Living in Manhattan in the early 1800s was risky business, not from the threat of crime but because of frequent epidemics of cholera and yellow fever. And if the diseases didn’t get you, one of the devastating fires that regularly consumed large sections of the city might. To meet this challenge, the city built the Croton Aqueduct, a 41-mile engineering marvel to bring clean water from northern Westchester County to the residents and businesses of Manhattan. Its completion in 1842 triggered the rapid expansion of New York into one of the world’s leading cities.

Although operating ceased in 1958, the Aqueduct is now a National Historic Landmark and offers idyllic hiking and biking terrain in some of the most serene residential areas of greater New York. When you’re feeling spontaneous, the metro north train from Grand Central Station can have you standing at the foot of these charming Hudson River communities within a half hour. A short walk gets you from the station to the beautifully maintained and traffic-free (excluding deer) path.

Built on top of the large masonry tunnel that brought 100 million gallons of clean water to Manhattan every day, the Aqueduct Trail is a year-round delight. In winter, the snow will bring out the cross country skiers and even a few snowshoers who appreciate the nearly flat path (it drops just 13 inches for every mile) with views of the Hudson River and many magnificent mansions and landmarks in the Hudson Valley (Octagon House, Lyndhurst, Philipse Manor Hall, the Hudson River Museum, and even Sing Sing prison). For a quick active getaway that’s scenic and budget-friendly, it doesn’t get better than this.

How to get there:
Take Metro North – Hudson Line from Grand Central Station to any of the following riverfront communities which are just minutes on foot from the Aqueduct Trail: Yonkers, Greystone, Hastings-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, Ardsley, Irvington, Tarrytown, Philipse Manor, Scarborough, or Ossining.  Each of these stations lets you off west or southwest of the path.  Start walking east and ask anyone you meet where the Aqueduct Trail can be found.  It’s a happy and well-kept secret, but everyone in these riverfront communities knows about it.

Photos: Courtesy of ScubaBear68