It was a rough winter, but now that the weather has warmed up it’s time to get outside and get moving. One of our favorite things to do is to ride our bikes at the North County Trailway (map and brochure pdf). This paved ‘trail’ follows the old Putnam Railroad line (1881 – 1958) through Westchester and up to the Putnam County line and is 22.1 miles long. At the Southern end in Eastview it continues as the South County Trailway and is a small part of 90 miles of County Trails. Ultimately plans call for it to link to other trails in New York City.
While most of the trail is exclusive to bikes and pedestrians, there are a few sections South of Millwood where you have to share the road with cars on rt 100. If riding on the side of the road scares you and or your kids, you’ll want to stick to the trail. Parking is available at several points along the route; we usually park in Yorktown on rt 118 and just West of rt 100. Parking here allows us to either go North into Yorktown or South towards Millwood.
The South route crosses rt 118 just out of the parking lot where cars are supposed to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, but most don’t so be careful. You’re advised to get off your bike and walk which is fine if the cars stop and you can take your time. I find it quicker and easier to look (and listen) for oncoming cars then ride across. This works ok with my older son who is 11, but with the younger kids it’s a good time to teach them about the intricacies of crossing a busy street. It’s NOT a good time to teach them what you yell at cars that don’t stop…learned that one the hard way.
For the most part the trail is very straight and you can see quite a distance ahead of you. Be careful where there are blind spots (like right after the crosswalk) because you never know what might be coming around the corner. We always see a few large men riding like they’re training for the Tour de France who are not at all happy about sharing the trail with kids who don’t yet understand how to stay on their own side. Most will give you a quick shout if you’re in the way, but there’s always a moment of parental panic when you say, ‘stay to the right!’ and your child instinctively veers left.
Only a short distance from 118 is the best view on the whole trail, hands down. Here the trail crosses an old railroad bridge over the Croton Reservoir. It’s perfectly placed for those who don’t want to ride very far (or at all) and just want to take in the scenery while the others take off. The bridge is a popular place to stop so watch out for people who are taking in the views and not watching for bicyclists. And don’t worry, despite the rickety sound of the wooden deck it’s not going to crumble beneath you.
From here you can continue South along the reservoir and past sheer rock faces that were cut to build the original train tracks. At least a few times a year we have to attempt to climb the rocks. Not recommended, but it sure is fun to try. There are several benches along the water if you want to sit while your kids repeatedly scramble up the rock wall. Further South there are signs that you can stop and read indicating the location of the old Kitchawan RR station. It never hurts to try and teach some history while getting exercise.
Another favorite spot is the tunnel that goes under rt 134. Be prepared for lots of yelling and whistling as you pass through the corrugated steel tunnel…the kids can be noisy too. From here the trail climbs very slightly, so slightly that you may not even notice though on the way back you do get to coast quite a bit. One more road crossing in Millwod at rt 133…again you’re supposed to walk but I find it faster and easier to ride across. One of the two remaining RR depots is here though in pretty bad shape. Take a look at the nearby sign to see what it looked like back in the day. I’m not sure what the story is with it currently. Personally I think it would make a great little bike rental shop or snack bar.
Through another small parking lot and winding up at the intersection of the Taconic Parkway with rt 100. This is where the trail follows the road so we usually turn around and head back at this point.
Once back at the Yorktown parking lot it’s a good idea to make a pit stop at the only ‘official’ restroom on this part of the trail. I don’t have an issue sending kids into the woods if they really have to go, but it’s good to encourage them to go when they can. Make sure you take a deep breath before opening the door, especially on a really hot day…ifyouknowwhatimsayin’.
Heading North from the parking lot you’ll notice that the trail drops off pretty steeply on both sides, there are fences of course but I’ve seen kids run into them trying to look over the edge. Another street crossing and then the trail starts to climb. It’s not the French Alps but compared to the other direction it does climb noticably. The scenery is somewhat different with a flowing river off to one side and some large drainage ditches. Be wary of the edges of the trail here because though very well maintained there are a few drop offs that are washed out and you can fall into them if you’re not careful. Don’t tell my older son I said this but he fell into one once when he was younger.
Be on the lookout for wildlife along the trail. Just last week we saw a deer standing less than 10 feet away from us happily munching on leaves. After the kids got tired of watching quietly they tried to scare it away, but the deer didn’t even look up from its snack. Deer 1 – Kids 0. In a swampy section further up we also saw what was either a beaver or a muskrat swimming around along with some cranes and a few swans.
Our Northern stopping point is the other existing RR station in Railroad Park in Yorktown. This one is in much better shape and I believe it hosts puppet shows in the summer. Once in a while we’ll head through the Kmart parking lot to get ice cream at Carvel or McDonalds. If you’re totally disgusted with your bike at this point or are in need of repairs or parts there’s a bike shop here also, Yorktown Cycles. The ride back South from here is mostly downhill and you can get going pretty fast if you want to. Sometimes we see who can go the farthest without pedaling.
Each section either North or South from the Yorktown parking lot is about 4 miles so you can do 16 miles if you make a round trip of each or more if you’re so inclined. This works out well if some of us only want to do 8 miles while others want to ride further. In the past my older son and I have done the full 16 while the rest of the family only did a small portion.
A few other things you should know if you visit the North County Trailway. It’s mostly shaded by trees so it can often be a few degrees cooler on a warm spring or summer day which is always welcome. You also won’t get completely soaked if you get caught in a rain storm. There are no trash cans along the route so be sure to carry out what you carry in. One time I tossed an apple core into the woods only to get screamed at by the kids. I had to explain to them that it wasn’t exactly littering and that it would be gone in a day or two…another teaching opportunity. If for some reason you need help and you forgot your phone there are a few emergency call phones along the trail.
The trail is open to all non-motorized vehicles as well as leashed dogs so keep an eye on your kids as they come up on dogs or people out for a leisurely stroll. Etiquette says that you should announce to slower moving traffic that you’re passing them ‘on your left,’ but we’re usually making so much noise that they know we’re coming. The faster riders will come up behind you and announce themselves so be prepared to pull to the right in a hurry to avoid getting run over.
The last place to be careful (man, do I sound like a worry wort or what!?) is the parking lot. It’s not very big and can get a little tight. Also remember that after a long day of riding the drivers are tired and have that funky wobbly leg thing you get. I just wait until none of the cars are moving to go back to ours.
So whether you’re out for a day of riding or a nice post dinner walk I hope you enjoy the North County Trailway. It really is one of Westchester’s best kept secrets…or it was anyway.