. The bike route takes you on a journey through dense woodlands and open spaces, alongside streams and gorges, past backyards and historic sites, down the “Main Streets” of historic towns and to splendid views of the Hudson River. It is one of the most scenic stretches along the entire Croton Aqueduct Trail.
The trail surface is varied ranging from smooth, wide hard-packed dirt to narrow dirt singletrack through grass. Except for a few detours that include steep grades or on-road sections, the trailway is relatively flat making this a bicycle ride that everybody will enjoy. A mountain bike or hybrid bicycle is recommended.
Trail Highlights: There are many natural and historical features along the entire 26 mile route of the Old Croton State Historical Park Trail. We have highlighted just a few. The New Croton Dam & Croton Gorge Park, Croton Gorge Unique Area, Parker Bale American Legion Post, Ossining Weir and Ossining Heritage Area Visitor Center, Sing Sing Kill Double Arched Bridge, and The Crescent & Barlow Block.
Old Croton Aqueduct Trail Description
We made the 97-acre Croton Gorge State Historic Park our base of operations. Not only does it provide direct trail access, it is situated at the base of the 301-foot high New Croton Dam, which took 14 years to build. Picnic tables strategically placed around a field punctuated by magnificent tall shade trees offer ringside seats to impressive views of the hand-hewn, curving dam walls and fountains of water gushing over the spillways. It is an incredibly scenic spot (see our Croton Aqueduct Trail photos) to relax after your bike ride and enjoy a picnic lunch.
You can easily access the Croton Aqueduct Trail (OCA) from the far end of the parking lot next to the restrooms at Croton Gorge Park. After a short steep climb along a gravel switchback, you intersect the OCA Trail. A left at this intersection will bring you to Croton Dam Road, which runs along the top of the dam affording spectacular views of the dam, spillway and gorge. It’s truly an engineering marvel. We did this at the end of our bike ride, when we could spend more time relaxing, gawking at the views and taking photographs .Road use is limited to pedestrians, bicycles and emergency vehicles only.
Turn right and start pedaling south. This wide dirt section of the trail travels uninterrupted for almost a mile through dense forest along a scenic route carved into the hillside. You will immediately come to the first in a series of cylindrical stone structures. These Ventilators, placed at around one mile intervals, allowed fresh air to circulate over the water in the Aqueduct tunnels below.
At about 2 miles (between the 2nd and 3rd Ventilators) a bridge takes you over a deep gorge on your right. This is the Croton Gorge Unique Area (look for the sign) which is managed by the New York State DEC. Many trails (hiking) traverse this scenic 22 acre wooded, undeveloped area situated at the crest of the Croton River ravine. There is a small parking area for 3 or 4 cars. You can hear the stream tumbling over the rocks in the gorge far below. At around 3 miles you'll arrive at the first detour. Some climbs are required, as well as an on-road section through a residential area.
Note: For an easier round trip of under 6 miles, especially if biking with children, you can turn around here and return to Croton Gorge Park.
To continue your mountain bike ride, head right and look for a green wooden post with the letters OCA. A narrow grassy trail with dips and roots takes you up and then down past the General Electric Leadership Development Center alongside a chain-link fence bordering the property before emerging onto Shady Farm Road.
Take a right turn here and then go left under the bridge to bypass Route 9A. Follow Old Albany Post Road up the hill, then turn left up steep Ogden Road. At the top, the trail continues to the right, opposite another green OCA post. This detour is about .75 miles. You'll come to another ventilation shaft at 3.75 miles, where you will have to push your bike up a short, but steep rocky hill to Piping Rock Road.
Note: To avoid this steep incline you can continue on Albany Post Road which turns into N. Highland Ave. and pedal on to meet the trail where it crosses Route 9. This detour takes you along busy Route 9 (N. Highland Ave.), so be very cautious.
To continue on your bike ride, cross Piping Rock Road and continue to Route 9 at 4.1 miles. Cross Route 9 and continue straight on the trail. You are now entering the town of Ossining where the route can get a little confusing. At about 4 .75 miles you reach a square stone building that provided access to the aqueduct below for the maintenance crew. At around 5 miles the trail enters a linear park. Follow the paved path up the hill and then down the steps on the other side. Cross another road to the Ossining Weir Chamber. This large, square stone building accesses the old aqueduct below. Guided tours descend down into the huge brick lined tunnel of the aqueduct. Plan ahead and inquire at the Ossining Heritage Visitor Center.
Cross over the Sing Sing Kill gorge on the top of the aqueduct. On the other side, a path to the left leads to the Visitor Center in the Ossining Community Center building, and a path to the right leads down to a viewing platform offering views through the trees of the double arched bridge you just crossed. The now brick-lined trail takes you to Main Street, the endpoint of our featured bike ride. You'll find cobblestoned streets, shops, benches and refreshments here.
Note: No time for biking back to the start? Take the Metro North train from the Ossining Station to Croton-Harmon station. From there, it's a short bike ride to Croton Gorge Park and less than 50 minutes to New York City. See Transport Your Bike for travelling with bicycle policies.
If you enjoyed this mountain bike ride along the path of New York City's first aqueduct, other suggested bike routes along the Trailway to experience are:
Only in Ossining can visitors take a guided tour and enter the Aqueduct Tunnel itself through the Weir Chamber to inspect the brick conduit which carried water to New York. You need to call ahead and contact the Joseph G. Caputo Community Center for tour arrangements. The center also has excellent audio-visual exhibits on the history of the Old Croton Aqueduct.
Open 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Monday - Saturday. 95 Broadway. (914) 941-3189.
The unusual double arch feature began as a bridge with an impressive single 88-ft wide arch running in a north-south direction to carry the Aqueduct over the Sing Sing Kill and ravine. Later, a second arched bridge running east-west was threaded through the first arch to carry Broadway across the gorge resulting in the double arches that are the talk of the town today.
During the 1830s New York City was in dire need of a fresh water supply to combat the steady rise of disease and to fight numerous fires that often engulfed large tracts of businesses and homes. Construction of an unprecedented magnitude began in 1837 under the expertise of John Bloomfield Jervis. The proposed plan called for a 41 mile aqueduct and dam to be built in order to run water from the Croton River to New York City. Three to four thousand workers, mostly Irish immigrants earning up to $1.00 per day, completed the masonry marvel in just five years. In 1842 water flowed into above ground reservoirs located at the present sites of the New York Public Library and the Great Lawn of Central Park. Throngs of people attended the formal celebration held on October 14th and celebrated with "Croton cocktails" - a mix of Croton water and lemonade.
For more information:
Tip: An excellent detailed, accordian-style map of the entire trail is available from Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct. It can be purchased at Park Headquarters in Dobbs Ferry, the Rockefeller Preserve or the Visitor Center in Ossining and other locations. Because some offices may run out of copies we recommend ordering it from their website.
Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct
Croton Gorge Park
Phone: (914) 827-9568