This past weekend, on a sunny and 75 degrees April Saturday, we decided to go and check out New Croton Dam in Cortlandt, New York, in Westchester County. I had heard about it as being a spectacle of a site – a massive, thundering waterfall – and had been wanting to go for some time. With Spring finally here for good, we decided to put on our best walking shoes and drive the short 35 minutes north (from New York City, about 1 hour and 15 minutes).
I say best walking shoes because the dam is in Croton Gorge Park, a 97-acre park filled with fields, trails, woods and a playground. Looking at photos of the dam before going, I knew my girls would love it. Impressive in scale, with a dramatic drop and spillway, they’ve never seen a waterfall quite like this. When we arrived, we entered a sign that says “Croton Gorge Park”, which takes you to the bottom of the dam, and where the fields and playground are. As we approached the fall, there were lots of high-pitched “wows”, as it really is quite a site. And the great thing about it is that it’s so close to home…we sort of felt like tourists in our own home county.
Soon after we decided to hike to the top, to a bridge that goes over the dam. Note: if you do not want to hike to the top, follow the road that takes you up to the bridge, where you can park along the side of the road (no vehicles allowed on the bridge). Walking stick in hand – in my younger daughter’s hand, that is – we set off on our ascent through the woods. We actually did not look at a map or try to figure out the best way to go up, we just saw an opening in the woods and went for it.
As it turned out, we did a little bit of “bush-wacking”. It was fun that way, spontaneous and not really knowing if we were going in the right direction, but we eventually made it to the top. We followed a road that led us along pretty Croton reservoir and eventually to the bridge that goes over the dam. There were lots of people biking and running, and I imagine the perfect spot to go to if you’re a local in want of some scenic exercise.
From above, we enjoyed impressive views of the dam and spillway on one side, and the reservoir on the other. It is some of Westchester’s prettiest scenery. As well as history: built in 1842, the “Old” Croton Dam was the first large masonry dam in the U.S., with the main purpose of supplying water to New York City. Soon enough, though, New York needed more water, and work began on the New Croton Dam. It was completed in 1907, with the Croton Reservoir having the capacity to hold approximately 34 billion gallons of water and a watershed covering 177 square miles. No small feat!
We hung out at the top for some time, taking in all the different views, as well as photos. A picturesque and peaceful way to start the day, if you are looking for a fun excursion with a little slice of New York history, go to New Croton Dam!
Route 129, Cortlandt, NY
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