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At first glance, there’s no evidence that an aqueduct ever existed along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail. The trail is often a singletrack dirt pathway that winds through communities and trees and provides an oasis of green just north of the Bronx. But take a closer look and the trail begins to hint at a history that spans more than 175 years.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Old Croton Aqueduct was completed in 1842, when water first flowed from the Croton River south into the Bronx, providing clean water to a city with a rising population that desperately needed it. The aqueduct quickly grew obsolete as New York City’s population continued to boom, and a New Croton Aqueduct, three times the size, was built in 1890.
The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail gives visitors a lesson in New York history, starting from the north at the New Croton Dam. It begins to the right of the dam, and as you head south, you’ll quickly pass the first of 21 remaining ventilators, 10- to 14-foot-high structures that were placed at roughly 1-mile intervals to allow fresh air to reach the water in the aqueduct.
After about 3 miles, you’ll reach the town of Crotonville, one of several small towns along the trail. Another 2 miles farther is Ossining. This northern tip of the trail up to Ossining will be the most comfortable for horseback riders. The trail crosses many public streets along its 26 miles. Drivers tend to yield to trail users, but use caution at these crossings, which get more numerous as the trail continues south and enters urban areas.
Walkers can enjoy the trail’s entire length; cyclists and other trail users may use the path as well but may find some sections difficult to traverse. Cyclists will need to be comfortable biking on the sidewalks and roadways of several streets of varying traffic volumes and speeds. Travelers should particularly use caution in the section of the trail following Albany Post Road, which has no sidewalks or shoulders, for about 0.3 mile south of Scarborough. Here walkers and casual cyclists will want to follow a 0.8-mile detour, which goes right on Scarborough Station Road, left on River Road, and left on Creighton Road back to the trail.
Follow the trail another 3 miles to the town of Sleepy Hollow, which is much quainter than its legend of the Headless Horseman suggests; this is another section of the trail that equestrians may enjoy. Rockefeller State Park Preserve, which offers a bridle path, is also nearby (though equestrians must have a permit).
Trail users get views of the newly constructed Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (formerly known as the Tappan Zee Bridge) about 2.5 miles south of Sleepy Hollow. A new shared-use path runs along the bridge and provides a nonmotorized crossing of the Hudson River. About 0.5 mile south of the bridge, the trail crosses through Lyndhurst, the site of a Gothic Revival mansion where cyclists are asked to dismount and walk through the park. Take the time to walk through Lyndhurst and enjoy its well-manicured landscaping.
Signage is infrequent on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, an intentional effort by the trail’s developers to maintain its rural nature. Four miles south of Lyndhurst, trail users will find it easy to locate the historical Keeper’s House and park headquarters, worth a stop to admire a piece of the trail’s history. To stay on the trail, be on the lookout for the stones imprinted with OCA at many street crossings, as well as the wayfinding signs installed in summer 2018 at several areas that are difficult to navigate.
The remainder of the trail headed south is best suited for walkers, as the trail surface is occasionally rocky and winds through and around public streets in Yonkers. The southern end of the trail lies near the intersection of Lawton Street and Hancock Avenue in Yonkers, while the Old Croton Aqueduct continues south into the Bronx. There is no formal trailhead at the trail’s southern terminus, and those reaching the trail by car can look for on-street parking nearby.
To reach the southern terminus from I-87 S, take Exit 1 toward Hall Pl./McLean Ave. Merge onto Central Park Ave., go 0.5 mile, and turn right onto Forest Ave. Travel 0.2 mile, where Forest Ave. turns right and becomes Hancock Ave. Travel another 0.2 mile to the southern terminus near the intersection of Hancock Ave. and Lawton St.
To reach the southern terminus from I-87 N, take Exit 14 toward McLean Ave. Merge onto Jerome Ave., go 0.2 mile, and turn left onto McLean Ave. Make an immediate left onto Forest Ave. Travel 0.2 mile, where Forest Ave. turns right and becomes Hancock Ave. Travel another 0.2 mile to the southern terminus near the intersection of Hancock Ave. and Lawton St.
