It’s no secret that we love finding waterfalls, but this time we found a waterfall and a man-made engineering marvel! Introducing the impressive and beautiful Croton Gorge Park in New York’s Hudson Valley.
I’m not ashamed to say that this dam first caught my attention with social media photos. When I found out that it was in New York I was thrilled and added it to my bucket list of road trip items. Seeing it in person and learning about its purpose and history only added to the awe of its alluring cascade.
Croton Gorge Park
Croton Dam is located on the 97 acre property of Croton Gorge Park and it is the first thing that you will notice as you enter from the main road. The road on top of the dam wall, as well as the bridge over the gorge, is open to pedestrians and bicyclists with the best views of the area. It is also one of only four ways to cross over the Croton River which begins here.
Croton Gorge Park is run by Westchester County and offers a popular spot for fishing, picnicking, sledding and cross country skiing. You will also find playgrounds, restrooms, grills and plenty of lawn space for picnics and recreation activities. We also spotted a baseball field and a large fountain that we read is occasionally operated with high pressure water from the reservoir. We visited during the early Spring so we weren’t fortunate to see the fountain in its full glory.
You can access the top of the dam using the main trail from the parking lot or a few of the steep shortcuts that run from the open lawn to the top of the hill closest to the dam. The trail from the parking lot is wide (wide enough for authorized vehicles) and gradually inclines for about one mile to the top of the dam.
The park also has a more extensive hiking trail if you’re up for a challenge. The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail is 26 miles long stretching from Croton Gorge to the Yonkers-NYC border. You will find the entrance off of the main trail (Aqueduct Trail). You should see a sign for “Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park” which denotes the beginning of the trail. (This trail seems like a really terrific adventure after some internet research turned up some terrific points you encounter along the way. If you like hiking and exploring you may definitely want to check this one out.)
Our initial interest in Croton Gorge Park was the “waterfall” aspect, but when we dug deeper into the dam we knew we had to visit this world-ranked marvel. The New Croton Dam was completed in 1906 becoming the third largest hand-hewn masonry structure ranked behind the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Wall of China!
The original aqueduct (Old Croton Dam) was built in response to the growing population of New York City in the nineteenth century. Fires and epidemics were continually devastating the city which was hindered by its inadequate water supply and contaminated well water. The Old Croton Dam was completed in 1842 and became the prototype for many water supply dams in the east during this time period. Unfortunately, the city soon outgrew this supply of water as well and a new plan was needed. The Old Croton Dam now lays submerged 34 feet below the waters of the New Croton Reservoir. This location was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
I found these great sites on its history if you want to know more:
The New Croton Dam became the tallest dam in the world when it was completed in 1906. It has since lost that title, but it remains the third largest hand-hewn masonry structure in the world. That’s quite a feat! Today, this dam impounds up to 19 billion gallons of water which is just a small fraction of New York City’s current water capacity. It’s watershed area covers 177 square miles and its reservoir has a capacity of 34 billion gallons.
- The New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue now sits on one of the original locations of the Receiving Reservoir for the aqueduct.
- Central Park’s Great Lawn was once another Receiving Reservoir until Robert Moses had it drained and filled in 1940.
- The dimensions of the New Croton Dam are:
- Height 297 feet (91 m.)
- Length 2188 feet (667 m.)
- Width (Base) 266 feet (81 m.)
- The New Croton Dam is also known as the Cornell Dam because of its location on the land purchased from A.B. Cornell in 1893.
Dogs on Leash, Stay on Paths, Recycling, No Swimming, No Campfires
- Parking fees: $5 with Park Pass, $10 without Park Pass — Fri., Sat., & Sun., May through September; County park pass is not required for admission.
- Directions: Route 129, Cortlandt, NY • (35 Yorktown Rd, Cortlandt, NY 10520 using online maps). Do not confuse this with Croton Park (a different park across town).
- Park hours: Open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to dusk, year-round.
- Website: https://parks.westchestergov.com/croton-gorge-park
- Phone: (914) 827-9568
- County parks map & guide
- Dogs must be leashed. Service animals welcome. (Please remember to bring poo bags for your hike. When we visited an inconsiderate human left some dog poo directly on the road. It takes a quick second to clean up after your fur baby.)
- Amenities: Handicap Accessible, Parking, Restroom, Drinking Water, Baseball Field, Cross Country Skiing, Fishing, Hiking, Nature Study, Picnicking, Playground
Family Adventure Rating ❤️❤️
Cost– This is the best kind of adventure, low cost! Travel is your main cost and you will want to have a vehicle since it is a distance from mass transit (one hour walk from the last transit stop). There is a fee for parking only during the summer (on Fri, Sat, and Sun) and that’s only $10 ($5 with Park Pass if you’re local and have it). Other than that, the only other thing you may encounter is an ice cream truck in the summer or a pit stop for lunch. This is a serious win for a family of five!
Parking & Transportation– If you can take your own vehicle, it’s a pretty easy drive. You’ll travel the highways most of the way and then it’s only about 10 minutes more through town to the park. I suggest you plan an early trip. The parking lot can fill on nice days since this is a terrific attraction and the lot is not that big. You will be turned around by security at the entrance gate if the lot fills or have to wait in line to get in. Mass transit will not get the majority of visitors close enough. I say “most” because I know there are a few adventurers out there that love the extra exercise and additional hiking. There’s no close train station in the area so you will need to take a bus from your area with multiple connections and a healthy walk.
Location– This is a great location for a day out. This park is centrally located to New York, Connecticut and parts of nearby states since it is in Westchester County. The Hudson Valley lends to the ambience and outstanding views.
Day Trip or Overnight– This is a day trip unless you want to explore more of the Hudson Valley or Croton-On-Hudson. There’s a lot to do in this county if you like the outdoors, history, and quaint towns or farms.
Experience– We’re really glad we made a trip to see this amazing park. It’s always a pleasure spending time with family while discovering something new. As a bonus, we enjoyed the historical aspect and welcomed the time outdoors. My son is enjoying engineering classes at his high school so it had the added benefit of wowing him with possibilities. We’ll be planing a return trip in the summer to see the area in full bloom.
Combination– We live close enough (90 minutes) to make this a single trip, but if it weren’t for our visit being during the quarantine of 2020 we most likely would have added a few more stops. Check out Kaaterskill Falls, Minnewaska State Park, and other waterfall adventures in New York. Depending on what time of year you go… Sleepy Hollow is close by too! Check out Halloween Fun in Sleepy Hollow-the Great Pumpkin Blaze One of our absolute favorite places to frequent is Fishkill Farms where you can pick your own organic fruits and vegetables.