There’s nothing quite like staring up at a 300-foot wall of granite knowing its holding back millions of gallons of water. It can be a humbling experience, but also somewhat awe-inspiring. New York has a three of these soaring dams as well as remnants of a century-old aqueduct within close proximity to downtown Manhattan. Not only are these man-made masterpieces beautiful to look at, they are great spots to include in your weekend workout. All of them have trails leading up, over, or around them. So, if you are looking for a new hike, bike, or run not far from the city, these three New York dams and their accompanying trails should be included in your itinerary at least once.
1. The New Croton Dam
If what you want is dramatic waterworks, head to the New Croton Dam located at Croton Gorge Park. This spot is worth the one hour drive from midtown Manhattan. You won’t even be able to make it across the entrance bridge without slowing down and then full on stopping your car and getting out. The views over the Croton River are spectacular and include the jaw-dropping 200-foot waterfall spilling down from the reservoir. From below, the bridge across the top of the reservoir looks like something out of a high-wire act.
If you want to hike to the top of the dam and hang out on the bridge that overlooks the waterfall you can do that too. You’ll find the trailhead behind a small playground located next to the parking lot. Head left at the fork in the path shortly after you take off. A mile later you’ll be at the top of the dam. If you’re afraid of heights you may not want to walk across the reservoir bridge–but then you will miss a view that is nothing short of dazzling. Turn around and head back down for a picnic on the grass at the base of the waterfall.
2. Old Croton Aqueduct
If you prefer the old and historic to the new and dramatic, you’ll want to take on the challenge of exploring the historical Old Croton Aqueduct and the 41-miles of trail leading from New York City through the Bronx to Westchester County. Head over to the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historical Park in Dobbs Ferry and you can check out the remains of the first water supply system to carry water to New York City from 1842 to 1955. Most of the aqueduct is underground (it was taken out of service in 1965) so you’ll literally be walking on top of it, but some artifacts and above-ground structures are visible to hikers and bikers.
Parts of the trail will have you feeling a bit like you’re on a scavenger hunt: passing through streets and business parks, through residential backyards and past gas stations, past stately mansions, over a railway into the woods, and past a swimming lake. Tackling the trail requires hikers to come prepared with maps and plenty of directions. The best thing to do is to purchase a detailed map from the N.Y.-N.J. Trail Conference . There are OCA trailheads at points but it’s easy to get lost.
New York City residents can bite off a marathon-size segment of the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail and do a 26.2-mile stretch from Yonkers to the Croton Dam. Various segments of the trail are suitable for mountain biking north of New York City and give you scenic views of the Hudson.
3. Kensico Dam in Valhalla
If stairs are your thing—or if you’re looking for an intense cross-training workout—plan a visit to the Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla, NY.
If you park in front of the dam near the playground you can start with a steeplechase-type challenge, heading straight up the 179 or so—it's easy to lose count when you are breathing so hard—stairs tucked on the left (west) side of the dam. Once you reach the last stair, run across the reservoir for a calming (and pulse lowering) view of the lower Hudson Valley. You can look straight down the 307 foot wall of granite before you take a more leisurely descent down the winding brick path on the opposite end (east side) of the dam.
When you reach the bottom, cut across the front of the dam and you’ll have yourself a nice loop of a little more than a mile. If you’re looking for more distance, you can turn your back to the damn and head across the street (North Broadway) where you can hop on the nicely paved Bronx River Pathway and run (or bike) for miles and miles.