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Van Cortlandt Park
Directions to trailhead
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 subway train to the 242nd Street Station (the northern end of the line).
At the entrance to the 242nd Street station on the east side of Broadway (opposite the overpass), 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 the Parade Ground on the left and the park’s Nature Center and tennis courts on the right. At the end of the fields, as the service road curves to the left, turn right and follow a dirt path, with stone steps, that descends through the woods to the Putnam Trail. On 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 a few lineside telegraph poles.
After crossing a wide bridge over Tibbetts Brook, with Van Cortlandt Lake on the right, 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 on 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 a wide path parallel to the fence along the northern end of the golf course for a short distance. Continue along the wide path when it bears left and heads north, away from the golf course. Bear left at the next two intersections, continuing to follow the wide path, which curves to the right and heads uphill.
Soon, you’ll notice in the distance on the left a massive stone retaining wall. 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.
The wide path now bears left and climbs two sets of stone steps to reach the route of the Aqueduct. Turn right, then immediately bear right at a fork, following the sign for the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail. Continue heading south along the Aqueduct, with a low stone wall in the woods on 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 pink-blazed John Muir Trail leaves to the right, but you should continue ahead on the wide Aqueduct route.
Soon, the Aqueduct begins to parallel the Mosholu Parkway, which is below on your right. When you reach a junction with a paved path, turn right, following the sign for “Van Cortlandt Lake & Golf House.” You now leave the Aqueduct route and continue south on a wide macadam path along the Mosholu Parkway. 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 seasonal west-facing views over Van Cortlandt Lake, directly below, with the tall apartment buildings of Riverdale visible in the distance.
At the end of the bridge, continue ahead on an ADA-compliant ramp, which descends gradually, curving sharply to the right and paralleling an entrance ramp to the Major Deegan Expressway. At the bottom, turn sharply right, and follow a paved path that curves left and passes beneath a highway ramp overpass, with a chain-link fence on the right.
When the fence ends, continue ahead on a paved path, parallel to the southern edge of scenic Van Cortlandt Lake. When you reach a fork, bear right, continuing to follow a wide paved path along the lakeshore. Soon, you’ll pass in front of the golf clubhouse. Just beyond, bear right and head towards a blue-painted steel bridge of the Putnam Trail (which spans an arm of the lake).
Turn left onto the Putnam Trail, which you’ll follow for only a short distance. Just ahead, you’ll pass the rusting steel supports of the canopy for the former Van Cortlandt Park railroad station. At the end of these steel supports, turn left, 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, bear left, then bear right at a fork and follow a wide path that heads west to the 242nd Street station, where the hike began.