Westchester may not be known for its hiking trails, but it should be. There are dozens of fabulous hiking spots in the region, and many are relatively easy to do with children. A spectacular hike to do this fall is at Croton Falls Park in Cortlandt, about 25 minutes north of White Plains. (Seriously, look at that photo: I swear, it’s Westchester!)
Here’s why my husband, my dog, and yes, my 2-year-old love it: You don’t have to work too hard (read: walk too long) for an incredible payoff. Soon after you pay the park’s $5 entrance fee, you’ll drive past the waterfall as you head into the parking lot. Once you park, there are two options. You can hang out and picnic at the base of the falls. (In winter, it isn’t unusual to see a deer drinking from the spillway at dawn.) Or, pack a backpack and head up the Aqueduct trail for a short hike to walk along the reservoir. From here, you’ll be able to walk over the Croton Bridge and look down on the falls. We typically do both.
Where to park? If the lot is empty, park right in the middle of the falls and the playground; you’ll see the latter at the far end of the parking lot as you drive in. If you do this, you can hang out at the base of the waterfall, created by the large dam, and still easily walk over to the trail head, which is near the playground.
To access the trail, walk toward the playground. You’ll see the Aqueduct trail at the base of the playground. (It runs up a small incline behind the play space.) Once you’re on the trail, you’ll walk up the hill until you come to a split in the trail. A sign will tell you to go left for the Aqueduct trail and right for the River trail. Both are lovely, but if you’re a first-timer, definitely follow the Aqueduct.
You’ll walk up a couple of switchbacks (about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how fast or slow your little one moves) and pass some towering pines. When the trail reaches a flat stretch of trail running perpendicular to the trail you were on, make a left toward the falls. You’ll walk this trail (another 10 minutes or so) to the top of the reservoir bridge. Don’t let all of the orange cones at the bridge opening stop you — after 9/11, they stopped letting cars pass over the bridge for security reasons — but pedestrians are allowed to walk across the bridge.
The view is spectacular. Take in the scenery, and plan a snack for a spot near the waterfall. Seriously — it’s invigorating. You’ll feel like you were transported to the Adirondacks or Washington state. Well, minus the mountains.
This walk is not a loop. You’ll have to turn around and go back the same way you came on the trail. This trail is particularly stunning as the foliage peaks in coming weeks, but I go in winter, spring and summer as well. Happy hiking!
Croton Gorge Park, Route 129, Cortlandt; 914-827-9568