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Van Cortlandt Park
This loop hike passes the historic Van Cortlandt House Museum, follows the abandoned Putnam rail line and the Old Croton Aqueduct, and goes by the scenic Van Cortlandt Lake.
Allowed on leash
Views, Public Transportation, Historic feature
Trailhead GPS Coordinates40.889574,-73.898324
Take the Henry Hudson Parkway to Exit 23A (NY 9 South, Broadway) and proceed south on Broadway to 242nd Street, where the elevated rail line ends. Parking is available on Broadway north of 242nd Street (alternate-side-of-the-street restrictions).
Take the #1 Train to the 242nd Street Station.
At the northernmost entrance to the 242nd Street station on the east side of Broadway, descend a short stairway into the park and turn left onto a wide path. After passing a restroom building on the left and green buildings that surround the park’s pool on the right, you’ll come to the Van Cortlandt House Museum (open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on weekends from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). This historic stone building, built in 1748, is the oldest building in the Bronx. George Washington actually slept here! There is a $5.00 admission charge for a self-guided tour of this fascinating building, which has been beautifully restored.
After touring the building and its grounds, head east along a service road, passing playing fields to the left and the park’s Nature Center to the right. At the end of the fields, as the service road curves to the left, turn right and follow a dirt path that descends through the woods to the Putnam Trail. To the right, you’ll notice 13 stone pillars, known as the Grand Central Stones. These were placed there by the New York Central Railroad to determine which type of stone weathered best.
Turn left onto the Putnam Trail, which follows the right-of-way of the abandoned Putnam Branch of the New York Central Railroad. Built in 1880 as part of a projected through route to Boston, the line offered commuter service for many years. Although passenger service was abandoned in 1958, occasional freight service was operated until 1981. Remnants of the former rail use remain, including the ties from one of the two tracks and some lineside telegraph poles.
After crossing a wide bridge over Tibbetts Brook, continue heading north along the Putnam Trail, which follows a wooded route between the Van Cortlandt Golf Course (on the right) and the brook (on the left). Although you’re in the center of the Bronx, the sights – and even the sounds – of civilization are absent along this stretch of the hike! In about half a mile, though, after passing beneath an overpass of the Mosholu Parkway, you’ll begin to parallel the Henry Hudson Parkway to the left.
When you reach the end of the fence that separates the Putnam Trail from the golf course, turn right, leaving the railbed, and follow the fence along the northern end of the golf course for a short distance. Continue along the wide path which bears left and heads north, then – at the next intersection – bear right and follow an eroded path uphill. Ahead, you’ll notice a massive stone retaining wall in the distance. This wall supports the Old Croton Aqueduct, which you will soon be following. Built about 1840 to provide the first source of pure drinking water to New York City, it remained in service until the 1950s.
After climbing on the path, you’ll reach another intersection. Turn right and proceed south, soon beginning to follow the route of the Aqueduct, with a low stone wall in the woods to the left. In about ten minutes, you’ll reach a large stone structure. Known as a weir, this structure was used to regulate the flow of water in the aqueduct. Just beyond, the white-blazed John Muir Trail leaves to the right, but you should continue ahead on the wide Aqueduct route. In a short distance, you’ll notice a section of the Aqueduct where the protective dirt cover has been eroded, exposing the original brick-arch water tube.
Soon, the aqueduct begins to parallel the Mosholu Parkway, which is below to your right. When you reach a T-intersection, turn right and continue south on a macadam path along the Mosholu Parkway (you now leave the Aqueduct route). The path soon bears left and climbs to the Major Deegan Expressway, where it follows the sidewalk across a bridge that spans the Mosholu Parkway. The bridge offers broad west-facing views over Van Cortlandt Lake, directly below, and Riverdale in the distance.
NOTE: As of September 2015, the sidewalk on the bridge of the Major Deegan Expressway is closed for construction. It is anticipated that the closure will last for another two years, and there is no alternative route. Thus, until the construction is completed, the hike cannot be followed as described.
At the end of the bridge, a stone staircase descends to the right. This staircase is currently closed for repairs, but you can bypass it by following a steep dirt path down the side of the hill. Use extreme caution, as the path can be very slippery when muddy and wet.
At the bottom, bear right, then follow a marked bike path as it curves left and passes beneath a highway ramp overpass. Continue along the southern edge of scenic Van Cortlandt Lake. When you reach a Y-intersection, bear right, continuing to follow a wide paved path along the lakeshore. Soon, you’ll pass in front of the golf clubhouse. Just beyond, at a gap in a wooden fence, turn right and descend to the Putnam Trail (note the steel bridge to the right, which spans an arm of the lake).
Turn left onto the Putnam Trail for a very short distance. Almost immediately, you’ll reach the rusting steel supports of the canopy for the former Van Cortlandt Park railroad station. Turn left here, then immediately bear right onto a paved path and continue through the underpass beneath the railbed (note the date “1904" inscribed in the abutment). On the opposite side, continue ahead on a path lined with Belgian blocks (do not follow a boardwalk on the right), then bear right at a fork and follow a wide path that heads west to the 242nd Street station, where the hike began.