Van Cortlandt Park John Muir Trail

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

A couple weeks ago I went on a fall hike along the John Muir Trail in Van Cortlandt Park. It had been on my to-hike list for awhile and didn’t disappoint as a fun, urban adventure!

Dark Green NYC parks department sign with John Muir Trail and trail info on white text. On the wooden post of the sign itself is the red blaze icon for the John Muir Trail
Trail head sign with red trail blaze.

The red blazed, 1.5 mile trail [1] winds east-west cross the forests and wetlands of Van Cortlandt Park.

Travel through three ecologically distinct forests on this 1.5 mile route, the only trail in Van Cortlandt Park to traverse the park from east to west. The trail will lead you through park’s Northeast Forest, home to red oak, sweetgum, and tulip trees, as well as a frog-filled marsh; the Croton Woods and its sugar maple and hickory trees, as well as the Old Croton Aqueduct; and the hilly Northwest Forest, home to stately tulip, oak, and hickory trees. NYC Parks, https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/VanCortlandtPark/facilities/hikingtrails

I stared on the west end by the riding stables. As a note, there’s a public bathroom at Rockwood Circle which (depending on which direction you’re going) shortly before or after this terminus on the trail.

Red barn structure with a white fence in the foreground. Trees around the barn have autumn colors in their leaves.
Van Cortlandt Park riding stables.

The path starts along paved road and then transitions to the smooth cross country before turning and veering off into the forest perimeter of the Van Cortlandt Golf Course.

Dim red blaze can be seen spray painted on a tree. Autumn leaves cover stone steps on a hiking trail
Trail off the Cross Country course. First taste of hiking on the West end of the trail.

After making my way around the golf course I had to walk beside and under the Henry Hudson Parkway.

Street sign post with numbers and red band beside a small footpath. The path is narrow and has tall fences on either side.
John Muir Trail Trail beside the Henry Hudson Parkway
Stone over pass with buses over grown. A trail can be seen through the brush leading under the overpass.
Trail overpass for the Henry Hudson Parkway

This made the first half of my the a bit more cramped and hectic, the urban qualities of the urban hike were apparent. I quite like this, but for hikers hoping to find tranquility, it might not be the end to start on!


Once I made it to the eastside of the golf course the terrain changed and I was greeted with a beautiful, sloping walk up along a small tributary of Tibbetts Creek.

Flowing brook with autumn leaves around it. Smooth rocks line it on either side.
Small tributary for Tibbets Brook

The trail crosses or shares the way with other trails that run in and through the park including the Cross Country Course, the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, and numerous unblazed park paths.

Teal blaze on tree in an autumn forest along a hiking trail.
Teal blaze of the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

After mounting that slope, the trail joins with the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail at the Old Weir ruins, one of the many historic landmarks Van Cortlandt park contains. This was once a way station to help control the flow of New York City’s water supply! [2]

Old stone, squarish, stone structure in autumn forest. It's clear from the disrepair that it hasn't been used in awhile. In the foreground is a stone wall and red blaze of a hiking trail.
Building on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Once I broke off from the Old Croton Aqueduct trail, I was taken deeper into Croton Woods, a peaceful walk reminiscent of the Central Park North Woods, but not quite as wild as the Northwest or Northeast forests of Van Cortlandt.


After the Croton Woods I came back to a more paved and urban walk which took me underneath the Major Deegan Expressway/I-87, the second major roadway the trail intersects.

Paved road stretching around a bend. The road is covered with fallen autumn leaves.
Paved trail heading away from the I-87 overpass.

After this final road crossing I was in the Northeast Forest. While the Northwest Forest of the park gets a lot of attention because it’s a bit denser and (supposedly) more ecologically diverse, I was taken by this section, pausing my trek to explore some of the unblazed park trails leading down and around the marsh and making mental notes of places for future hiking.

Small, young trees with bright yellow leaves fill a rocky forest floor. On the center tree is the red circular blaze of the John Muir Trail.
Red blaze of the John Muir Trail in the Northeast Forest of Van Cortlandt Park

In the Northeast Forest, the trail itself is only briefly in the woods before going past the Arthur Ross Nursery and along playgrounds and sports fields ultimately coming ending at Van Cortlandt Park East and East 238th street in the Bronx.


After reaching the east end of the trail, I doubled back to head home and caught a colorful cloudscape at sunset over the parade grounds on my way the 1 train!

Vast field of grass with Autumn trees on the outskirts. Above the field and trees are long lines of purple tinged, gray clouds at sunset.
Van Cortlandt Park Sunset

-Babysteps


Citations

1. https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/VanCortlandtPark/facilities/hikingtrails

2. https://riverdalepress.com/stories/Mysteries-of-the-Old-Croton-Trail,56911

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