When people think of New York City and the surrounding suburbs, the first thing that comes to mind is high-rise sky-scrapers, big-city living, and neon lights. Few think of green spaces and beautiful hikes.
Nestled in Westchester County, just north of New York City, is a 190-acre preserve that offers hiking, rock climbing, and scenic views. This natural oasis in one of the most populated counties in the country is called Cranberry Lake Preserve. You may not know that Cranberry Lake Preserve has the ruins of a quarry that once operated on these lands in the early 1900s. This guide will outline what you need to know to visit Cranberry Lake Preserve- and what this quarry looks like now!
At a Glance: Hiking Cranberry Lake Preserve
Length: 3 miles
Time to Complete: 2 hours
Elevation Gain: 154 feet
Season: Open year-round
Getting To Cranberry Lake Preserve
Cranberry Lake Preserve is located at 1609 Old Orchard Street in North White Plains, New York.
From the Bronx River Parkway along the Kensico Dam, take Route 22 North until you reach the traffic light at the junction with Old Orchard Street, and take a right. The entrance to the preserve is about 100 feet down on the right. Continue for 0.3 miles until you reach the Nature Center, where free parking is available. If the entrance gate is closed, simply park outside the gate and walk along the road to the trailhead.
Unfortunately, no public transportation is available to access the Cranberry Lake Preserve.
The park is open from dawn to dusk year-round, and the Nature Lodge is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Maps of the preserve are available online and are highly recommended due to the large amounts of trail options and junctions.
What To Expect
Cranberry Lake Preserve may only comprise of 190 acres, but it is also surrounded on several sides by watershed lands, giving you the impression that you are much further from civilization. The Preserve offers several trails that take you around a lake, along a quarry, and through several historical ruins. Navigating the park is simplified by numbered wooden signs at every trail junction. Make to visit the old Quarry- now a variety of pools (more on this later!)
When you arrive at the parking lot and nature center, proceed south on a yellow-blazed path. This path is wide and well-used. Once you reach a blue sign reading “Lake,” turn left and follow an orange-blazed trail down a hill to the shores of Cranberry Lake. Proceed right onto a trail with blue and yellow blazes to follow the lakeshore. Shortly thereafter, the trail climbs up to ledges overlooking the lake. Once you reach the end of Cranberry Lake, the trail descends back down and crosses a boardwalk. At junction #6, turn left onto another wide path, following the blue, purple, and red blazes until you reach junction #7 and turn left again. This orange-blazed trail crosses over a bog via Bent Bridge and passes an intriguing stone chamber that was probably once a root cellar.
Once you reach junction #16, turn right onto an old railroad bed and follow the wide path until you reach junction #18, a Y intersection with a sign for the New York City Watershed grown into a tree. Take the left fork, a trail, characterized by red blazes, that loops around most of the park. On your right, you should be able to see a stone wall built over a century ago as a boundary between the park and the New York City Watershed lands. The trail will eventually bear left, continuing to follow the wall.
Once you reach the southern end of the park and glimpse civilization in the form of private homes, the red trail will head east. Careful not to miss the sharp right turn marked by an arrow on a tree to the left, and head down to Hush Pond. Cross the wooden walkway, called a puncheon, and bear left. Shortly thereafter, you will reach another wide dirt path, this one bordered by cliffs on your right that eventually become a cement wall. This wall is a remnant of a building built in 1912 to crush the stone from the nearby quarry.
At junction #13 a blue-blazed trail leads to a wooden observation platform. Further down the trail, junction #14 has a small cascading waterfall and a bench to enjoy. Just passed the bench, turn right onto a smaller trail, crossing a stream on a small footbridge and continuing to follow the red (and blue) blazes. Turn right at the next fork and proceed through a thicket of mountain laurel. Ascend slightly to junction #20 where the purple “history” loop joins the trail.
After a steep descent, cross a boardwalk and proceed to junction #22, where you will bear right. Bear right again at junction #23, following the red and purple blazes. Turn left onto the yellow-blazed trail at junction #34 and at junction #33 bear left again to descend to the lake. At junction #24 turn right and continue following the yellow blazes along the lake. There’s a viewpoint over the lake just passed junction #27.