To reach the northern terminus from I-287 W, take Exit 6, and turn left onto Orchard St. Go 0.2 mile, and continue onto Cemetery Road. From I-287 E, take Exit 6, and turn left onto NY 22. Immediately turn left onto Cemetery Road. In 0.3 mile turn right onto Bronx River Pkwy., and go 1.7 miles. At Kensico Cir., take the second exit onto Taconic State Pkwy. Go 13.9 miles, and take Exit 13 for Underhill Ave./Croton-on-Hudson/Yorktown Heights. Head southwest on Underhill Ave. Travel 0.8 mile on Underhill Ave., and turn right onto NY 129 W/Croton Lake Road. After 3 miles, turn left onto Croton Dam Road. Parking is available at the New Croton Dam in 0.2 mile on the right.
This is a trail for mountain bikes or road bikes with fatter tires. The trail comes in short sections, and in some parts the continuation isn’t clearly marked so I did some wrong turns and had to double back. Scenic in some areas. Just beware - there’s plenty of bigger rocks, tree roots jutting out, branches on the ground!
The OCA trail offers a rich variety of surfaces and surroundings. I rode a commuter bike with 38mm slicks and did just fine, even through the muddy sections. I picked the trail up in Yonkers off the South County with a bit of street riding. This initial section runs through some rough spots in Yonkers and includes some on-street sections. After reaching the northern neighborhoods of Yonkers, it all starts to feel European with back-to-back posh villages, mansions, and views of the Hudson. There are even some interesting stone ruins, not to mention the Lyndhurst Mansion grounds.
The trail comes and goes a bit further north and you'll find yourself on the road more than you may like, but there are some deeply wooded sections and a fun climb to a bridge over Phelps Way. There is an aqueduct museum along the way and many clear signs of former aqueduct works.
I highly recommend this trail and shall return to it many times.
My friend and I rode the OCA on January 22, 2017. We started from the parking lot of Sleepy Hollow high school. The trail is free of snow and ice, with a few muddy patches. The section shortly after is hilly. There are a few breaks in the trail that require riding on the road. One of these is at River Road in Briarcliff Manor. Two in Ossining are located from the Highview Terrace Apartments parking lot and another at Ogden Rd. near the GE complex. These road connections aren't marked so make sure you have an OCA map or GPS. There are numerous road crossings, most not heavily trafficked. There is one very steep road crossing in Ossining. Unless you're a seasoned mountain biker, I'd recommended walking your bike up and down. There is also a fairly steep hill along the fence at the GE complex. Because the surface of the trail changes from grass to dirt and can be uneven in spots, hybrid tires, at a minimum, are recommended. There are historical markers, ventilators, and weirs along the way. Make sure to ride atop the dam.
...Have parked just off Route 129, pedaled over the metal bridge just a bit east of the Taconic over the Croton Reservoir and rode alongside the reservoir up to the Old Croton Dam and down the unpaved, but very rideable path, down to Route 9A and down to Croton Harmon Metro-North station, passing over the top of the Croton River emptying into the Hudson. Then rode over the bridge over the Metro-North tracks and west to the Hudson River.....Beautiful. About 18 miles roundtrip !
I describe this trail with pictures on wetschestertrails.com This is an unpaved trail; you cannot in-line skate on it.
"It's been over a year since I posted my last review of this trail, so I thought that an update might be in order.
Of all the trails I've biked in the past year, this one still remains my favorite.
I rode the segment from Tarrytown to Yonkers 2 days ago. It's a nice level ride although there are many street crossings to deal with. Once you get into Yonkers, be aware of broken glass in the more populated areas of the City.
I biked the segement from Sleepy Hollow north to the Croton Dam today. There are fewer street crossings on this segment, but you must deal with off trail street detours in several spots. The ride was well worth it though; views from the top of the New Croton Dam were spectacular.
This trail should not be missed by any serious off-road bikers.
E-mail me if you're in the area and want more details.
Safe riding . . . "
"A great trail for those who enjoy long distance, fast moving off-road biking.
Detours via city streets in Yonkers, Tarrytown, North Tarrytown, and Ossning but otherwise a nicely maintained dirt & gravel trek from NYC to the Old Croton Dam.
Trail doesn't get very much use except just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge in Irvington & Hastings-on-Hudson.
A good starting point is the Sleepy Hollow High School in North Tarrytown. From this point, head north for the most scenic and crowd-free trail portions.
No facilities in place on trail. Bring your own water & food. Maps are available from the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct. Get one; they're great.
E-mail if in area for more details.
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