Background you can feel free to skip: Ithaca, NY may have dibs on the tagline, “Ithaca is gorges,” but we have some gorges of our own right here in the Hudson Valley. Well, at least one gorge. Here’s a tourism tagline for us: “The Hudson Valley has a gorge, too, you know.”
Perhaps that tagline could use a little work, but our gorge doesn’t need much marketing – it really sells itself.
Over the years, I’d seen a ton of pictures of Croton Gorge Dam, which is a favorite haunt of local photographers, but hadn’t been there myself until recently. When we finally mustered an expedition to check it out, the whole time we were there, I was wondering, “Dude, what took us so long?” What a beautiful, unique place.
From the moment you pull into the driveway and idle your car across the bridge, boom. Waterfall in your face.
From there, you can explore the falls, the dam, and the giant field at the base of the dam. Then you can hit the trail that will bring you up on top of the dam and across the bridge.
The bridge is closed to motorized vehicles, too, so you can stroll with impunity.
Oh, and there’s a little playground near the start of the trail, complete with bathroom facilities! (And porto-facilities, if that’s your thing.)
If you’re so inclined, you can also visit the trails along the river. We didn’t check them out during our visit because we had three boys under the age of six in our crew, and had to prioritize accordingly. But there are other trails to explore at the park, if your group has a longer attention span than ours. (You walk right by the River Trail access point if you follow the trail guide below.)
One note of caution: This place is not a well-kept secret. The guys at the guard shack on the way in told us that on nice summer days, the park often fills up, and they close the entrance with traffic cones. Before driving all the way here to see only scenic orange cones, you could try calling the park phone at (914) 827-9568 (that number didn’t work in early May 2015, but it is listed on the official Croton Gorge Park page as the contact # for the park). We also saw several cars parked on either side of the bridge on Croton Dam Road – not sure if that’s officially sanctioned or not, but it looked like a popular option for accessing the bridge on that day.
In any event, Croton Gorge Park is definitely worth a visit for both the natural beauty and the cool architecture. It’s tough to think of a shorter hike with a bigger, or more unique, payoff. When you’re looking for a quick trip to a place full of awesomeness, just remember: “The Hudson Valley is gorge.” Dang it, still working on the tagline.
1. From the parking area (see “Directions to the trailhead” below), walk across the field to get as close as you can to the base of the falls. Feel the mist and listen to the roar (or, if you’re here in late summer when the water level is low, imagine the mist and enjoy the peace and quiet).
If you have a hiking companion, now is the appropriate time to turn to them and say, “They should call this place Croton Gorge Daaaaaaa-yum!” (If they don’t laugh, you can blame me, then, before we move to the next step, I’ll wait here until you can find cooler friends.)
Also, if you catch anyone adding to the litter against the fence, perhaps you could query them about how they came to appreciate nature enough to visit it, but not enough to refrain from defiling it. People are curious that way.
2. Once you’ve frolicked at the falls and explored the base of the dam to your satisfaction, it’s time to head up to the bridge. Let’s do this!
With the dam at your back, look across the field to the playground, and you can see a dirt road just to the left of the playground, heading into the woods. That’s where you want to be. Hop on that bad boy.
If you’re starting from the playground (as you will be if you have kids in your group), looking at that same road, the only hint you get that it’s the road to the bridge is a sign that says, “AUTHORIZED VEHICLES ONLY.”
To me, that sign would be way more useful if it said: “AUTHORIZED VEHICLES AND EVERYBODY WHO IS HIKING TO THE TOP OF THE DAM ONLY.” In any event, this is the trail you should be on, even if, like me, you’re not an authorized vehicle.
3. About one minute into the hike/stroll, after you pass the playground on your right, you’ll arrive at a fork in the trail. The right fork takes you along the River Trail, which sounds like a very pleasant place to explore if you don’t have three impatient children with you.
Take the left fork for the Aqueduct Trail Access, which will bring us up to the dam. (On our visit on May 2, 2015, the sign marking this fork was knocked to the ground. That may be remedied by the time you visit. And if you packed a post-hole digger and some concrete in your backpack, dude, this is your time to shine!)
4. In a few more minutes, as the trail continues to rise and passes by a funky old rock wall, you’ll be joined from the right by another trail, marked “OLD CROTON AQUEDUCT STATE HISTORIC PARK.” Probably another nice trail to explore, if you don’t have impatient kids with you. For now, keep heading straight.
5. If you notice another trail splitting off to your left, ignore that bad boy, too. We’re just going for a “stay on the trail we’re on” type situation right now.
6. We see you over there, dam! In just another minute (it took us about 15 minutes total from the playground), you’ll emerge onto the aptly named Croton Dam Road. Turn left to hop onto the road and the dam.
7. Whoa! Who knew there’d be a big fat reservoir on the other side of that dam?
The sights just keep getting better as you go. Keep heading toward the waterfall, checking out the reservoir on one side, and keeping an eye on your car way down there on the other.
8. Once you’re on top of the falls, duuuuuuude.
Don’t forget to check out the nice little view straight ahead, too.
And behind you, find more unique awesomeness at the spillway that feeds the falls. What an insanely cool place to be.
9. When you’re done checking it all out, retrace your steps back to your car, grabbing a selfie or two along the way, if you’re not above such things.
What a cool spot, right? Maybe you should go home and give your eyeballs a break now, since they’ve been gorging all day.
Directions to the trailhead: From the Taconic Parkway headed south from Poughkeepsie, take the Underhill Ave exit toward Croton-on-Hudson/Yorktown Heights, which is approximately 23 miles south of the I-84/Taconic interchange. From the exit, turn right onto Underhill Ave and proceed for less than one mile, where Underhill Ave will dead-end into NY-129 (Croton Lake Road). Turn right onto NY-129. Enjoy the winding, scenic drive for the next three miles, and arrive at the well-marked entrance to Croton Gorge Dam on your left.
Turn into the driveway, go over the little bridge, ogle the falls, find a parking spot, hop out and let the adventure begin!
You can also get directions by checking out the Croton Gorge Park entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The easiest way to get there is to search for “Croton Gorge Park” in Google Maps – it’ll take you right there. If you’re using a Paleolithic GPS device that requires an address, here’s the address for Platinum Autobody, which is one mile north of Croton Gorge Park on NY-129 (just head south for one mile from this address and you’re golden):
451 Yorktown Rd
Croton-On-Hudson, NY 10520
GPS coordinates of parking area: 41.22603, -73.8577 (Clicking will open in Google Maps or the Apple Maps app, depending on your browser/device.)
Super-cool Google Earth flyover of hike route (one caveat – the hike goes on the dam, not into the concrete):
Google Terrain Map of hike route:
Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit these resources:
- The official Westchester County parks page for Croton Gorge Park
- The nice Wikipedia page for the park
- Some excellent reviews on TripAdvisor.com (ranked #1 of 8 – count ‘em, 8! – things to do in Croton-on-Hudson)
- A very helpful trail review, with pictures, from weewestchester.com
- A great article with tons of interesting historical information on the dam from the Hartford Courant: “New York’s New Croton Dam An Engineering Wonder“
Want to support trails in the Hudson Valley? Here’s one great way: Visit the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference homepage and click on Volunteer, Donate, or Shop! (Then you can volunteer, donate, or shop, depending on your mood.)