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You’ve fled north and escaped the confines of New York City. You’ve discovered Van Cortlandt Park and the beginnings of the South County Trail. Your legs have taken you as far as Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. So where’s next?
Another 20 miles up the river, tucked into a nook at the northern edge of Westchester County lies a city known for its Riots of 1949 and inspiration for L. Frank Baum’s famous yellow brick road. And if you were born in the 1970s like me, you might know it best as the setting for The Facts of Life and its fictitious gourmet business venture, Edna’s Edibles. This city, of course, is Peekskill, NY. In addition to being the birthplace of Mel Gibson, Stanley Tucci, and Pee-Wee Herman, Peekskill is also one of the best cycling destinations along the Hudson River that’s within a day’s striking distance of Brooklyn.
But what truly makes Peekskill a great destination – what makes any destination great – is how you get there. In this case, how we get there is largely accomplished via the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail (OCAT).
The OCAT is a curious patchwork of dirt paths that lead you through tree-lined canopies, grassy meadows, village centers, and suburban backyards. The roughly 25-mile network of trail begins in Yonkers and ends at the New Croton Dam in Croton Gorge Park. The trail follows the right-of-way of the Old Croton Aqueduct which acted as New York City’s supplier of water from 1842 – 1955. After making the roughly 40-mile journey from Croton to the city, the water was deposited into two above-ground reservoirs in Manhattan.
Today you might recognize these sites as Central Park’s Great Lawn –
and the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.
So when you’re traversing the OCAT, just think that you’re literally riding atop the tunnels that used to transport water to where they filmed Ghostbusters and where your ZogSports league now plays softball.
If you’re by any chance interested in a more detailed history lesson, you can visit the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct. A raucous and rowdy bunch of party animals, the Friends are a
underground anarchist network volunteer, non-profit society dedicated to kicking ass and taking names the protection and preservation of the aqueduct. Their website is a good resource for crystal-meth recipes historical and current information regarding the aqueduct and the surrounding area.
For a more intimate and introspective reflection, NYC-based artist and urban explorer Miru Kim has documented and photographed the aqueduct from the inside. In the nude, obviously.
As I mentioned earlier, the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail begins in Yonkers near the intersection of Ashburton Avenue and N. Broadway but I recommend taking the South County Trail to Tarrytown and picking up the OCAT from there. The primary reason for this is because getting to the head of the trail in Yonkers is kind of a pain-in-the-ass. You either have to take the Henry Hudson Bridge to Spuyten Duyvil and work your way north to Yonkers (see Brooklyn to Tarrytown – involves climbing these stairs with your bike) –
– or you have to exit the South County Trail early and muscle your way through downtown Yonkers on busy Yonkers Avenue.
Once you locate the trail at Ashburton & N. Broadway you’ll discover that the first portion from Yonkers to Hastings-on-Hudson is uneven, littered with debris and broken glass, and frequently interrupted by side streets. If, against my best advice, you decide to take this route, your best bet is actually to ride along Warburton Avenue. Warburton runs just parallel to the OCAT, is a relatively safe road to ride on, and periodically offers some nice views of the river.
But either way you choose to go – once you arrive in Tarrytown – the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail becomes something of a necessity for continuing north. If you were to look at a map it would appear that Broadway/Albany Post Road is the most direct route linking Tarrytown and Peekskill. And it is. For cars. But once you get north of Sleepy Hollow, Broadway 9 veers off to the left and increases its speed limit to 40mph, eventually turning into a sketchy thoroughfare with no bicycle shoulder.
So despite the few minor hassles and interruptions associated with the trail, the OCAT is a fairly convenient and relatively painless ride. A much safer and scenic alternative to hectic Albany Post Road.
However, it must be noted that road bikes with thin tires may have a miserable time of it. The trail is good for mountain bikes, hybrids, and road bikes with wider tires. I ride a Surly Cross-Check with 700x32c tires and it can handle the terrain which varies between hard-packed dirt, hard-packed gravel, loose gravel, and grass.
After you tackle the length of the Old Croton Aqueduct, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views atop the New Croton Dam as you stop there for a breather. From the dam it’s about a one-hour ride on local roads into Peekskill where you’ll find the welcoming Peekskill Brewery situated just steps from the Metro North train station. Take a load off and celebrate your accomplishment with a cold IPA and a plate of the brewery’s short rib poutine. You will most likely miss your train for another beer, but don’t worry – they run every hour back to Grand Central.
I’ve ridden the OCAT three times during three different seasons: the spring, the summer, and the fall. I think the best time to ride is the fall simply because of the changing colors of the leaves. Also take note that the grasses that surround the trail grow incredibly high after the spring rains and the area is known to have deer ticks so be careful if you ride during the late spring or summer.
