Splayed over 1,146 acres in northwest Bronx, Van Cortlandt Park has a lot going on. The park is New York City's fourth largest and is home to the oldest municipal golf course in America. There are playgrounds, walking trails, running tracks, scores of ball fields, a nature center, a museum and scenic lake. Van Cortlandt Park also is home to the Old Putnam Trail, one of four rail-trails on the former New York Central Railroad's Putnam Division line. The wide dirt and grass corridor allows easy passage on foot or by mountain bike.
Access the trail from the northwest corner of the large parking lot near the Van Cortlandt Golf House. Though a portion of rail corridor extends south from here, it is heavily overgrown. Head south from the entrance a short distance to see the remnants of an old passenger platform. All that remains is the rusted metal framework.
The trail's best scenery and its most unusual sight are immediate. The trail skirts Van Cortlandt Lake and then passes 13 large stones along the west side of the corridor. Railroad baron Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt had these stone slabs shipped from quarries to determine which would be best (most impervious to weathering) for building Grand Central Station in New York City. Despite the results of his experiment, Indiana limestone was chosen because it was cheaper to transport. The Indiana limestone sample is the second southernmost stone in this lineup.
As you continue north you pass several trails that connect to the John Kiernan Nature Trail. This 1.25-mile trail named for a Bronx naturalist meanders by Van Cortlandt Lake, a wetland and the forest. Staying on the Old Putnam Trail brings you over a small bridge spanning an arm of Van Cortlandt Lake. Across the lake are views of the Bronx skyline and the golf course clubhouse.
At the Westchester County line, the Old Putnam Trail gives way to the South County Trailway
. This asphalt trail extends 2.35 miles to Redmond Park in Yonkers. Here there is a 2.1-mile break in the South County Trailway that can be navigated on surface streets.
To reach Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, from Broadway/US Route 9 go east onto Van Cortlandt Park South. Turn left at the second light and bear to the left, following signs for Van Cortlandt Golf Course, to a large parking lot. At the far end of the parking lot on the left side is a pathway that leads to the Old Putnam Trail.
To reach the Old Putman Trail via the South County Trailway in Yonkers, from Central Park Avenue in Yonkers, exit at Palmer Road and travel west to Mile Square Road (traffic light) and turn left. Proceed south on Mile Square Road to Cook Avenue. Turn right and drive south on Cook Avenue to the entrance to Redmond Park on the right. Turn right into the park and proceed to the parking lot. A paved ramp leads up to the trail at the far end of the parking lot.