I’m always joking that if Washington Irving wrote the Legend of Sleepy Hollow today, Brom Bones would never be able to ride down from Ossining in time for the Van Tassels’ party because he’d be stuck in traffic on Broadway.
Now, the Old Croton Aqueduct trail, on the other hand, just up the hill from Tarrytown’s business district…you can definitely imagine the Headless Horseman barreling through here. Yes, never mind that the aqueduct, now the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park, was built quite a bit after Irving’s time. Today, instead of water, it carries walkers, hikers, bikers, and on certain sections of the trail, horseback riders. And yours truly got to check out the trail – long an item on my hiking to-do list – during a weekend outing with the family back in November.
The aqueduct was built in the nineteenth century to bring water into New York City. It was pretty much closed down completely by the 1950s, but you can still see some of the remaining infrastructure, like stone ventilation cairns and waste weir buildings. The aqueduct was converted into a trail – or a linear park – in 1968.
The 26-mile trail starts in Yonkers and continues up through Westchester County up to around Cortlandt. In the New York Walk Book, the section on the aqueduct includes locations of the Metro-North stations nearest the trail, at least between Yonkers and Scarborough, so you can hike it in sections and take the train back into the city. (We drove in from New Jersey by way of the Tappan Zee Bridge) The section that I am going to talk about goes through Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.
This is a good trail for a nice easy walk – just be sure to wear comfortable shoes if you’re going to be walking any significant distance. We saw plenty of joggers, dog walkers and mountain bikers out taking the trail that day. We didn’t see any horses, but there was definite evidence of some very large hoofed mammal having come through there, if you catch my drift. (Watch your step.)
Now, the aqueduct runs parallel to active streets and highways in spots, including downtown Tarrytown. To get to the wooded part of the trail, we trekked uphill from Broadway by way of Hamilton Place. The trail runs parallel to Croton Avenue; look for breaks in the woods with signs saying something to the effect of this is open recreational space, no motor vehicles, etc. etc. The trail also crosses active streets here and there, so don’t forget to look both ways before crossing.
Check out some of the sign posts as you go. Some of them have been outfitted with QR codes – scan them with a smart phone and it’ll take you to the trail’s website.
Part of the trail in this section goes around behind Sleepy Hollow High School (home of the Horsemen, appropriately enough). There are signs pointing you around. To pick the trail back up once you’ve walked around the school building, walk through the long, skinny parking lot running parallel to the athletic fields.
They’re apparently used to trail users coming traipsing through the area, but all the same, I’d recommend taking on this part of the trail on weekends or during the summer.
North of the high school, the trail continues on a straight line, taking you past Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to your left, and the Rockefeller State Park Preserve on your right. Lots of beautiful scenery, with deep ravines and some brooks and small waterfalls.
The aqueduct passes over Rt. 117, Phelps Way, by way of a pedestrian footbridge. We crossed out into the middle of the bridge just to say that we did before starting to make the trek back.
Left the trail just before it came back to Sleepy Hollow High School. Ambled our way back into Tarrytown by way of the local streets and had a post-hike pot of tea and scones at Silver Tips.
Getting there and other stuff:
Car: If you’re coming in from New Jersey or other parts west, take I-87 (the Thruway) to the Tappan Zee Bridge, and then take the first exit (toll plaza) for U.S. 9, Broadway, then head north a couple of miles until you come to the Tarrytown business district. There’s a couple of municipal parking lots nearby.
Train: The Tarrytown Metro-North station is down on the banks of the Hudson, by way of Main Street. (FYI, it’s a bit of an uphill hike)
For further reading: