Things to See and Do
Things to See and Do
There are two locations where you can Barbecue in Van Cortlandt Park:
- Shandler Recreation Area, off Jerome Avenue
- The lawn behind the Van Cortlandt Nature Center, temporarily (while the permanent BBQ area next to the pool is being upgraded) off Broadway & Manhattan College Parkway.
Please be cautious when barbecuing and keep a safe distance from patrons, children, and trees. Be courteous to others and please clean the area carefully before you leave. Our rules prohibit:
- Barbecuing in non-authorized areas
- Barbecuing next to trees, tree roots, or buildings. Please keep ten feet or more away from any structures.
- Any type of open ground or campfire. Please barbecue at least three feet off the ground.
- Barbecuing by anyone 18 years or younger
All coal and matches must be disposed of in designated hot coal barrels. Please do not place anything flammable in a regular litter barrel. Use water to extinguish hot coals. Improperly dumped coals or matches can do major damage to our parks.
Any BBQ that will have more than 20 attendees requires a permit that must be applied for 30 days in advance. You can apply for a Special Event permit here: https://nyceventpermits.nyc.gov/Parks/
There are 3 dog runs in Van Cortlandt Park:
- Canine Court: Broadway & 252nd Street
- Dog Bone Run: Gates Place & West Gun Hill Road
- Oneida Run: Oneida Avenue & Van Cortlandt Park East
While in Van Cortlandt Park, dogs must be leashed at all times when not in a dog run.
The Van Cortlandt Park Alliance and other organizations in Van Cortlandt Park offer an array of special events in Van Cortlandt Park throughout the year.
Van Cortlandt House Museum
As the Bronx’s oldest house, the Van Cortlandt House Museum testifies to the vivid and eclectic history of New York’s third largest park. The 18th-century fieldstone and brick Georgian style manor house is both a New York City Landmark and a National Historical Landmark. It is located in the southwestern part of the park, near Broadway and West 246th Street.
Van Cortlandt House Museum is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Read more about Van Cortlandt House Museum.
Van Cortlandt Nature Center
The Van Cortlandt Nature Center serves as a starting point for most of the Urban Park Rangers’ walking tours and workshops for educational programs for the whole family. Exhibits highlighting the diverse landscapes in the park, live animals, and an abundance of informational brochures including maps, the semi-annual Van Cortlandt Park Newsletter, and Outdoors in NYC, the Rangers’ quarterly newspaper and calendar are available for visitors. Call the Center for hours of operation: (718) 548–0912. Learn more about Nature Centers.
Van Cortlandt Park Alliance
The Van Cortlandt Park Alliance uses all 1,146 acres of Van Cortlandt Park as an outdoor classroom. For more information or to register a school group visit our Explorable Places site.
There are over 20 miles of hiking trails throughout Van Cortlandt Park. Check out our Park Map for more details. Here are the named hiking trails in Van Cortlandt Park:
Cass Gallagher Nature Trail
Location: A short walk from the intersection of Broadway & Mosholu Avenue, near the Riverdale Stables
Length: 1.2 miles
The Cass Gallagher Trail meanders up hills and down valleys in the Northwest Woods. It was dedicated in 1984 in memory of a longtime Bronx resident and devoted environmentalist who was committed to the park’s protection and enhancement.
John Kieran Trail (portions currently closed for Putnam reconstruction)
Location: Enter the park by Lake via Van Cortlandt Park South & Bailey Avenue
Length: 0.6 miles
The John Keiran Nature Trail, established in 1987, exposes visitors to some of the park’s most scenic natural highlights beginning with Van Cortlandt Lake.
John Kieran (1892–1981) was a writer and amateur naturalist who loved Van Cortlandt Park. Born in the Bronx, Kieran attended City College and Fordham University. In 1915, he began his career as a sportswriter for The New York Times. Over the next thirty years, he wrote for various other New York newspapers, and served on the expert panel for the radio show “Information, Please.” Nature was of the utmost importance to Kieran, especially the swamps and woods of Van Cortlandt Park. He wrote several books and articles including A Natural History of New York City for which he received the John Burroughs Medal in 1960. This work remains an invaluable reference to the city’s wildlife and wilderness during the first part of the 20th century.
John Muir Trail
Location: Enter at Broadway & Mosholu Avenue or Van Cortlandt Park East & Oneida Avenue
Length: 1.5 miles
The John Muir Nature Trail (established in 1997) is Van Cortlandt’s only east–west path, traversing the steep terrain at the park’s center. Park visitors can hike from Broadway and Van Cortlandt Park East. For a full visual description, take a virtual walk on the trail.
Old Croton Aqueduct Trail
Location: Enter at either Dickinson Avenue & Van Cortlandt Park South or Mosholu Parkway & West Gun Hill Road
Length: 0.9 miles
The 0.9 mile Old Croton Aqueduct Trail covers the tunnel built during the 1830s and 40s in response to an inadequate water supply for a rapidly expanding New York City population which was suffering the hardships associated with lack of fresh water (e.g. epidemics and fires). Designed by engineer John B. Jervis, the aqueduct was an engineering marvel, extending 42 miles from the Croton Reservoir to Bryant Park. Its magnificent design featured a gradual pitch along the entire length, it required no pumps, with a flow of water that was entirely gravity fed, a design based on principles dating from Roman times. Builders had to maintain this steady grade through challenging terrain, cutting into hillsides, setting it level on the ground, tunneling through rock, and carrying it over valleys and streams on massive stone and earth embankments and even across bridges. The tunnel opened in 1842 and was used until 1897, when an adjacent tunnel replaced it.
The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail introduces park visitors to the area’s geology and some of the most unique forests in New York City, featuring majestic tulip trees, sugar maples, and American sycamores. When walking the trail, look for the telltale mound encasing the tunnel. In reading these physical “clues” along the trail, an understanding of how the tunnel engages the landscape deepens the trail experience. In 1974, the trail was placed on the New York State and National Register of Historic Places.
Putnam Trail (currently closed for reconstruction)
Location: Enter the park at Van Cortlandt Park South & Bailey Avenue
Length: 1.9 miles
The Putnam Trail is located on the western edge of Van Cortlandt Lake and along Tibbetts Brook. The 1.9–mile trail occupies the old rail bed of the New York Central Railroad’s Putnam Division. Construction of the rail line began in 1870 and took ten years. The last passenger service on the line ended in 1958; however some freight continued to be carried on the line until the early 1980’s. Throughout the trail, hikers will notice the former rail line’s passages integrated into the park’s landscape — iron bridge structures at the trail’s south end and large underpasses below the roadways that weave through the park.
As the trail stretches northward there are several connections to the John Kieran Nature Trail. Further north, the trail crosses a small bridge that spans an arm of Van Cortlandt Lake. Across the lake are views of the Bronx skyline and the impressive Van Cortlandt Lake House. Van Cortlandt is the largest freshwater lake in the Bronx. This manmade lake was created during the 1690s when Tibbetts Brook was dammed to power a gristmill and is home to ducks, geese, swans, and other waterfowl.
Among the unusual sights along the Putnam Trail are 13 large stone pedestals erected along the western side of the trail near a set of stone steps connecting the trail to the Park’s Parade Ground. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt placed the stone slabs along New York Central’s Putnam Division as an experiment. Stone samples were sent to the location from quarries across the northeast to determine which material would be the most impervious to weathering. The choice building material would be used to erect Grand Central Station in New York City. In the end, the second southern most stone, Indiana limestone, was chosen for the upper levels. A granite stone, third northern most stone, was chosen for the shopfront level of the Terminal.
At the Westchester County line, the Putnam Trail joins the South County Trailway, an asphalt paved trail extending for 2.35 miles to Redmond Park in Yonkers.
Just a subway or bus ride away for millions of New Yorkers, a dense, hilly forest with rugged, 200-million-year-old rock outcrops, 150-year-old trees, and an array of spectacular wildlife extends as far as the eye can see. Hiking through the forest, which covers more than half of Van Cortlandt Park’s 1,146 acres in the northwest Bronx, harks back to a time when wildflowers colored the floor of the city’s forests from spring until fall, when a diversity of birds from warblers to hawks nested and called throughout the summer, and when white-tailed deer, coyote, and wild turkeys roamed stealthily through the trees and meadows.
Van Cortlandt Park’s 600-plus acres of native forest provide interior habitat for declining forest birds such as the scarlet tanager, the red-eyed vireo, and several warblers. The diversity of its habitats, from interior forest and edge to meadow and wetland, provide forage and refuge not only for birds but also mammals, amphibians, and invertebrates. Some of them, such as red fox, coyotes, and spring peepers are rarely seen in the city.
Once the hunting grounds of the Wiechquaeskeck people of the Lenape nation and the homesteads of early Dutch settlers, the park’s forest now features over 20 miles of woodland hiking trails; a scenic brook and overlooks; a lake with ten fish species; varied landscapes for birds and birdwatchers alike; a century-old, world-renowned cross-country running course through steep terrain; and bike and pedestrian paths that connect to other New York City parks and the Westchester County trail system.
Forever Wild Preserve
Over half of Van Cortlandt Park is a Forever Wild Preserve, a program established by the NYC Parks to protect New York City’s most ecologically valuable lands. Giving the natural areas Forever Wild Preserve status has helped shield them from damage by construction, development, and other activities. Three major habitats in the park—forests, wetlands, and meadows—are protected as Forever Wild. The core forests are located in the northern part of the park, on terrain varying from the spectacular rock outcrops that provide a glimpse of the forest’s underlying geology in the northwest, to low, wet areas in the northeast. Divided into the Northwest Forest, Croton Woods, and the Northeast Forest, Van Cortlandt’s forests contain some of the city’s oldest trees, with large oak, tulip, sweetgum, and sugar maples forming the canopy and spicebush, arrowwood, and maple-leaf viburnum among the shrub layer.
The largest forest in Van Cortlandt’s Forever Wild Preserve, the Northwest Forest, is a dramatic, 188-acre woodland atop a north-south ridge. Looking north from the three-quarter-mile-long grassy expanse of the Parade Ground along Broadway, a view of the forest unfolds. Growing on rocky heights, it harbors the highest concentrations of rare plants in the city. The wildflowers carpeting the forest floor are diverse and abundant and include bloodroot, trout lily, baneberry, wood sorrel, jewelweed, and numerous asters.
The Northeast Forest’s wetlands and bottomlands are ideal for sweetgum, red maple, and pin oak trees. These low, wet areas and vernal ponds support a plethora of wildlife, including wood frogs and spotted salamanders. Foundations of early homesteads and an Indian battleground imbue this forest with a rich sense of history.
Croton Woods, named after the Old Croton Aqueduct, lies between the Northwest and Northeast Forests. Completed in 1842, the aqueduct once carried clean water from the Croton Reservoir in northern Westchester County to reservoirs in Central Park and Bryant Park, where the New York Public Library now stands. Today, the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, a State Scenic and Historic Corridor, traverses the entire length of the forest from north to south. The walk combines natural beauty with traces of the aqueduct’s historic stone and brickwork, including an old, Egyptian-style gatehouse weir.
Van Cortlandt’s wetlands serve as a vast catchment area, collecting and holding rain and snow melt. Much of the precipitation drains into the Northeast Forest and Tibbetts Brook, an 89-acre wetland corridor that bisects the park. Beginning its journey north of the Bronx in the City of Yonkers, Tibbetts Brook flows south to feed Van Cortland Lake, which was formed in 1699 when Jacobus Van Cortlandt dammed the brook to power a gristmill and sawmill. The wetland corridor and lake are home to marsh mallows, cattails, willow herbs, and other moisture-loving plants.
Meadows east of the Mississippi River, including those in Van Cortlandt Park, are typically temporary plant communities created naturally by storms and fire. When left alone, they eventually revert back to the forests that surround them. Though relatively short-lived when untended, meadows provide vital habitat for plants and animals that require open areas, including grassland birds and many pollinators. The Van Cortlandt Park Natural Areas Management Plan suggests maintaining some acreage as meadow to enhance the park’s ecological diversity.
Currently, there are four well used playgrounds on the perimeter of the park. Beloved by hundreds of thousands of children, these are designed specifically for children up to 12 years old to socialize, blow off steam, and build physical skills on their own, while being supervised by their caretakers who can relax on a nearby bench.
Open from the beginning of the dawn to dusk, playgrounds are open in all kinds of weather. At 80 degrees and above, the spray showers are turned on and when it snows, playgrounds are one of the first areas to be plowed.
- Classic Playground: Van Cortlandt Park South & Gouverneur Avenue
- Sachkerah Woods Playground: Jerome Avenue & East Gun Hill Road
- Southwest Playground: West 240th Street & Broadway
- Woodlawn Playground: West 239th Street & Van Cortlandt East
- Shandler Ballfields: Jerome Avenue between East 233rd Street & Bainbridge, 1 Little League field, 1 softball field
- Van Cortlandt Stadium: West 241st Street & Broadway, 3 baseball fields
- Parade Ground: Broadway, West 242nd Street to West 250th Streets, 2 baseball, 1 little league, and 1 softball fields
- Kelly Fields: West 259th Street & Broadway, 2 Little League field
- Caryl Field: West 263rd Street & Broadway, 1 softball field
- Healy Field: Van Cortlandt Park East & 240th Street , 1 Little League field
- Indian Field: East 233rd Street & Van Cortlandt Park East, 1 baseball field, 2 softball. Note: currently closed for reconstruction
- Classic Playground: Van Cortlandt Park South & Gouverneur Avenue, 3 full courts
- Woodlawn Playground: West 239th Street & Van Cortlandt Park East, 2 full courts
- Putnam Trail: Van Cortlandt Park South to Yonkers border (and into Westchester County)- currently closed for reconstruction
- East Coast Greenway: Dickenson Avenue & Van Cortlandt Park South to 242nd Street & Broadway
- Indian Field: East 233rd Street & Van Cortlandt Park East, 2 courts
- Parade Ground: Broadway, West 242nd Street to West 250th Streets, 8 fields
- Van Cortlandt Lake: East of John Kieran Nature Trail. More information about fishing in New York City Parks
- Parade Ground: West 246th Street to West 251st Street (eastern edge of Parade Ground)