The New Croton Dam is one of the coolest places…like anywhere.
Just across the Connecticut border in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. you’ll find this engineering wonder that is like a mini (but not that mini) Hoover Dam and Niagara Falls all rolled into one. Perfect for spending the day or afternoon at, this hidden gem is known primarily to Westchester locals and that is, forgive me, a dam shame.
About 40 minutes from both Danbury and Stamford it is perfect for those looking to spend an afternoon or even a full day enjoying the outdoors while taking in some spectacular sights.
Completed in 1906 (the term “new” in its name is a relative one) as the benchmark of New York City’s water supply it currently accounts for roughly 19 billion gallons of the 580 billion gallons in the total New York City water supply system.
The dam’s giant retaining wall is the third largest hand hewn (cut) structure in the world, trailing only the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Great Wall of China.
The spillway is also massive, making a wild waterfall that produces those ever-so-beneficial negative ions we are always on the look-out for. The park’s structure allows you to get close enough to feel water droplets on your face and hear the roar of gallons upon gallons of falling water from many different perspectives.
The retaining wall forms step-like structures allowing the adventurers among us to climb up it a bit, a fun albeit dangerous (and probably prohibited) activity for novice dam climbers. You can enjoy the view from the bottom of the spillway and then take a short but steep hike up a system of switchbacks to the top of the dam where you can cross a bridge that spans directly over the falls, offering stunning views of the rushing spillway as well as the valley below. (You can also drive up to the top of the dam but its more fun to walk.)
The Croton-Gorge Park where the dam is situated on a 97 acre oasis has sprawling lawns and plenty of trees for shade and tables for picnics. The park is an excellent leisure spot for all seasons, and is particularly enjoyable after a mammoth rainfall. During weekends in the warmer months you probably won’t be soaking up the sun or walking your dog without some company as the park tends to get crowded.
In 2012, shortly after we first discovered this hidden gem, Erik wrote a story about it for the Hartford Courant. If you are interested in more of the history and how and why it was made click here.
Where to go after/before
Because the dam is a bit secluded and we are usually anxious to get there early to maximize time spent, we typically grab coffee and a light snack at one of our hometown spots. But for post-adventure snacks and drinks we head to one of two places.
If you are heading north on I-684 towards the Danbury area, your best bet for eats and a little nostalgia will be the Blazer Pub. An establishment that both of our families have gone for the last twenty-or-so years for great burgers, fries and beers. The Blazer Onion (think Blooming Onion) is always a crowd-pleaser (and it is certainly best to order with a crowd, as its quite filling) and the burgers and steak fries never disappoint. And for those Nutmeggers who are New York sports fans, you can surely catch whichever game is on at any given time of day at the bar – whilst playing a round on the old school pinball machine.
Those heading back to lower Fairfield County and beyond may want to indulge in a more formal and quite intimate (this place is tiny) dining experience. The Blue Dolphin in Katonah, N.Y. is an excellent Italian restaurant, housed in an old train car. It’s a tiny space, but the flavors are the exact opposite, big and boisterous, like the best family meals. We don’t usually dine at the Dolphin without ordering the Fusilli Aum Aum, an eggplant and pasta dish we enjoy so much we served it at our wedding. The restaurant is located downtown in Katonah so a post-meal constitutional exploring the quaint shops by foot is certainly recommended.