*If you don’t feel like doing the entire 60-mile ride from Brooklyn and would just like to check out the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, there are frequent trains from Grand Central Terminal that will get you to Tarrytown in about an hour.
This might be more realistic in the colder months, but otherwise I recommend doing the whole ride. The beer will taste better.
Although this bike shop appears to have very limited hours during the cold season, the Sleepy Hollow Bicycle Center (914-631-3135) is located on Beekman Avenue in case you’re in need of parts or adjustments upon your arrival to Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow.
THE RIDE – October 22, 2013
The OCAT can more or less be divided into three main sections between Tarrytown and the New Croton Dam:
Leg I. Tarrytown to Scarborough.
Leg II. Downtown Ossining to Croton.
Leg III. Croton to the New Croton Dam.
Since a detailed account of the ride to Tarrytown is provided in a previous post, we’ll begin our ride to Peekskill at the intersection of Main Street & Broadway in Tarrytown.
OCAT I: Tarrytown to Scarborough
As you swoop down from the hills on Neperan Road into the center of Tarrytown, turn right onto Broadway and follow the road north for about half a mile. Shortly you’ll arrive at an intersection that looks like this, with Route 9 shooting off to the left –
Behind you and to the left is Beekman Avenue which leads back into town towards the bars, bike shop, and train station.
What you want to do is take a right onto –
– and climb the hill for about 500 feet.
On your left you will find the entrance to the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail. It looks like this –
If you pass Webber Avenue and find yourself following the curve of Bedford Road to the left, then you’ve gone too far. The entrance to the trail is just behind you.
This first section of the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail is easy riding – flat, level, smooth hard-packed dirt. After roughly 1,000 feet or so, you’ll encounter the first of many side streets that intersect the trail. These minor interruptions to the path pose no problem – just keep an eye on traffic and follow the OCA signs to reconnect.
The first reconnection at Gory Brook Road is not completely obvious, since it appears that there are several roads you can ride on –
These paved roads dead end and lead to private property. So unless you want to get into a property rights debate with someone who has more money than you, cross all the way to the other side of the road and look for the OCA signs and the thin dirt strip trail.
It’s pretty much as simple as that. Locating the entrance to the trail is the hard part. Following the trail once you’re on it is easy. Just follow the signs that are marked like this –
– and look for the thin dirt strip path.
After the Gory Brook Road intersection you’ll see some tombstones off to your left that are a part of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
Shortly after this, the texture of the trail changes from a hard-packed dirt to a loose gravel.
This is where the terrain might become difficult for thin tires. The trail eventually changes back to hard-packed dirt but some sections of the gravel are looser and rockier than others. Just take your time on the looser sections and you shouldn’t have too much of a problem.
Keep following the trail and the OCA signs. You’ll cross a small footbridge next to the Rockefeller State Park Preserve that passes over Phelps Way –
– and shortly after, another footbridge that passes over Albany Post Road – the road you are bypassing by riding the OCAT.
Occasionally you’ll pass an odd conical-looking structure made of brick masonry like this:
These were the ventilating towers constructed every mile or so to alleviate pressure and keep the water fresh in the aqueduct.
This is just a mossy phallus.
Not long after crossing the second footbridge you will arrive at the only possible head-scratcher between Tarrytown and Scarborough –
As you can see in the photo above, the trail diverges with one path shooting off to the left and another climbing up to the right. The path on the right looks like it was created by ATV use and most likely leads to someone’s backyard. Follow the strip to the left and you will shortly arrive at the second break in the trail: the affluent village of Briarcliff Manor and the aptly named road, Country Club Lane.
This is where the OCAT awkwardly begins to take you through people’s backyards. At times you feel like you might be trespassing, half anticipating an old man to run out of his house shaking his fist and yelling at you to get off his lawn. But don’t worry about it. It’s all part of the charm of the trail. At certain junctions you may have to search a minute for the trail, but it’s never far off and the reconnection is fairly obvious.
Not long after Country Club Lane, you’ll arrive at River Road which marks the end of the first leg of the OCAT.
With William T. Barnes Hall in front of you, take a left on River Road and head down the hill until you see a sign for –
Bear right onto Creighton Lane –
– and follow it around until it reconnects with River Road.
From here River Road remains true to its name as it hugs the edge of the Hudson. You will pass some spectacular homes and mansions along the way that will make you question why you chose to be an English major.
You know you’re wealthy when you have to specify that your off-limits pond is made of water.
