The North County Trailway is a paved, multi-use path running for 22 miles through the beautiful and historical lower Hudson Valley of New York. Just as the river valley runs north-south on the eastern edge of the state, the North County Trailway jogs a similar trajectory in Westchester County, New York City’s northern neighbor. From Somers to Mount Pleasant, you can cycle through hamlets and woods where revolutionary skirmishes took place—and the occasional ghostly encounter—without even realizing your proximity to the metropolis that is NYC.
The suburban New York village of Tarrytown, 2 miles from the southern terminus of the trail, is a well-placed base from which to begin your adventure. There are several airports within a 40-mile radius, including Westchester County Airport (domestic flights) and LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy Airport (international/domestic). The Metro-North Railroad travels between the Grand Central Terminal in New York City to Tarrytown as well. Danny’s Cycles rent bicycles out of their shops in NYC, Mohegan Lake and Scarsdale. Yorktown Cycles in Yorktown Heights is another option for rentals.
Tarrytown offers a large range of accommodations, including the ultimate extravagant escape, the Castle Hotel and Spa. Built in the style of Norman fortifications found in Great Britain, the magnificent castle overlooks the Hudson River and boasts manicured gardens and an award-winning restaurant. Of course, there is the risk that you won’t want to leave the grounds if you do stay here. Those who aren’t adverse to macabre musings may only need the lure of eerie possibilities to get you into the woods and on the trail. Remember that Tarrytown and the neighboring village of Sleepy Hollow have been made famous by the 19th-century author Washington Irving and his enduring legend of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman!
Comfortable in the land-of-the-living? This trailway still offers plenty. The longest of four connected rail trails from the former New York Central Railroad's Putnam Division line, the partially shaded path gracefully manages the interplay of dense woodlands and urban landscape as you commute between villages, farmland and state preserves. We propose a one-day round-trip itinerary, but for longer rides, you can easily connect with the South County Trailway to extend 14 miles to the New York City border (Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx) or the Putnam Trailway, which continues the northerly journey for 11 miles. The trail is mostly off-road but occasionally intersects or shares a wide shoulder with a public road, so watch for high-speed traffic at these times and take caution.
Begin your ride at Old Saw Mill River Road at the trailway's southern end in Mount Pleasant. There is parking at the Eastview Park and Ride. The trail parallels the busy Saw Mill River Parkway on the right and woodlands on the left. Highway traffic is never far away from this southern section of the trail, but a narrow strip of trees provides welcome shade and screening from the traffic. As you head toward the scenic village of Briarcliff Manor (6 miles), the Rockefeller Park Preserve and Pocantico Lake County Park nestle between you and the Hudson River. The mansions of millionaires who settled here in centuries past are scattered about in the surrounding hills. Let your mind unwind and see what your imagination conjures up when riding past the relics of years gone by.
Before the arrival of the first Europeans, the Algonquian-speaking River Indians inhabited the region. The Dutch settled here in 1610 to exchange European goods for beaver pelts, and the valley became the heart of the New Netherland colony operations. Controlling the Hudson River Valley was of critical strategic importance during the American Revolution, and ultimately the valley would become the site of America’s first military academy, West Point, established in 1802. The 1800s also saw the birth of the Hudson River School, an American art movement inspired by the scenic landscape of the pastoral surrounds. The Erie Canal was built during this time as well and eased commerce between the Hudson Valley and the Midwest—surely helping some early American families to amass great wealth, such as the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Roosevelts. Whether you are interested in art, history, architecture, or spectacular scenery, this river valley is bound to evoke awe and inspiration.
As a rail line beginning in the 1880s, the "Old Put" provided passenger and freight service between New York City and Brewster, in Putnam County. Passenger service ended in 1958 and freight services ended in 1980. The Putman Railway once served 23 stations in the county, and many still stand today, gracing the trailway with their nod toward a bygone time. Just beyond Pleasantville Road in Briarcliff Manor, look for the side trail to the Tudor-style Briarcliff Library, formerly the Briarcliff Manor train station. Take a minute to read the historic marker.
The trail continues to parallel Saw Mill River Road and, for a stretch, is sandwiched between this road the Taconic State Parkway. The trail then touches the western border of Echo Lake State park, finally landing you in Millwood, 3.5 miles north of Briarcliff Manor. Rocky’s Millwood Deli is not far off the trail; grab some quick sustenance if you need an energy boost (left on Station Place and right on Somerstown Turnpike). Once you cross Millwood Road you enter another wooded stretch and in 2 miles come to the edge of the Kitchawan Preserve and the New Croton Reservoir. The 208-acre preserve, once a research facility of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, now has miles of hiking trails to explore. It is also popular with birders, particularly in the spring when migrating butterflies and birds are plentiful. Enjoy the relative quiet of this stretch since car traffic is a pleasant distance away.
