Biking the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

The pleasantly warm fall weather has extended both the biking and the softball season. So on this gorgeous November Sunday, I left Mr TBTAM at the ballpark in Hastings-on-Hudson with the Usual Suspects, and joined my friend Paula, whose husband was also in the game, for a 10 mile ride along the Old Croton Aqueduct Park Trail.

The 26 mile trail runs along top the Old Croton Aqueduct, an engineering marvel built in the 1842 to supply water from the Croton Reservior to New York City. The aqueduct is dry now, having long ago been replaced with a more modern water system with higher capacity. What remains is a wonderful trail that runs from Croton Reservoir to Van Cortland Park, easily accessible to New York City by car or rail.

The OQA Park Trail is really designed for walkers, but bikes are absolutely allowed. The way is unpaved, and there are not infrequent roots or rocks, so leave your thin-tired racer at home. I had no problems with my touring bike, but those with mountain bikes would do even better.

The trail is not a straight shot, and crosses more than a few streets unevenly in the Southern part, so make sure you bring directions, a trail map or like me, a friend who knows the trail. I’d also recommend leaving smaller children home, since the path is raised rather high in some narrow spots and has no guardrails. We were fortunate in this regard that there were few to no muddy spots and the leaves had dried from the prior day’s rains.

Our journey took us through the Hudson River towns of Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington and Tarrytown, affording backyard and town views with occasional glimpses of the Hudson. (I made a google map of our ride to measure it)

Paula, who knows more about nature that Eull Gibbons, pointed out to me various unusual tree leaves, ginkgo pods and these large black walnuts, almost as big as oranges, on the trailbed.

Did you know they can be used for dye? Here, I’ll let Paula tell you all about it…

Paula also told me that Laura’s Ingall’s father in The Little House on the Prairie used to hunt squirrels in the fall just to get at the black walnuts in their stomachs. As she puts it “A squirrel’s full belly’s worth of nuts, washed and dried in the sun, would be just about right for a tasty walnut pie, so they say. Have you ever wanted a walnut pie that bad?” Can’t say I have, Paula…But let’s get back to the ride.

We stopped in Tarrytown for sustenance and to visit the historic Lyndhurst Estate, built in the 1830’s for NYC mayor William Paulding and later home to robber baron Jay Gould. Although we did not take a tour inside the mansion, we did enjoy rambling around the grounds

and gazing at the Hudson (that’s the Tappan Zee Bridge).

After Tarrytown, we rejoined the trail, heading north towards the Rockefeller Preserve. Here, the atmosphere becomes much more bucolic, although civilization is never very far.

A few miles into the Preserve, the boys called us and announced that their games were over, so we left the trail and met them along Rte 9. Too bad – I would have loved to continue up to the Croton Reservoir. Oh well, there’s always next season.

Thanks, Paula, for the wonderful company, great conversation and the fascinating tidbits of nature. And while I don’t think I’ll be making black walnut pie any time soon, I am keeping you to your promise to teach me how to make Lebanese stuffed grape leaves…

More About The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

12 Responses to Biking the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

  1. Beautiful pics as usual and a great story to boot. BTW, I don’t think I’ve ever had walnut pie but if I did I wouldn’t want it if it came from a squirrel!?!

  2. Looks like a great ride. Fall’s my favorite season, but I’ve never turned leaves into dye (pottery projects perhaps, but never dye) or squirrels’ bellies full of nuts into pies…

  3. Fortunately you can buy black walnuts already shelled, but people do shell them. If you want to shell them yourself, Hammons Nut Emporium sells crackers that are supposed to make it “easy”.

    Their instructions start with “Spread the nuts onto pavement after gathering them and run over them with your car ‘till the hull is pulled off.”

    Black Walnut cake is my mother’s favorite cake and is evidently an old mid-western favorite.

  4. Absolutely wonderful pictures and a good story to along with the adventure blog of the journey.

    I have also done from the Van Cortland Park up to the Tarrytown Reservoir. Though, I have been meaning to go from Tarrytown Reservoir up to about Yorktown Heights.

    Now hears an idea, anyone out there up for a Saturday, 29 November 2008 bicycle ride up that way it might be a fun way to burn up the calories post Thanksgiving.

    If that is the case pop me over an internet mail at: or on yahoo messenger via intant message id profdleeucc either way get back to me expressing your interest as I am sure it will be a blast and adventure.

  5. Daniel58 –
    That bike ride sounds like a great idea – wish I could join you, but I will be learning to make Lebanese food at Paula’s that day. (and blogging it, of course!)

    Maybe you could burn our calories for us – is that possible?

    Happy Turkey Day!

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