Van Cortlandt Park (South)
GOOD FOR: Ages 5-8

Source:Outdoors with Kids New York City (AMC Books)
Address:West 242nd Street and Broadway, Bronx, NY
Hours:Dawn to dusk daily
Fee: Free
Contact:; call 311 or 718-601-1553

Bathrooms: Pool complex; nature center; stadium; playgrounds on Cortlandt Avenue at West 239th Street and at Gouverneur Avenue
Water/Snacks: None

USGS Mount Vernon and Yonkers;

If you're in the mood to swim, hike, or do both, head to this section of Van Cortlandt Park.

Van Cortlandt House Museum.
Photo by: Wikimedia Commons/Robert Swanson

Van Cortlandt Park prides itself on having a series of nature trails akin to those found in bigger woods like the Catskills and Adirondacks. John Kiernan Nature Trail combines both nature and history, with three outstanding historical artifacts hidden among the trees. This 1.25-mile jaunt offers quick access to woods and wetlands. The trail starts due east of the pool complex. This outdoor complex features a large intermediate pool and a smaller wading pool, very popular with swimmers of all ability levels in summer.

The trail is a fitting tribute to John Kiernan, a journalist who received the John Burroughs Medal in 1960 for his book A Natural History of New York City. He is among a group of amateur naturalists and preservation activists who were inspired by the natural beauty of the Bronx. Florence “Cass” Gallagher (1912–1983; Trip 69) and Dr. Theodore Kazimiroff (1914–1980; Trip 64) are two others.

At the park’s West 242nd Street entrance, you will encounter a fork; go left and follow the paved route past the pool complex, Van Cortlandt House Museum, and Van Cortlandt Nature Center. On your left will be the vast parade ground. The path at the parade ground’s eastern edge doubles as the John Kiernan Nature Trail. When you reach this, turn left and follow it a few hundred yards north to the trail entrance at the woods. From here on, you will be beneath a thick canopy of maple, oak, and ash trees. Once you are within the trees, the trail goes north before curving east to cross Tibbetts Brook. Shortly after this bridge, you will meet Putnam Trail, a former rail bed for the first train to run between New York and Boston. Deer seem to appreciate this soft, wide corridor.

Turn right and follow Kiernan-Putnam south, with Van Cortlandt Lake behind a chain-link fence on your left. Some narrow paths detour off the main trail, but stay on the wide route. In short order, the Grand Central Stones will loom large among the trees to your right. Cornelius Vanderbilt, of railroad fame and fortune, had the stones placed here to see which of the various types could best weather the elements before he built the massive Beaux Arts terminal in Manhattan. Continue south and turn right, just before you reach the steel girders of a long-gone train stop that protrude like ribs from the ground.

This path will lead you through wetlands and, as you curve right, past the eighteenth-century Kingsbridge Burial Ground, which is now absent of grave markers and enclosed by an iron fence. Follow this path up to the parade ground.

Remember: Given the proximity to wetlands, portions of this walk are always slick and muddy.

Plan B:

 Head south along Broadway to visit the popular Southwest Playground, at the corner of Van Cortlandt Park South (West 240th Street). It has two sections, a fenced-in one for children ages 2 to 5, and an open area for older kids up to age 12. It features several climbing structures, swing sets, and sprinklers in summer. Canine Court dog run is along the northwest side of the parade ground.

Where to Eat Nearby:

Shops are along Broadway.


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