Cutting through the eastern part of the park, the path brings you to one of North County Trailway’s highlights: the beautiful truss bridge (circa 1931) spanning an arm of the New Croton reservoir. As you travel over the reservoir it will be hard not to marvel at this holding tank that supplies water to New York City and, at full capacity, can hold 19 billion gallons.
The trail then meets up with Saw Mill River Road once again and parallels it for 3.5 miles to the next village of Yorktown Heights.South of town, the highly-praised Peter Pratt’s Inn is tucked away in the woods less than 0.5 mile east of the trail at the northern edge of the Locke Ledge Country Club. Though you may not make it for a meal (dinner is offered Wednesday-Sunday), keep this inn on your list for future special-occasion dining. This old converted colonial home offers a warm, inviting ambience with top-notch meals featuring changing seasonal ingredients and wild game. Across the street is the Davenport House, one of Westchester’s oldest buildings.
Also consider a quick visit to the Yorktown Museum, which houses permanent exhibits that illustrate some of the area’s interesting history, from Mohegan tribe settlements to the Old Put Railroad. Also, the Yorktown Depot has been preserved downtown as a landmark to remind you of the town’s past. If nothing else, wander through the village, stretch your legs, window shop and eat a good meal, for the end of the trail is another 5.5 miles away. Yorktown Heights has boutiques, galleries and restaurants, ranging from fast food to delis to cafes, just blocks off the trail.
Shortly after leaving the village, the trail crosses Saw Mill River Road; it’s a steep grade, so be cautious. Here you could venture off the trail for 2.5 miles east to the Lasdon Park & Arboretum, 234 acres of formal gardens, woodlands, a museum and several memorials honoring Westchester veterans. It might make more sense to return later in a vehicle so you can take your time wandering the grounds and visit the Muscoot Farm, another 3.5 miles farther. The farm, a Westchester County Park, operates as an educational center preserving the agricultural heritage of Westchester farming circa 1880-1930. Bring the family, meet newborn baby farm animals, take a hayride and wander through the pumpkin patch.
Back on the rail-trail, beyond Granite Springs Road, a large orchard signals the trail's transition to a more agricultural and forested setting for its final 3 miles. The trail ends at Baldwin Place/Somers Commons and the Putnam County border. You emerge from the woods smack dab between two shopping centers; several eateries allow you to replenish or restock before your return journey.
Although the trail doesn’t pass through the Somers hamlet historic district, it is worth noting the significance of this area as the likely birthplace of the American circus. In the early 1800s, a local resident, Hachaliah Bailey, brought an African elephant to the States. His intention was to use “Old Bet” for farm work, but the number of people she attracted caused Bailey to change his plans. He began touring with exotic animals instead, which eventually grew into part of what became the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Bailey erected The Elephant Hotel in honor of Old Bet, who died on tour in 1827. Today this National Historic Landmark still occupies a prominent position in Somers (5 miles east of the trailhead).
Spend your next day exploring Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. As you plan your wanderings about the Pocantico Hills and neighboring villages, make sure to include a stop at the famous Stone Barns Center, an educational venue promoting health and sustainable food systems. Depending on the day and time, your visit could include the Blue Hill Café for a latte or homemade goodie, the market for seasonal jams or pickled sunchokes, the Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant for a multi-course farm-fare or simply a walk around the grounds. From here, you are close to the Union Church of Pocantico Hills, which contains a stained glass window by Henri Matisse, his last work of art before his death in 1954, as well as nine windows by Marc Chagall.
Head west toward the Hudson River and the village of Sleepy Hollow. Early American history buffs and Washington Irving enthusiasts, alike, may want to plan their whole trip around a visit to this part of the valley. North of town, meander around tombstones until you find Washington Irving’s grave in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Tour the nearby Philipsburg Manor, a 300-year-old manor house turned activity center depicting 18th-century life in a Dutch settlement. The manor’s farmers were also active in the Revolutionary War, and the area, including the Old Dutch Church and its burying ground, has seen many a brave deed. The first congregation gathered in the old church as early as 1697, but it was made famous by the ghost story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” whose song master, Ichabod Crane, directed the church choir. The Headless Horseman was leader of the church graveyard ghosts. A fall visit might coincide just perfectly with dramatic readings of this classic tale, held in the church itself, or the annual Old Dutch Fest. Prepare yourself and your children, though; you may be visited by a darkly-clad horse rider cradling a pumpkin in his arm and is, well, headless.
From the slightly more recent past, the hilltop home to four generations of the Rockefeller family, Kykuit, is now a historical site and open for tours (beginning at the Philipsburg Manor). Don’t miss this amazing chance to explore the six-story stone house, impressive gardens and collections of art, sculpture, classic autos and horse-drawn carriages. Finally, in Tarrytown, Irving Washington’s home, Sunnyside, is also open to the public. Note that a lot of these tours just are offered May through November, with limited days and times, so make sure to plan ahead.