River Road eventually ends and leads down a hill to Scarborough Park and Scarborough Station.
At the top of the hill is the intersection of –
If you were to take a right on Scarborough Station Road and climb up the hill you would eventually reconnect with the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail. However, this segment of the trail terminates after less than a mile. The side streets in this area are very manageable, so I elect to use them until I hit downtown Ossining where I rejoin the OCAT.
Head down the hill past Scarborough Station and follow the road that runs parallel to the tracks and behind McGlew & Tuttle ( a law firm, not a pub).
This road is called –
– and leads up a hill to a stop-sign intersection.
Make a left here onto Revolutionary Road. Just like the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Except that the movie takes place in suburban Connecticut.
Continue climbing up the hill. You’ll pass a housing complex on your left called Kemey’s Cove and arrive at the intersection of –
Here you’ll make a left. The road will loop around and bend in the direction of north where it becomes –
As you ride up Spring Street, the infamous Sing Sing Correctional Facility lies out of sight, on the shores of the river just beyond the row of houses to your left.
Spring Street is a straight shot and will lead you into downtown Ossining.
If you find yourself done for the day, there is a train station nearby (the one frequented by Don Draper). And if you’re feeling a bit peckish, the unassuming Paradise Mini Market Deli serves up delicious heaps of rice, beans, chicken, pork, plantains, and stews that are easy on your wallet.
OCAT II: Downtown Ossining to Croton
But let’s face it. You’re not done.
Just steps past The Paradise you’ll find –
Take a right on Maple and ride up the hill about one-hundred feet. On your left you’ll see a small courtyard-plaza-looking area with public benches and a red-brick path.
It may not look it, but surprisingly enough this is the beginning of the second leg of the OCAT and will take you into Croton if you follow it. As you make your way through Ossining it will feel like you’re riding on sidewalks more than a bike trail, but once again – don’t fret – it’s simply the charm of the trail.
After a few blocks you’ll reach the Ossining Double Arch Bridge which was just re-opened on July 20, 2013. It was under construction for some time due to preservation efforts.
On the other side of the bridge you’ll see a staircase that you, unfortunately, must ascend.
At the top of the staircase it’s more paved path –
– followed by a reunion with our old thin dirt strip.
After a few blocks you’ll arrive at Snowden Avenue where there’ll be a firehouse situated in front of you.
Find the path to the right of the firehouse –
– and continue along –
– until you reach this large construction site.
Navigate your way through the construction zone and follow the signs and the trail.
Before long, Albany Post Road will intersect the trail and you’ll have to cross over in order to continue. Exercise caution crossing as it’s a busy section of the road.
Forge ahead on the trail through people’s homes, interrupting family barbecues –
– until you see this guy’s backyard with the kick-ass jungle gym and weird roof buried in the ground.
Unless you have a rock-hopper, you’re going to have to Ferris Bueller it through this guy’s backyard to the street because the trail suddenly rises up steeply to the curb (with thick vegetation in the warmer months).
View from the street.
The OCAT route continues across the street, but this time descends sharply down to a ventilation tower and the trail.
I’ll typically throw my bike over my shoulder and carefully side-step it down the hill to the flat section of the path. From here the OCAT is smooth sailing to the dam.
A bit further on the trail and you’ll reach Ogden Road, which marks the end of the second leg of the OCAT.
There appears what seems to be the continuation of the trail straight ahead of you, but the OCAT sign directs you to the left.
Follow the sign and take the road downhill until you arrive at the intersection of –
Old Albany Post Road is not to be confused with Albany Post Road. It’s safe to ride on.
If you turn left here, you’ll hit Albany Post Road and find the bike path that heads in the direction of the Croton-Harmon train station and beautiful Croton Point Park.
But in order to find the third leg of the OCAT and continue towards Croton Dam and Peekskill, you’ll take a right at this intersection. The OCAT entrance lies about 1/2 mile up Old Albany Post Road.
First, you’ll pass beneath NY 9A.
After you round the bend at Reservoir Road –
– and pass by Gerlach Park –
– you’re getting close.
The OCAT entrance is a few hundred feet past Gerlach Park on your left-hand side. Be careful crossing the road to get to it.
OCAT III: Croton to the New Croton Dam
This third leg of the OCAT follows the Croton River northeast for about two miles until it reaches the dam. You’ll have to cross over Quaker Bridge Road a couple of times –
– but otherwise this leg of the OCAT is fairly smooth and uninterrupted.
Once you see the power lines, you’re getting close to the dam.
After a short while you’ll come to a sign that says “Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park”.
– and there will be a split in the trail that looks like this:
Keep to the right on the wide, upper path. You’ll soon see the dam through the trees off to your left.