At junction #26, you will turn right onto the orange-blazed trail and follow it to the junction with the yellow trail (junction #4) where you will turn right to return to the Nature Center and parking lot where you began your hike.
Other Trails in Cranberry Lake Preserve
Blue Trail: The blue blazes form a short loop, approximately 1 mile, around Cranberry Lake and South Pond.
Yellow Trail: The yellow blazes follow the rocky uplands up above Cranberry Lake.
Purple Trail: Also known as the history trail, the purple blazes are a self-guided history tour through the ruins and quarries of Cranberry Lake.
The Cranberry Lake Preserve is comprised of several habitats including the four-acre lake for which it is named as well as vernal pools, swamp, scrubland, cliffs, and hardwood forests. This variety of habitat offers many a suitable shelter for migratory birds, dragonflies, turtles, deer, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks and more.
As a designated Biodiversity Reserve Area, there are several rules that all visitors must follow.
- Take nothing but photos: all plants, animals, rocks, minerals, etc are protected and must be left as they are.
- No animals are allowed with the exception of service animals.
- No bicycles.
- No fishing.
- No littering: carry out whatever you carry in.
Following these rules ensures that the preserve stays wild for other visitors to enjoy for many years to come.
What to Bring
Being properly prepared for your hike can be the difference between an enjoyable outing and a miserable afternoon. Be sure to bring along at least the bare essentials and ensure everyone in your hiking party does the same.
- A trail map: the preserve can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with the area. Paper maps are usually available at the trailhead and a downloadable version is available online.
- Water: Bring more water than you think you will need, no matter the season. A safe amount is 2 liters per person.
- Snacks: The top of the quarry is an excellent place to enjoy the view and replenish some calories.
- Binoculars: Not exactly a necessity, but the preserve offers several overlooks that opportunities for wildlife viewing. Bring binoculars and stay quiet to optimize your chances to see critters along the trail.
- Proper footwear: Though most of the trails here are flat, some can be steep or rocky and the quarry itself is a bit of a climb. Proper hiking footwear is strongly encouraged.
*Note: Pack out what you pack in. The preserve and all other natural places are not your trash can. Don’t be a litterbug.*
The Quarry at Cranberry Lake Preserve
Cranberry Lake itself was formed by glacial activity around 18,000 years ago and is fed by an underground spring. Cranberries grow all around the lake, especially on the south end, explaining where this lake gets its name.
In the early 1900s, what is now Cranberry Lake Preserve was an active quarry where the stone was being harvested to construct the Kensico Dam. Quarrying began in 1913 and the Kensico Dam was completed in 1917. The Dam is an impressive structure responsible for holding drinking water for New York City’s inhabitants.
(Pictured Above: Kensico Dam)
The area that is now the preserve once contained a sandpit, stone crushing plant, stone-cutting shed and 17 miles of railroad tracks to cart the rocks to the sight of the Dam. As you traverse the quarry walls, you will see large metal D-rings embedded in the rock. These were the anchors for the Derricks: large, powerful machines responsible for hauling the rock up out of the quarry.
The quarry has led to the formation of a unique habitat, as over time it filled with water and formed quarry ponds. The largest quarry pond became the Birchwood Swim Club and was used by residents from the 1960s all the way up to the mid-1990s. Also visible are the ruins of the old tennis courts used by the Club members.
Passed the quarry are the ruins of old abandoned cars. Supposedly after completion of the dam, a popular way to dispose of an old car was to send it over the quarry cliffs.
Westchester County purchased the preserve in 1967. The 190-acre park hides an old quarry, old ruins, and several bodies of water within its deciduous woodlands and wetlands.
A Relaxing Outing
Cranberry Lake Preserve is a quiet oasis of greenery in the busy metropolitan area of New York City. Though easy to traverse, the preserve offers a quiet serenity that only nature can provide, with opportunities to view wildlife, exercise, and learn a little history of the area in the process.
Check out our other hiking destination guides!