The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail terminates at Croton Dam Road. This road, open only to pedestrian traffic, runs atop the dam and offers spectacular views of the Croton Reservoir and Croton Gorge Park below. After being surrounded by woodland for the majority of the ride, the sudden emergence from the OCAT into an impressive open expanse is dramatic.
Check out the significantly brighter colors in June.
When sufficiently rested and re-hydrated, make your way across to the other side of the dam. You’re now finished with the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail and it’s local roads the rest of the way to Peekskill. Croton Dam Road loops around to the left and there are some traffic cones and barricades set up to block auto traffic, but you can easily pass through on a bike.
You’ll soon come upon the main road – Route 129. Take a right.
This road is kind of busy, but there’s a shoulder and you won’t be on it for too long. After about a quarter-mile the road will fork with 129 splitting off to the right and Mt. Airy Road E to the left.
You want to bear left at the fork onto Mt. Airy Road E, but exercise extreme caution when doing so. Route 129 is a two-way road and cars coming from the opposite direction fly around the blind bend at the fork.
You’ll be on Mt. Airy Road E for a quick minute before you reach the intersection of –
Take a right on Colabaugh Pond Road and follow it around and past the pond.
You’ll pass some quiet, secluded houses along the way and just after you pass a side street called –
– Colabaugh Pond Road merges into Mt. Airy Road W.
Follow Mt. Airy Road to the right until you hit the junction of –
Take a right on Furnace Dock Road and you’ll shortly arrive at –
At this stop-sign intersection you’ll cross over Furnace Dock Road and a small brook, following Washington Street straight ahead.
Stay on Washington Street and after several miles it will lead you into the city of Peekskill.
The intersection of Washington & Welcher marks your return to civilization.
Taking a right on Welcher will lead you toward Blue Mountain Reservation.
But in order to get to the Peekskill Brewery you’ll want to cross Welcher Ave and take Washington for about another 1/2 mile until you hit –
Take a left on Roosevelt Ave and then a right on Simpson Place.
After three blocks make a left on Requa Street –
– and follow Requa beneath U.S. Route 9.
Requa will lead you all the way to the river and Peekskill Station. Just behind the station is Riverfront Green Park. The brewery’s tap room opens at 3PM, but if there’s still some daylight left, the riverfront park offers up some great views of Peekskill Bay and Jones Point across the Hudson and is worth checking out.
Just in front of the park and the train tracks is South Water Street.
Take a left on South Water and just down the block you will find the –
Bicycle parking is rather limited near the brewery, but there is a street sign just outside where I usually chain up.
After a 60-mile ride from Brooklyn, the Peekskill Brewery is where you want to be. The beer is amazing, the selection fantastic, the food delicious, and the staff very friendly. The staff is also super knowledgeable and proud of their brew. If you have any beer-related questions you will receive a thorough education from your barman.
The brewery is set up on two levels with the tap room downstairs and a dining pub upstairs. However, food and drink are both available in the tap room so I usually just grab a seat at the bar. If you’re with a group there are several tables scattered around the tap room where you can sit.
Their house beer selection changes but some of the standard-bearers include the Hop Common, Eastern Standard IPA, Amazeballs, and Crack of Dawn. If you’re lucky, they’ll be pouring their Dream of the 90’s coffee IPA. Brewed with coffee beans locally sourced from Tarrytown, the Dream is a great after-dinner beer. They usually also have a cask beer on tap. The last time I was there it was the Chili Willie – a spicy cask ale brewed with jalapeño peppers.
As for food, their menu is compact with good variety and offers an affordable range of options. Appetizers live in the $6 – $12 range and entrées somewhere between $14 – $25. If you’re hungry and don’t mind splurging, the Jagerschnitzel with mushroom gravy, spaetzle, and braised red cabbage will not disappoint.
There is also the poutine, which I mentioned earlier:
White bean and collard green soup:
Baked Mac n’ Cheese with gruyere, cheese curd, tasso and herbs:
PB Burger with Applewood-smoked bacon, grilled red onion, Grafton
cheddar, aioli and handcut fries:
And Pork Confit Sandwich with pulled pork, kim chi, chili aioli, fried oyster, and fries:
Enjoy your meal. Have a few drinks. Look through your photos. Watch the game. Chat with your friends or whoever’s sitting next to you at the bar. Brag that you rode your bike all the way from Brooklyn. And then when you’re good and ready, stroll across the street to Peekskill Station and hop on a train back to Grand Central.
Or just have another.
As always – any questions, comments, or updates to share please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @escapebklyn. Keep rolling.